Games Don’t Need Trailers, They Need Infomercials

The first thing my deskmate did when he sat down this morning and saw the new Grand Theft Auto V trailer I had posted to our section was exclaim “Jesus Christ! Five minutes long?”

Yes, at four minutes and fifty-one seconds, the video is more than twice as long as the average theatrical movie trailer. And given what we know both about Rockstar’s meticulous planning and media savvy, and about attention spans for internet video, it’s worth asking: why? This was certainly a deliberate move—but for what reason?

One place to start thinking about this is a very perceptive tweet from Phil Fish, the developer of the wonderful indie game, Fez:

A preview for a new Grand Theft Auto game certainly has to convey narrative scope, which is historically important to Rockstar. The first trailer for GTA V, which introduced the themes and story of the game, was a very movie-trailer-like 1:25.

But introducing a new game of the scope and ambition of GTA V may have more in common with introducing a multifaceted product, an ongoing consumer object/service, than showing off a movie. I mean, count the number of systems that Rockstar showed in those five minutes: combat, flying, floating, driving, skydiving, dive-diving, boating, hunting, golfing, biking, tennis, yoga, custom detailing, clothes shopping, tattooing, day trading, etc. Here are the different things our product can do, the video seems to be saying, and here’s how you’ll do them. And then think about that narrator. The distinctly un-dramatic, soothing, female voice on the video is the diametric opposite of the booming “In a world…” trailer dude we’re used to hearing in the multiplex. She matter-of-factly enumerates the enhancements to the product: new mission types, bigger scope, more fluid mechanics, etc.

For all the excitement a new GTA game engenders about storytelling, it’s this kind of info-dump that really sells the game, the tens, even hundreds of hours that players are going to be getting when they plunk down 60 dollars in September. It’s that dollar-per-hour-of-entertainment value that may be the real selling point of GTA V. “For just 60 dollars,” the narrator might as well say, “You get all this…”

Though a much less important game, Dead Island is worth remembering here. Two years ago, after that game’s affecting, gorgeous cinematic trailer, people couldn’t stop talking about it. And yet the trailer had absolutely nothing to do with the actual mechanics of Dead Island, which was an open-world survival horror game. That, more than anything, contributed the widespread disappointment with that game as a product.

Which is not to say that people would be disappointed even if Rockstar didn’t do a feature-heavy pseudo-infomercial. Just that games don’t always have much to do with movies, and they should usually be introduced in different ways.

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