Quick Guide: Mobile Video Game Trailer Essentials

by Justin Carroll

A still from the alpha gameplay trailer for Star Wars: Uprising.

How does your mobile video game trailer measure up? This is a quick guide, or checklist for ensuring your trailers are successful.

Trailers go before your game in the marketplace as the sole representation for what potential players can expect to experience. More intense than condensing a two-hour film, they aim to condense hours upon hours of gameplay into about 120 seconds.

Viewers must leave your trailer impressed. And there’s little room for failure.

All trailers have gameplay clips, music and branding, but those aren’t the essentials I’m talking about here. When I say essentials, I mean essentials for selling more games.

This quick guide should act as a checklist of questions to ask yourself and your team before finalizing your next trailer. Each question is designed to encourage the 5 most important elements of a successful mobile video game trailer. Questions should be treated as either pass or fail.

But before we begin, check out this trailer for Star Wars: Uprising as a primer:

Now, it’s simply an alpha gameplay preview trailer, but nonetheless, Kabam hits every point I’m about to talk about.

So, let’s get started!

1. Value proposition

A value proposition is your promise of value, how your game is different from every other game out there and why your audience wants to play it.

Does your mobile video game trailer effectively communicate your game’s value proposition?

This is something you should have in writing before you ever set out to create a trailer. It’s basically the one-paragraph description of your game.

Here’s a fine example of a game description with a very clear value proposition:

Pick up your cards and throw down the gauntlet! In Hearthstone, you play the hero in a fast-paced, whimsical card game of cunning strategy. In minutes, you’ll be unleashing powerful cards to sling spells, summon minions, and seize control of an ever-shifting battlefield. Whether it’s your first card game or you’re an experienced pro, the depth and charm of Hearthstone will draw you in.

How is Hearthstone different from every other strategy card game out there? Because it’s high fantasy fast-paced, whimsical and easy for both noobs and pros.

Why do people who love strategy card games want to play it? To be a cunning, powerful hero that uses spells and minions to seize control of a battlefield in fast-paced matches.

Those are the best parts of your game, the ones your trailer should showcase.

Your game won’t appear differentiated without a value proposition. And your trailer won’t provide substantial reason for viewers to stay excited after they’re done watching.

2. Art direction

Your trailer will no doubt have things like visual effects, animations, fonts, colors, gameplay clips and more. Anyone can put those things on a screen. But when you start putting thought into how those things relate to your game, that’s art direction.

Do the design decisions in your mobile video game trailer make sense for the art direction of your game?

Fonts and colors are pretty easy. Ensure the branding in your trailer reflects the branding of your game, no problems there.

But what about less obvious design decisions such as scene transitions or soundtrack?

That’s not so easy.

This is where you’ll really want to be wise about, and get creative with, art direction.

For example, don’t use transitions where things burn up in flames if your game has nothing to do with things burning up in flames. I’ve seen really cool transitions, beautifully done, that have nothing to do with the art direction of the game.

Your trailer’s design and style decisions are meant to communicate. And if those things don’t reflect the art direction of your game it sends a mixed message to viewers.

3. Structure

I’d enjoy watching two hours of lightsaber battles and it’d be really cool, but it’s not the only thing people love about Star Wars.

Trailers are more than 120 seconds of your best gameplay footage. It should communicate the essence of your story, characters and environments as a primer for making your gameplay footage that much more sweet.

Does your mobile video game trailer have structure or is it simply a glorified sequence of gameplay footage?

I’ve seen a lot of amazing trailers that are terrible at selling games.

A great trailer with no structure is blinding, and will be harder to critique and possibly recut. So, my ultimate advice here is, don’t get caught in that situation.

Plan your trailer with structure from the beginning.

If you’re new to trailer-making I recommending using the typical three-act trailer structure. In any case use structure, otherwise you face the drawing board which will likely stress everything good you’ve done so far.

4. Rhythm, timing and pace

Now that you have your structure, you have to hit those beats with the right sequences at the right time. Otherwise, your trailer will feel flat. Rhythm, timing and pace is the art of keeping your viewers’ attention and moreover, ensuring they finish with a feeling of accomplishment.

Does your mobile video game trailer have rhythm or does it feel off at times?

Sometimes the people who make a game aren’t always the best to cut its trailer. It’s not uncommon for game creators to subconsciously drag out or force certain sequences in a trailer. Every sequence should have a goal and communicate a message. Although certain sequences may be visually stunning, the truth is they might not be necessary.

Sound design is also a rhythm issue, but not in the musical sense. Slow or fast music at inappropriate times can disrupt pacing or send mixed messages.

Although rhythm isn’t easily quantifiable, when it’s wrong viewers feel it. But when it’s right, it makes for the best trailers you’ve ever seen.

5. Call to action

A call to action is something you ask viewers to do after the trailer has finished. The idea is you’ve just hyped them up about your game, they’ll want more and you should have something to give them.

Does your mobile video game trailer ask viewers to take action after it’s finished?

The ultimate call to action is asking viewers to buy or download.

That’s obvious.

But if you’re working on a teaser trailer consider asking viewers to visit your website, dev blog or subscribe to your newsletter.

And don’t forget to take advantage of embedded hotspots on YouTube. They’re a great opportunity for putting a nice, big shiny button in your trailer for viewers to click on.

Conclusion

Trailers are cool, they give a certain “wow” factor. But the problem with cool is it can sometimes be distracting. I see that over and over again in mobile game marketing, too much focus on the cool and not enough focus on selling.

Your mobile video game trailer is first and foremost a selling tool. And what good is cool if it doesn’t sell more games?

The tools to create trailers are more accessible than ever. But don’t be deceived. Successful trailers take careful planning and execution.

Use my 5 questions as a quick guide for helping your trailer stay cool while selling more games.