Why you shouldn't trust video game teaser trailers

Commentary: The first impression you get of a game is usually the furthest thing from what it's actually like playing it.

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Guerilla Games

E3 2013 was the first legitimate cringe moment I experienced in the five years I'd been attending the show. I was sitting in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena live-blogging Sony's press conference as the company was set to reveal a debut teaser trailer for The Order: 1886, originally set to release later this year.

This was a game no one had heard of or seen before. So as the title of the game splashed on the screen at the trailer's end, the group of grown adults behind me became so uncontrollably overtaken with joy-rage that they began kicking the seats in front of them (see: my back) and squealing like a gaggle of teeny-boppers. I'm not exaggerating. Ask Eric Franklin, he was there, too. It was anarchy -- and a little sad, but mostly anarchy.

I understand, I get it. E3 is a big deal and if you're a hard-core gamer who has never attended before, your first show is ecstasy. The atmosphere breeds excitement. There's awesome energy there. But did that teaser warrant that kind of reaction? Probably not -- and here's why:

Teaser trailers (or announcement trailers) have become so ingrained with the gaming zeitgeist that they now set the tone for a title's expectations. They make the first impression. It's impossible to plead my case without also mentioning the video that's likely to blame for all of this, the infamous Killzone 2 trailer from E3 2005. At the time, Sony vice president Jack Tretton had told IGN that the video was "real gameplay everybody's seeing out there." Of course it was later admitted that the trailer was a "target render." Nevertheless, it set an impossible precedent for the game and a misleading impression for an entire console generation on the precipice of launching.

That Killzone trailer is the perfect example of an over-the-top reaction to something that simply isn't genuine. Since then, trailers occasionally take the Internet by storm and explode through social media. The trailer for Dead Island had that happen back in 2011 with a short video that featured characters who never made it into the final game. I was forced to revisit my grudge against teasers after I saw the announcement trailer for Mortal Kombat X.

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NetherRealm Studios

If 2011's Mortal Kombat 9 is any indication, Mortal Kombat X will deliver -- I'm not worried about that. What does bother me is the knee-jerk reaction from those (like this guy) who pass judgment and think it's a clear indication of what's to come. Allow me to blow your minds: it's not. That was nothing more than two minutes of prerendered eye chowder. In fact, there's not much you can safely infer from it, besides maybe that Scorpion and Sub-Zero are going to be in it. Now, if the trailer gave us glimpses of actual in-game fighting, we'd have something substantial to get excited about.

I'll admit, some trailers are fantastic short films. I loved the teaser movie for BioShock Infinite when it was first announced in August of 2010. But it's tough to deny that it perhaps set an unrealistic expectation for the final version of the game. While beautiful and captivating, it portrayed events and sequences that existed well outside of the final experience.

I guess my big issue with teaser trailers is that they're inherently misleading. I've learned to take them with a grain of salt because I see them mostly as a form of false advertising. They exist only to convey a message, emotion, or mood -- how the publisher wants you to feel about a game. They're designed to get you excited about the prospect of what's likely an unattainable in-game scenario, in terms of both functionality and graphics. The tragic part of course is that we're absorbing this all and making judgments without ever seeing a speck of actual gameplay.

Imagine you saw a movie trailer with a bunch of overproduced CG that never found its way into the final cut. You'd ask for your damn money back is what you'd do.

Sure, there are gray areas, too. I could break things down and compare and contrast what's specifically gameplay content and whether or not in-engine visuals count as "in-game." But one fact remains: if a trailer isn't giving you a taste of what it's like to play the game, you're not getting the whole picture.

I want everyone to be able to enjoy and respect video games. Part of that is calling things out for what they really are and helping you, the prospective buyer, cut through the static and make sense of all the madness.

I'm tired of hearing people tell me how good a game looks when all they've seen is a prerendered video. Teaser trailers aren't going anywhere, but the next time you're presented with one -- especially as we head into E3 -- think twice and perhaps temper those expectations. It'll better help you brace for the fall back down to reality when the next Killzone 2 comes along.

 

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