Indie Game Marketing: Creating the best trailer for your indie game

One of the most important things you can do in your indie game marketing efforts to promote your game is a make or commission a professional quality trailer. Often referred to in indie game PR as one of the most important marketing tools, an amazing trailer can give your game the edge it needs to stand out amongst the crowd.

Gone are the days where customers could look at the back of the box to get a visual sense of a game – the rise in digital storefronts means trailers are often people’s first exposure to your game and first impressions count. You’ll want to capture the imagination of your audience, retain their attention and sell them on the appeal of your game all in a matter of seconds. That’s no easy task in today’s fast-moving world of digital content, but we’ve compiled a few key pointers to set you on the right track to create a trailer that will captivate your audience and give your game every chance of success.

Would a goldfish watch your trailer?

In 2016 Microsoft did a study that concluded the average American has an attention span of eight seconds, framing social media and mobile phones as the culprits. To set that into to context a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. Whilst this research might not be entirely accurate for every audience we know that grabbing people’s attention in today’s digital landscape and keeping it is not easy.

With that in mind, don’t waste your time communicating to people what your game is: get right to the action as fast as you can. Forget about studio info, you can put that at the end and there’s no need for your game’s logo to eat up the first few seconds of screen time. Get straight into what makes your game different, interesting and desirable to play. That also means keeping it short – goldfish remember. Nobody is going to sit through a five-minute trailer about a game they’ve never heard of from a small studio. Even the big triple-A games would struggle to engage people for that long on already established franchises. Less is most certainly more when it comes trailers.

As Kert Gartner, the mind behind trailers for such titles as Hotline Mami 2, Spelunky and Celeste told us: “A good trailer should immediately capture your viewer’s attention, be entertaining and engaging, and leave the viewer with an understanding and desire to know more about your game.

Are you not entertained?

Remember, this isn’t a public service announcement, you want people to be as excited about your game as you are. Information is good, but there are far better ways to relate info to your audience than in your trailer. First and foremost your trailer should focus on being entertaining. You want to waste no time grabbing people’s attention and sucking them into the story, world and themes you have created. You can add things like the launch date and release platforms in a short screen at the end; your primary objective should be to tell a story in as short a time as possible. You want to leave people knowing what your game is, where it’s set and why they should play it.

Don’t give away too much though, you want to make people curious about what they’ve seen as this we likely encourage them to find out more. And that’s the key to an effective trailer – giving people a desire to find out more.

Entertaining people is a difficult and complex process that will be different for every game, but just remember it’s about amplifying the most interesting parts of your game. Ultimately, the purpose of a trailer is to sell the game and that’s why entertaining your audience and getting them interested in what you’ve created is so important as M. Joshua Cauller, creator of trailers for games such as Darkest Dungeon, Slay the Spire and The Messenger, told us: “You can’t tell the first thing about how that game plays when you see a screenshot. But the moment you see the game moving and hear the sounds it makes as the player feels their way around? Now you’re suddenly in a better place to know whether or not you’re able to make an informed buying decision.”

Quality over quantity

As we’ve discussed, making an effective trailer is about condensing the absolute best parts of your game down to as small and digestible a package as possible. The focus is always quality over quantity, and that is in every aspect of the production.

The visuals are an obvious place to start with this. You want to capture all your footage in 1080p at 60 frames per second as a minimum utilising 4k capture if you have the resources available. And remember this is about quality, so only select the best footage for your trailer that isn’t cluttered with UI displays or on-screen dialogue unless relevant to the game. And, as a last tip, don’t go spending thousands on a trailer if you’ve spent nothing on your game’s graphics or art first. Start at the beginning and make sure your game looks good before you begin putting together promotional footage or assigning a budget for trailers.

Music is also an extremely powerful tool when it comes to trailer production and should be considered as much as the visuals themselves. Music has the ability to help convey the story you are trying to sell and connect with people on a personal level. There’s a reason why Bethesda used the popular Country song Take Me Home, Country Roads in their Fallout 76 promotional trailers and it wasn’t just because it’s catchy. A song can help tell a story, convey emotions and establish a tone for your game. Don’t forget that a large majority of users may view the video on a mobile device via social media so always ensure the video works without audio as well as with.

The end game

So, you know what it takes to create an exciting and engaging trailer for your indie game and now you’re considering when is the most appropriate time to put this into action. There’s no definite answer to that as it’s different for every game, but there is a baseline of video content you would expect to put out throughout the life cycle of a game’s production.

First, you’d have your announcement trailer showcasing to the world that your game exists and why they should care. Following that you’d generally have a gameplay trailer that confirms the release date that players can expect to get their hands on it and captures people’s interest and intrigue. Finally, you’d have a launch trailer, you final chance to show off the gameplay players can expect in the final game and an advertisement for those who haven’t seen what it’s all about yet.

Those are the basics, some developers do more and some do less, but all have the desired end effect of enticing your audience to buy, play or just find out more about your game. Selling the visuals of your game is more important than ever right now with most interactive platforms relying so heavily on video content.

Whatever way you approach it trailers should be an integral part of your marketing strategy and a key tool in which you showcase your game to the audience as Chris Correia from Trailer Squad told us: “If a picture speaks a thousand words, a video speaks a thousand words sixty times per second. And trailers are all about communication. We gamers are a visual bunch, and there’s nothing like a trailer for immediately communicating your gameplay mechanics, visual style, animations, story and musical choices.”