Things to Know Before You Create a Game Trailer or Promo
Like much of the world, I’m a big fan of video games. And these days I’m lucky enough to have video game clients who ask me to edit promotional videos and advertising campaigns for their titles. I won’t lie—they’re an absolute blast to put together because they’re designed to squeeze all the fun of a game into a really tight space.
If you’ve ever been curious about what goes into video game marketing, consider this a crash course. You’ll get an overview on where game content comes from, the important editing considerations games can have that live-action doesn’t, and a brief look at a marketing attack plan for social media platforms.
Your first challenge is sourcing the material that you’ll be editing, and this can come from a variety of sources: CGI trailers like this one, in-game cinematics like this, user-generated content like this, and screen recordings of in-game footage.
User-generated content used in video game ads often comes from top players sharing their screens across YouTube and Twitch. But you’re more likely to be working with screen recordings that are made by the developer to show off specific traits of a game or characters within a game that they want to market to an audience.
These can come from a computer or even iPhone/Android screen recordings, depending on the game platform. But at the opposite end of the spectrum, game capture can be a highly produced and choreographed event with varying levels of cinematography.
It can be as simple as recording one player’s view while other players move their characters through a scripted scene, or as complex as a fully-rendered, carefully choreographed sequence straight from a game engine like Unreal and Unity.
Either way, the end result is likely to be digital footage that’s unbound by the normal limitations of real-world cameras, with virtual cameras able to record any angle imaginable for cinematic impact.
Now for what you’re here for. Editing ads and trailers for video games is similar to live action in many ways. The tools in Premiere or other NLEs work the same way they would if you were cutting live action and structurally there is a narrative or messaging in a video, no matter how short it may be.
There are, however, certain pitfalls that a lot of live-action video doesn’t have, which can make video game edits tricky beasts. So here are some things to keep in mind if you ever find yourself in a first-person
shooter editing scenario.
Most games are captured at 30 or 60 frames per second, but cinematics for the same games are often 24fps. It’s necessary then to understand your final deliverables, which will be client- or project-dependent, and know how to handle the pitfalls of editing with mixed frame rates. Choppy playback is often a side effect of mixing frame rates and is especially noticeable when there’s a lot of movement on screen.
As an aside, in my experience, 30fps clips in a 24fps timeline are more forgiving than the other way around—it’s easier for software to remove unwanted frames than to add frames that don’t exist.
Sometimes these choppy moments are impossible to avoid, so it’s good to have tricks up your sleeve like different interpolation methods (see the video above). Speed ramping can also be a lifesaver.
Another thing to keep in mind is the ever-dreaded variable frame rate recording. VFR is a common occurrence in screen recordings received from gaming clients from my experience and it can lead to a host of problems.
Things like audio drift, choppy playback, sluggish responsiveness and even NLE crashes can often be traced back to VFR media. An easy solution to circumvent this potential headache is to simply transcode media to Prores or another quality editing codec before diving into the edit.
A lesser-known trap that’s easy to fall into is “soupiness”. Despite the name, soupiness has less to do with chicken or noodles and more to do with the action on screen.
In a lot of games, especially auto battler or player versus player (PvP) games, the action happening on screen becomes so chaotic that it becomes difficult for a viewer to follow what’s going on. This most often happens when multiple fast-paced actions happen close to one another.
It can be tricky to navigate because while cool action may start one moment, in another moment that same action may evolve into a glowing mess of explosive soupiness. In the above we see what starts as a sweet attack quickly dissolve into a massive vibrant orb of energy, names, and icons. No one can tell what’s happening in that melee.
In a similar vein, photosensitivity is something most editors don’t usually have to worry about. Not so with video games.
Photosensitivity is basically the tendency for some individuals to experience seizures or other symptoms when they’re exposed to flashing lights, of which video games tend to have a lot. So what may look like a cool effect or transition to you might actually be a medical concern for a viewer. The example below shows how an effect that made it Cyberpunk 2077 was later adjusted to reduce the risk. (Contains flashing lights.)
To minimize this risk, videos for game trailers and ads are often passed through a Harding test, also known as the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer (HardingFPA).
The Harding test is a diagnostic tool that looks at a video and can help determine if any point in a video may have too much flashing for light-sensitive viewers. After videos are passed through the test, moments in the video are given scores to let creatives know if it is safe or if portions need to be adjusted.
You’ve likely heard that 65 percent of (good) video editing is found in the audio work or some other made-up statistic like that. I completely agree. To me, good audio, especially sound effects, can make or break a video. The difficulty with cutting video game content is that all of that audio has to be built. It’s similar to working on animated projects. Without “nat sound” from a camera, every tiny detail falls on the editor and/or sound designer’s shoulders to imagine and implement.
“Good audio, especially sound effects, can make or break a video.”
As a game trailer editor, you won’t have to worry about this. Because you’re cutting content from captured moments in video games, you can lean heavily on the sounds from the game itself—all of which has been selected or designed for you.
Booms, blasts, zaps, warps, whooshes, explosions, punches, and even cherry-picked bits of game dialogue can be useful. I like to amplify what the sound designers from the game provide with additional libraries of trailer-esque sound effects that help to take a mundane cut and turn it into a dynamic transition. For example…
Don’t get me wrong, a banging music track helps to carry a video, but the addition of sound effects is what brings the video to life. How much and to what detail those effects are used is the creative discretion of the editor.
This is where good video game ads are made great. Matching gameplay takes a keen eye and is the best way to combine CGI elements from cinematic trailers or moments in game with actual gameplay footage. This is accomplished by cutting from the action from a cinematic to a similar action in gameplay for the payoff. Check out the example below where KAY/O from Valorant throws a knife.
Sprinkling these moments throughout a video is one of the best ways to elevate an edit and make the cutting choices feel more cohesive. The more impact they bring, the better.
Like any advert, the prime objective for gaming ads is to convince you to buy in. So messaging is just as important here as it would be in a soda or fast food campaign. So your game trailer will be part of a project that’s been developed with input from a combination of sources, like the developer, their agency on record, and possibly even the studio that’s cutting the spots. So your work will need to integrate campaign elements like full-screen CTAs or lower-third callouts.
Incorporating these messages comes down to pacing. For lack of a better word, it’s uncool to just slap taglines and catchphrases across an edit—and your viewers expect better from you.
By carefully crafting the pace of a video, you’re able to set up moments that allow the viewer to take a quick breath from the action, absorb a message, and then jump back into the fun.
In this day of various social media platforms, I’d guess that most editors aren’t strangers to editing in social-specific ratios like 9×16 and 1×1. Gaming ads take the idea of sizes and versions to a sometimes dizzying level though. So find out what these requirements are in advance, and factor them into your cut and project organization.
It’s common for an online ad to have a long-form version (often 60-seconds), a 30-second version, and a 15-second version. All based on the same concept. Each of those separate versions will then usually be resized into 16×9, 9×16, and 1×1 edits. So the final delivery for a single ad may actually be nine discrete deliverables.
Then, if you take into account textless versions for each—no title graphics to allow international localization—and your ProRes version for archiving, the deliverable count for a single concept could be upwards of 27 individual files! And if you’re working as part of a campaign, you’ll likely be looking at multiple video concepts. So three concepts could easily equate to nearly 90 deliverables!
Throughout all of this, you need to consider the graphics using the messaging mentioned above. So every version will need resized graphics and titles. Sometimes this might require After Effects templates, so familiarity with MOGRTs will make this process much simpler—especially if you have to make global adjustments in the client approval stages.
Clearly, there is a lot to keep track of, which is why it’s imperative to have good project organization workflows and tracking systems in place to ensure that all the deliverables get met. Online project and workflow management tools like Asana, Trello, Monday, and ClickUp can help you keep campaigns on track and are also great for managing tasks and milestones, allowing you to see current status at a glance. Most workflow managers can also integrate directly with Frame.io or through Zapier, which can make tracking notes a breeze.
Better with friends
If you couldn’t tell already, a lot goes into these promo videos and it usually takes a team of people to bring them to life. Like any production, the challenges you face will expand and contract based on the game and your client’s needs, but at the end of the day, it’s always a fun job.