Video game trailers, at least for a certain type of game, tend to follow the same well-worn pattern: a high-definition cinematic render of an emotional cut-scene that very often doesn’t even appear in the actual game. Here’s the impressive trailer for World of Warcraft’s ‘Wrath of the Lich King’ expansion, released back in 2008:
Impressive, even a little emotional, but it has very little to do with the eventual game, which consisted of more of the same gathering and dungeon-running as its predecessors.
As games (or rather their graphics engines) became more advanced, actual gameplay started to sneak in to the trailers. The recent ‘Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’ release uses in-game graphics in its trailer, albeit rapidly cut and interspersed with generous cut-scene segments:
But what is it actually like to play these games? Where in the trailer does it mention the endless level grinding in WoW, or the on-rails mission design of CoD? And where, oh where, are the people?
Games are people too
When you think about online games and the people that play them, it’s easy to quickly descend into stereotype — the obese, basement-dwelling nerd from South Park’s epic ‘Make Love Not Warcraft’ episode, or Korean game-addicts dying from exhaustion in internet cafes — in part because the game manufacturers themselves go out of their way to sideline or entirely remove players from their marketing campaigns.
Even when online gaming makes it into the mainstream news, such as coverage of huge events like the League of Legends World Championship, it is still presented as an essentially solo activity. Perhaps that’s why the advert makers choose not to push that aspect to consumers; who wants to picture themselves sitting alone in their bedroom, with nothing but the glow of a computer screen for company?
But now one company has realised that it is their players, more than anything else, that makes their game so successful.
This is EVE
EVE Online is a sci-fi sandbox MMO where players take on the role of an immortal “capsuleer”. As well as fighting pirates and each other, players mine, trade, manufacture, explore, and fly a variety of internet spaceships around an imaginary galaxy.
In the past, EVE trailers have followed the same pattern as other MMOs — cut scenes showing activity that never actually happens in-game. Here’s the trailer for their ‘Rubicon’ expansion in 2013:
But, late in 2014, game developer CCP decided that for their next trailer, instead of showcasing their game, they would instead showcase their players: “focus[ing] less on EVE itself and more on the people who make it live and breathe.”
The results are stunning. This is EVE (audio NSFW):
Yes, the ships and scenes are rendered rather than actual in-game footage. And yes, it is constructed and scored to give it greater emotional impact. But, finally, there are real-life players in a video game trailer! Not since those awkward television ads of the 80s have publishers felt confident enough in the quality of their games to include actual people, having actual fun, playing their game.
Listening to the voices of the players, hearing the excitement and adrenaline as they prepare to enter battle (“My heart’s racing,” mutters one pilot) and the sheer primal joy of a fleet commander in the midst of a victorious bombing run, you start to understand the attractions of online gaming in a way that run-of-the-mill cinematic trailers can never convey.
Now, instead of wondering whether to buy the game, you’re wondering whether that could be you.