A great trailer is essential for marketing a game and getting people hooked, especially when it is the first thing the player sees on platforms like Steam. However, a lot of indie developers make common mistakes that can negatively impact wishlists and other metrics.
The issue of game trailers was recently brought up by Simon Carless in his GameDiscoverCo newsletter. He reached out to Derek Lieu, who made trailers for a lot of indie games and big projects like Half-Life: Alyx, Firewatch, Subnautica, Psychonauts 2, and Sifu.
Key mistakes when making a Steam trailer
- Slow intros don’t work. They give no idea of the game’s genre, key features, and core loop, so most people won’t wait half a minute (or even 10 seconds) to finally realize why they should wishlist or buy this project (Lieu broke down this issue in one of his blog posts).
- Gameplay should start from the first seconds, the faster the better. Viewers usually click through all title cards, logos, and long establishing shots to finally see gameplay. Laysara: Summit Kingdom is one of many examples of why this approach works.
“A lot of my trailers now are structured like this one I made for Noita or Tactical Breach Wizards which has a few seconds of gameplay up front (so it’s already started playing before people have a chance to start clicking through the progress bar),” Lieu said.
- Don’t put the story or cinematic stuff upfront. As Lieu said, these things are “nice to have” if they support the core gameplay loop. This might work for the second trailer, but the first one must get the player hooked, so they would like to get more details about the game in the future.
- Don’t look up to trailers for AAA games. Big companies’ budgets are on another level, so they can afford themselves making tons of trailers for every game. But what works for them — think of slow-burning movie-like videos — doesn’t work for small indie teams, especially the ones promoting their debut title.
So developers should capture the hook of their game and try to explain it to players in the fastest way possible. Trailers are a great tool for it, especially if they don’t spend time showing unnecessary stuff.
Lieu also talked about these issues in a video for the Game Devs of Color Expo. He not only highlighted common mistakes like using unknown logos, repetitive content, and bad music choices, but also explained how to fix them.