Planning a Trailer Campaign Part 2 of 5 - Firewatch

Last week I took a look at the common trailer campaign strategy to release a teaser and then give a deeper look with a trailer or two.

This week I'm taking a look at Firewatch's trailer campaign which I started work on during E3 2015. Firewatch uniquely launched with a handful of "mini-trailers" instead of a final trailer making a hard sell to the audience. I really liked this idea, and without collaboration with Jake Rodkin of Campo Santo, I doubt I would've come up with it. 

Here's how the trailers were released up through launch:

August 2014 - Teaser Trailer
June 2015 - E3 Trailer
February 2, 2016 - Launch Mini-trailers
February 9, 2016 - Game Launch

Firewatch's first teaser is framed around a conversation between Henry and Delilah (which doesn't happen in the finished game) cut with visuals of Henry moving about the wilderness. 

It's impossible for me to objectively look at this teaser because even before I was involved in the game I was excited as heck to see what Campo Santo was making, both because of their work on The Walking Dead Game and because I listened to the Idle Thumbs podcast for years.

The story content of this teaser is very light. Henry and Delilah talk about work, and then the trailer segues to vague allusions to an incident that Delilah doesn't want to discuss. Henry asks Delilah about the safety of the job which she tries to shake off then tells him to do his job. The music score gradually ramps up creating tension and intrigue despite the fact the visuals of Henry moving about don't do much to support that mood.

This teaser coasts by just fine on the strength of the art design, writing, top notch voice acting and music. It successfully creates an atmosphere of danger, which unto itself is an achievement. Early in development, mood and tone are often the most you can hope to convey for a game; this teaser is very successful at that.

About ten months later, the full trailer released; this was the trailer Campo Santo hired me on to make!

Compared to the first teaser, this shows a lot more of the game. The goal was to show that STUFF HAPPENS in Firewatch (as opposed to you playing a character that picks up objects and investigates to uncover past events.

In this trailer we see a bit of Henry and Delilah's playful relationship. Delilah sends Henry on an errand, asks him about dealing with the isolation of the job, and mentions she doesn't talk to other lookouts like she does with him. Then we find out there are two missing girls, the communications are cut, and someone is in Henry's tower. 

When it came close to launch time I assumed I'd make a more fleshed out trailer simply because that's what I'm used to doing, but Jake decided they didn't want to show more of the story.

Instead we made a handful of "mini-trailers." The goal was to announce the release date, and show a little bit of gameplay (the previous two trailers had no HUD or visible UI). The concept of these stemmed from when I created some cold opens for a full trailer, and jokingly said to Jake: "What if one of these was the whole trailer?" 

The mini trailers showcased a handful of vignettes from the game

  1. Pretty environments
  2. Henry running afoul of a suspicious trowel at a camp
  3. Henry climbing down a shale slide and naming it
  4. Henry and Delilah naming a wildfire

I haven't seen other trailers campaigns do this, but it's made me reconsider what a launch trailer needs to be. On one hand, a launch trailer says the game is out, on the other, this trailer might be the face of the game on every storefront. But if a previous trailer can be used in storefronts, is it necessary for the launch trailer to be the "biggest" just to announce the game's release?

As a trailer editor I selfishly want to use the launch trailer as an opportunity to make THE DEFINITIVE TRAILER for the game to say: "Celebrate! The game is out! LOOK AT IT IN ALL ITS GLORY!" Launch is also the best time because that's when the game is at its most finished. 

I might be getting away from my field of expertise here, but here's another thing to consider: on YouTube the view count of trailers generally diminishes on each trailer. Even a massive box office film like Avengers: Infinity War went from 202 million views for the teaser to 83 million views for the full trailer. So might it make sense for the middle trailer to be more substantial? Granted, this view count-centric question doesn't consider the lifespan of the game and views via the store.

Like I said at the start of this, I don't intend for these posts to be prescriptive; I just want to show the variety of trailer strategies employed by various games, because I find it interesting to look at why I think they did or didn't work.

I'm biased, but I think Firewatch's strategy did a good job sustaining audience interest by starting vague, showing a bigger look, then giving some little nuggets at the end. This managed to draw interest, deepen interest, and then announce the release with some easily digestible bites. 

Part 3 is about the trailer campaign for Hotline Miami!