Review quotes are featured in trailers to show the acclaim a game received, and hopefully indicate the game is worth giving more consideration, but do they even work? I read a lot of the comments on the Game Maker's Toolkit video about indie game trailers; there were very mixed feelings about review quotes. Some commenters said they need to see them to know if a game is worth pursuing, others said they hated them because for myriad reasons.
Here are a couple comments which run the gamut of reasons someone might not like review quotes in trailers:
"Honestly, I hate excerpts and quotes in trailers and on posters. From publishers, from streamers, from websites, no matter from whom. "This game is amazing", "10/10", "the scariest horror of recent years." Not only because they have been the same for decades (and they are dull), but also make you think about honesty. If the trailer is good, I’m interested in the game, and if instead of real content there are quotes about what kind of game / film is good, then I’m in doubt. Especially if it is at the beginning of the trailer and / or takes a long time from the trailer. Maybe, this is just my way, but I absolutely do not accept it. I find it disgusting."
"The second worst thing I can't stand is review quotes. Fuck those. They alone give me no validity and no trust. You may get them from anywhere. They don't tell me anything. Others may like something, that I do not. Generic statements that it's good or exceptional tell me nothing. And when they're the gameplay scene cut separators they actively prevent me from understanding the game and gameplay."
Let's break down the gripes in these comments to see what the underlying issues are, and how we can address them:
The viewer doesn't value the opinion of the person quoted
The quotes are dull and generic
The quotes obstruct or supplant the gameplay
As with anything, we can't make a blanket statement on whether review quotes definitively do or don't work, so the best we can do is understand how to use them more effectively by addressing each of these issues.
Problem #1: The viewer doesn't trust the opinion of the person
There's only so much we can do about this, but it largely depends on the audience being targeted. If someone simply doesn't trust any voices other than their own, there's not much to do, and therefore those people aren't worth addressing.
But there are people who do seek the opinions of others, whether it be a close friend, colleague, website, reviewer, YouTuber, streamer or other form of influencer. I think the vast majority of us fall into this category. Having a handful of people whose opinion you trust allows you to save the time of doing your own research, at bare minimum seeing a positive opinion from someone you trust might get you to pay attention.
So whose comments or reviews do you include in your trailer? To do this well, you have to know your audience and the audience of sites and influencers. For example, one trailer can receive very different comments depending on which YouTube channel you're watching it on (for example: Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, IGN, Gamespot). This is because those mini-communities have different priorities, loyalties, desires, and demographics.
The way to use this information is to take a good, hard look at your game, and your target audience. What news publications does they read? What channels do they follow? Do they follow YouTubers or streamers? Which ones?
Remember, if you try to please everyone you end up pleasing no one. You might think your audience is as many people as possible, but in fact it's only as many people as possible within certain criteria. You might worry targeting a subset of the gaming community will limit your potential sales, but I think the opposite is more dangerous, because you risk making something no one feels strongly about.
Of course there will likely be SOME measure of overlap between any communities you can think of, but for example, that doesn't mean in the same trailer you include quotes from both Pewdiepie and Vice Games (formerly Waypoint). On one side you have an audience for a person who claimed to have “accidentally” used racial slurs, on the other you have people who care deeply about social justice, diversity, feminism and progressive politics. This is the most extreme comparison I could think of, but the point is: it's in your best interest to overlap your audience with the audience of the people you're quoting.
In the best case scenario, someone will see a quote, know they trust the opinion of that person or organization, and be more likely to purchase. Or someone might think: "Ah, I was going to check IGN.com's review before purchasing, but I see they had good things to say. I feel good knowing that, but I'll read the review just in case."
This is one reason there were so many positive comments about the quotes in the gameplay trailer I made for Subnautica which featured quotes from popular YouTubers and Twitch streamers. These people each made dozens, if not hundreds of videos for Subnautica, and cultivated a subsection of their audience around them. Seeing those names acknowledged in the trailer told their audiences that Unknown Games saw, and appreciated them. At the time I was skeptical about quoting YouTubers and streamers, but was proven wrong.
Of course, I'm sure there were people who watched that trailer with no familiarity for those YouTubers or streamers, and therefore would not be influenced by them. But I think the risk of a tepid response by some people is worth it if what you gain is an overwhelmingly positive response from the rest. It's not as if the whole trailer was structured around those quotes, so it didn’t alienate non-fans of those streamers and YouTubers.
If you're not sure which publications overlap with your audience, you might simply try asking the publications: "Do you think your readers/audience will enjoy this game?" Worst-case-scenario, you get no response, but you just might learn something.
Problem #2: The quotes are generic
My general rule is: the more specific the quote, the better. Who would believe the quote "...good..."? What if the full quote was "Not good"? A single word or phrase can easily be taken out of context, so it immediately looks suspicious. It’s better to use quotes which have specificity, for example: “The stealth kills feels amazing!!”
People are already a little suspicious of any advertising, so if given the space to assume the worst, they probably will. If you can't get a good phrase to quote, you end up scraping the bottom of the barrel. If that's the case, you might as well not quote at all. For example, it's always a sure sign a movie didn't receive universal acclaim when the quotes in the TV spots are from obscure radio stations or small websites. If the movie received great reviews in the most reputable publications, you can be sure they'd use the full logo of a site like Variety or The LA Times.
The other benefit of using quotes with a lot of specificity is it can help you call out game features and mechanics which are difficult to communicate visually. For example, a quote which says: "Amazing, tactical turn-based action" immediately tells the audience the game is turned based, something that's difficult to show in a trailer. In lieu of a title card which says: "Unique gameplay!" you could quote a reviewer who said something like: "The [game mechanic] is like nothing I've seen before."
It's always better if the quote can integrate with the gameplay footage rather than stand alone. Quotes which exist in isolation are what those YouTube comments up above are complaining about, but quotes with specificity can provide information.
Problem #3: The quotes obstruct or supplant the gameplay
I prefer showing quotes at the middle or end of a trailer because I assume the audience wants to see gameplay as soon as possible. I think looking at quotes can be very frustrating when you're waiting to see something else. Putting quotes on top of busy gameplay can look very cluttered unless they're well integrated into the scene, but in general I think it's better to reduce the audience's cognitive load by putting title cards over a simple background.
I think gameplay should always be more heavily featured than quotes, even in an accolades trailer. For all you know, the person watching still knows nothing at all about your game, so let them see as much of it as possible. Then again, if they watch a trailer labeled "Accolades Trailer" and then complain about review quotes, that's largely on them :P
To recap, I think you should absolutely tout your review quotes if you received stellar reviews, but consider these guidelines:
Consider whether your audience overlaps with the publication or influencer
Pick quotes which are as short and specific to the game as possible. Ideally ones which provide information.
Don't drown the audience in quotes.
Keep the quotes SHORT. One line is best, two lines is pushing it, three lines is too many.
Don’t forget to ask for PERMISSION to quote a person or publication!