Welcome to the second part of our Announcement Trailer Dev Blog. In Part 1, we looked at the very early stages of the announcement trailers development, covering Competitive Analysis, High Level Treatment, writing the Beats and culminating in the first rough edit using placeholder assets.
That was back in December 2015, when I had recently left my job to go Indie. Now we jump forward to June 2016.
In the intervening time, the following had happened:
– Fireblade Software was born! The company officially registered as an entity.
– Our team expanded! Adam, Alex and Aaron were on-board.
– Art style discovered! I realised that a Classic Naval Oil Painting style was a perfect tonal and thematic fit for the game.
– Grant winners! We received additional funding from the lovely UK Games Fund.
In short, the game went from what you saw in the first draft of the trailer in the previous blog, to this:
This screenshot was taken in February 2016 – The biggest change was moving away from the top-down camera to a perspective one.
And then on to this:
This screenshot was taken in June 2016 – What a difference time and a very talented team make!
Revisiting the Trailer
As the game was shaping up, my thoughts turned back to the Announcement Trailer. We were going to post the odd screenshot as an appetiser, but the plan was still to reveal ourselves in a way that would attract the most interest.
A lot can change in 6 months, but I recall being surprised to see just how relevant that initial trailer draft was. As we had a host of concept art and in-engine materials I thought I would hack this together to see what the trailer would look like with artwork that was more advanced:
This was the last edit where big changes from the original occurred. In order to keep it less bloated, I stripped out a couple of scenes to make it feel quicker. Ideally, I wanted it to be just under 2 minutes so I had stripped out 20%.
This video is unlisted (i.e. not public) and on my personal YouTube account. It is only meant for consumption by readers of this blog post. See YouTube video description for full disclaimer.
I wanted to do this quickly, which is why the opening and closing shots remain the same. I knew an early 2017 release was not going to happen at this stage, but I lazily left it in because I didn’t think I’d ever show this publicly 🙂
With a leap in visual quality, this process reinforced my feeling that the trailer would have the desired impact.
We needed to be sensible in how we approached the development of the trailer, which was secondary to making the game itself. If it was in the trailer, it would be in the game (except the message-in-a-bottle, although even with that I still have a few ideas on how to incorporate it…)
Moving to Final
As we created enough gameplay and assets to capture individual scenes, I would occasionally revisit the trailer and substitute the concept footage with video captures of the actual game. There were some minor tweaks to the dialogue, but no major changes – the strong foundations laid previously were a real time-saver here.
In early October, we spent a couple of days capturing the final footage. At this stage, it was time to hand over the edit to a professional (Alex) and we went through many revisions to ensure the timing was perfect. As the timings were locked down, Aaron created a superb piece of music to accompany the trailer.
This version shows the final music and low-resolution final gameplay capture. We used low-res renders so it was quicker to move the file around for review purposes. It uses my voice-over and we stripped out the sound effects as Mark had now joined the project and was busy creating the audio assets for it:
A couple of things you may have noticed at the end:
– Back then, Steam Greenlight was a thing. I planned for the ‘call to action’ for the trailer to be “Vote for us on Greenlight!” Ultimately that was not necessary, as when we spoke with Valve they said we’d pass Greenlight in a couple of days, and so there was no point doing it. This meant the ‘call to action’ became “Add us to your Wishlist”. It is important to give enthused viewers of your trailer something to do to help support you. You’ve got their attention, so use it wisely.
– Our original logo! Seeing this logo at the end of an amazing-looking trailer didn’t feel right. It didn’t do the game justice and these feelings kick-started us into redesigning the logo into the one we use today. We covered this in more details in the blog post here.
Of course, the trailer needed a voice-actor to give it that professional finish. We recorded the talented Edward Pinner at the world-famous Shepperton Studios:
Once we had the recordings, added the final audio track with sound effects and put in the new logo plus our call to action, the trailer was complete!
The final result.
Some additional “Directors Commentary” notes:
– I felt the opening message-in-a-bottle scene worked well, in that it wasn’t the usual thing you’d see, so it could engage interest in those crucial first few moments
– I can’t stand trailers that open with company logos, so I wasn’t going to make the same mistake. Show me the game!
– On that note, within the opening 20 seconds people have seen Combat and Exploration. If they only watch 20 seconds, they can understand what the game is about
– 0:09 – I wanted to establish a couple of things within the first few moments – the unique art style, plus the fact that it was Age of Sail. This shot neatly combined the two.
– 0:14 – Two quick shots of different biomes in exploration. Along with the line “I sailed the known… and the unknown seas…” I thought this should set certain expectations for the player. They know they will be explorers with a sense of discovery.
– 0:34 – “The world is a harsh place” sets the tone for the bad things that follow. If you pay attention, in every subsequent scene the ship gradually gets more damaged, and one-by-one the crew are killed. I didn’t expect people would directly notice this, but it should have subconsciously reinforced the increasingly desperate situation.
– 0:45 – Little details, like the fire being extinguished by the tidal wave, went down well with people.
– 0:46 – Someone falls overboard! The footage capture didn’t show this off properly so unfortunately, nobody noticed…
– 0:54 – Showing the ominous shadow along with tentacles was really evocative for a lot of people. Remember, if your trailer has a scary monster; show as little of it to the viewer as possible. What they conjure in their mind will always be scarier than what you can create.
– 1:00 – We’ve shown rain, lightning, tidal waves and now fog in both exploration and combat modes – these all give a good sense of gameplay variety.
– 1:17 – It was too hard to see the lifeboat leaving the scene, a lot of people missed this.
– 1:23 – We wanted people to really understand that ship destruction is not necessarily the end in Abandon Ship, so I had to craft a line that got this across as clearly as possible whilst staying true to the narrative.
– 1:36 – One more biome is shown in exploration mode, so by now we’ve shown 5 varying locations ranging from Arctic to Tropics. We purposefully left tropics till last so that people didn’t think “Pirates of the Caribbean!” in the opening moments. That film is too ‘jaunty pirates’ and not the tone we were trying to achieve.
– 1:48 – We had to cut the boarding as it didn’t end the trailer with as high an impact as the ramming.
For such a small team we were all really proud of what we had achieved, and we felt it did a really good job of presenting what the game was about. It was time to prepare it for public consumption.
The Moment of Truth
Now the trailer was ready, it was time to unveil it to the world. In the background, I had prepared a Press List and got ready a couple of hundred emails to sites worldwide to let them know of our existence.
We intended to release on Wednesday 2nd November. A last-minute hiccup occurred where our Steam page wasn’t updating with the trailer meant we had to delay release by 24 hours. That night, I naively said to my wife “if it gets 5,000 views I’ll be happy” – I said this without any real expectation of what success really was…
The morning of Thursday 3rd November 2016 arrived. It was time. I made the trailer public. Once I had ensured our Steam page was fine plus our social media channels were updated I started sending out the vast amounts of personalised emails to press. Articles from PC Gamer, Rock Paper Shotgun, PC Games N and Kotaku UK appeared in the early evening, as did listings on Gamespot and IGN. By then we were on 3,000 views. I went to bed confident that we’d hit that magic 5,000 by the morning.
I woke up to 17,000 views and it didn’t stop there.
A particular highlight was seeing the PC Gamer article posted on their Facebook page. It had over 2,400 Likes, comfortably beating a Call of Duty post right next to it. Take that, billion-dollar franchise!
Out of 224 media outlets I emailed, 105 (about 47%) covered us. Not bad going for a new company with a game that appeared out of the blue. Other indie developers reading this will know that is a very high success rate for an unknown studio with a new game.
Just over half of the places I reached out to were US and UK based, with the rest being split across the world. I spent time making sure I researched and contacted a lot of international sites because every article and trailer view could contribute to someone adding us to their wishlist.
Our traffic primarily came from the US (25%), UK (13%) and Russia (11%). 23.3% of our views came from the next 7 countries (Poland, Canada, Germany, Australia, Ukraine, France, Hungary). With 38% of our views from the US and UK, the time investment contacting sites from around the world was well worth it. In total, the trailer received views from 164 different countries (shout out to the person in Fiji that watched it!)
We received articles in sites throughout the world, from Japan to Brazil and everywhere in between. This contributed to 62% of our trailer views so was a crucial part of our success.
Within a week of release, we hit 50,000 views – roughly 10 times my naïve estimate. As I post this article on the one year anniversary, we have over 86,000 views on our channel alone. The other YouTube channels that have picked it up are well over double that amount.
Needless to say, this changed the landscape dramatically for us. To say the trailer had the desired effect is a massive understatement. Our Steam wishlists, our important “call-to-action” went through the roof.
Looking back, those solid foundations and the time for the trailer to bubble along in the back of my mind were really crucial. They allowed us to craft an announcement that did the game justice and help us stand out in a busy news cycle. The beats and the first draft weren’t a million miles away from the final trailer (if you look past the placeholder visuals!)
One aspect I could have leveraged further was YouTubers. I didn’t contact any at the time of release, and a few picked us up and hosted our trailers – sometimes months after release. There are a lot of channels that host game trailers and combined they bring a lot of traffic. Yes, they cannibalise a few views to your channel, but I believe this is negligible. The rewards are far, far greater and the bumps in our wishlist numbers prove it.
When making an Indie game, it’s easy to get consumed by the game-making process. Marketing is something I had never done before – never even really had to think about – I consider myself a game-maker first. I think most Indie Dev’s do. But it is imperative you give a lot of attention to the marketing side of the industry. After all, if no-one knows you exist, how will they play your game?
I hope you enjoyed this two-part blog. Once we released the trailer, we spent a lot of time focusing on development. We knew we couldn’t afford to do these sorts of high production value trailers very often, so the next ones would be more functional, a series of dev-blogs focusing on gameplay. They still needed to be professional of course, but they served a slightly different purpose. Once you’ve done your big announcement, people want to see gameplay.
You can check those out here:
Sea Monsters & Doomsday Cults: