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Want to make a great game trailer? Optimize it for social media

Top image: Stray Gods by Summerfall Studios, trailer by Derek Lieu

Twitter is not a good place to advertise to potential customers, but it is good for connecting to people in the game industry like scouts, publishers, streamers, press, etc. So let’s talk about how to make a good trailer specifically for Twitter. Even if Twitter goes down completely in flames, these tips still apply to social media platforms where audio is muted, and scrolling away is quick and easy.

You have mere microseconds to stop someone’s thumb from scrolling past your post. So, as always, don’t waste the beginning of a trailer with studio logos or slow camera moves through environments. For ESRB ratings I recommend the small icon on top of gameplay rather than the two second full screen version. If your trailer has extreme violence, the ESRB mandates it be shown with full screen ESRB at the start though.

A video autoplaying with recognizable gameplay is MUCH more compelling than a ‘cinematic’ shot or establishing shot, or something else which does not look like player controlled gameplay.

This screenshot from Firewatch is incredibly pretty, and probably enough to hold onto some eyeballs, but not nearly as compelling as if we could see Henry’s hand in the frame, especially holding a walkie talkie.

Here are some rules to get more Twitter eyeballs to pay attention to your trailer:

Post videos natively

Every social media platform prefers you post within their ecosystem rather than an external link. Most importantly for you, they’ll autoplay on phones if posted natively. Be aware here’s a hard limit on videos at about 140 seconds. Some accounts can post longer videos, but I could never find a clear answer to who/how to post longer ones. That’s ok though, because your game trailer shouldn’t be longer than around 90 seconds anyway, and who knows if anyone will even watch that much?

Get to the point

Seriously though, show what the game looks like when it’s being played. Think of it this way: the first shot should be from a section of the game after hours of play, not minutes. You want to show a series of shots to represent a quick game loop so people can intuit: “Ah, it’s one of THOSE games.” On Twitter, people are more unlikely to sit through an entire trailer before scrolling away, so you might as well quickly show a bunch of stuff. 

A Space for the Unbound smartly made a version of their launch trailer specifically for Twitter which has a mini teaser, but this PlayStation version on YouTube forgoes the teaser.

If you’re posting an announce trailer or major milestone trailer it makes sense to post the entire thing, or the entire thing with a mini teaser at the beginning (if your trailer doesn’t already have one). But you might want to make a cutdown of the trailer for the times you need to show someone a quick sample of your game in a reply.

For the game Laysara: Summit Kingdom, the first shot could be an empty mountain, but that wouldn’t be as interesting as seeing this stage where there’s already a city built up.

Have your trailer ready to post in replies

Occasionally, game industry people with large followings will put a call out for people to reply with their games. For example, Mike Bithell put out a call for games made by trans developers. My friend Callum Underwood has done this many times, as has Raphael van Lierop of Hinterland, and several others. These are nice opportunities to show your game in a context where people are scrolling through replies to check out new stuff. There are also hashtags like #TrailerTuesday and #ScreenShotSaturday which are browsed by publishers and scouts.

It’s also in these threads where you’ll quickly discover how natively posted videos and trailers with up front gameplay stand out FAR more quickly than everything else. I made a TikTok video going through one of these threads and demonstrating which pitches stood out from the rest. A trailer posted in this context is more about giving a tiny sample to then get someone to click through. 

For example, this 30 second cutdown edited by Gary J. Kings is a cutdown of a larger trailer for a tweet saying: ‘Hey, check out the demo at Steam Next Fest’. This is really all you need when people are quickly looking through stuff to find demos to play. The length of a cutdown aligns with the time someone is eager to sample a bunch of stuff. I think it’s great when trailers respect the time of their audience, and someone downloading a ton of free demos isn’t going to want to spend a lot of time watching a trailer.

30 second trailers like this are a good example of how to structure a trailer to use in Twitter replies

Use this structure for your Twitter trailer

If you want a simple point by point structure for a 90 second trailer on Twitter here it is (it’s also a good starting structure for any game trailer)

  • (Thumbstopper/Bumper) ~1-10 seconds of a handful of clips which show the game loop and a sampling of how fully featured the game gets (for example, if it’s a city builder, don’t start with an empty grass field, show me a whole city). It could even be one clip if there’s enough interesting stuff happening consistently. It’s not a bad idea to end this mini teaser with a title and call to action.
  • (Intro) ~10-15 seconds of the gameplay basics, starting at the beginning, and quickly showing the major player verbs.
  • (Escalation) ~40 seconds of the way the gameplay increases in complexity or layers in interesting challenges or drama.
  • (Climax) ~20-30 seconds showing the breadth and scope. This is where you put ‘content montages’ like numerous skins, environments, bosses, and skip around a variety of color palettes and other things that make the game look big and chock full of stuff.

If you’re making a 30 second cutdown, then make a game loop or two that starts with gameplay and runs through all the key player verbs.

This is another nice example of a short and sweet 30 second trailer

Add subtitles and captions if you can

Just like YouTube, Twitter allows you to upload .srt files which have caption information so people can choose to turn them on if they so desire. This increases accessibility, and is a good practice when uploading videos with spoken dialogue. 

Caption with a good one-line pitch

Not related to the trailer, but a well written one-line pitch makes a HUGE difference. People can read a quick pitch in less time than it takes to watch a few seconds of a trailer. I think a good pitch makes it more likely people will watch. One of my favorites is Xalavier Nelson‘s:

“I’m working on a Poker Night at the Inventory-like called Sunshine Shuffle, about cute animals that robbed a bank 12 years ago and are telling you how/why so they don’t get executed by the mafia!”

This was posted with a one minute trailer. 

Don’t forget the link!

As with all marketing materials on the internet, you want to make it dirt easy for people to take the next step if they’re interested. So don’t forget to include the link to the Steam page or whoever you’re trying to direct people to so they can progress a little further down the funnel.

Derek Lieu is a master at making game trailers. If you are interested in creating your own game trailers, you might want to consider taking his course. Check here for more details.  
Derek Lieu
Derek Lieuhttps://www.derek-lieu.com/
Derek Lieu has over 10 years of experience in making trailers for both big AAA productions as small independent games. He directs, edits, and captures the vast majority of his trailers. You may have seen his work on games like Half-Life: Alyx, Among Us, Psychonauts 2, Spelunky 2, Firewatch, The Long Dark, and many more.
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