They suggested, trailers were partly to blame for the high hopes as they emphasized features that were cut from the launch version of the game. Disappointed players started posting negative user reviews on Steam and Metacritic, seeking refunds, compiling all undelivered promises on reddit and even filed a complaint to the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) claiming false advertising on Hello Games’ part, as reported in the Metro. You can read the ASA report here.
To give you a flavour of the game, check out these trailers:
Despite these high-profile disillusionments, players still seem to attribute a degree of fidelity to video game trailers. However, just by looking at online discussions and news gaming sites a certain level of what I would call video game trailer literacy is spreading through video game communities. While it is certainly still limited as it does not prevent disappointments on the scale of No Man’s Sky, the increasingly critical reception of video game trailers shapes the promotional practice in video game industry. These negotiations over the representativity are on the side of video game industry most apparent in the form of disclaimers which accompany many promotional genres including trailers and relativize the often presumed indexical relationship between a trailer and a game. While disclaimers should not be considered a direct form of video game trailer literacy, they are influenced by the same concerns over the role of trailers within video game culture. To understand the current level of literacy, we need to take a closer look at the evolution of disclaimers.
Killzone 2 Official E3 2005 trailer:
However, to achieve the level of visual detail and intensity of action seen in the trailer, developers from Guerrilla Games decided to shift the development from the PlayStation 2 system to PlayStation 3 and spent 4 more years finishing it. To prevent any future confusion, video game publishers soon after adopted disclaimers which often state that “the footage is not representative of the final product”. However, there are no enforceable guidelines or rules to the actual wording of such disclaimers which sometimes results in cryptic statements. For example, the reveal trailer for Battlefield 1 (2016) includes a warning at the end saying: “Frostbite game engine footage representative of Xbox One. Not actual gameplay.”
So then, how does such a disclaimer relate to the actual gaming experience?
Battlefield 1 Official Reveal Trailer:
The cautious approach to video game trailers and their perceived representativity is to some extent undermined by the practice of trailer analysis. Frame-by-frame examinations of trailers are not specific to video game culture, movie trailers have motivated such readings since the advent of online trailer in the late 1990s, especially in the context of the second trilogy of Star Wars. However, inferring gameplay features often proves tricky and misleading even though many fans and journalists (for example, IGN’s video series Rewind Theater) seem to trust their abilities to see through marketing strategies and uncover the truth about an upcoming game. While such analyses might be critical, they nonetheless put a lot of weight onto video game trailers which were time and time again proven to be non-representative, especially in the early stages of video game development.
Cases such as the No Man’s Sky’s controversy show that players are interested in the questions of representativity of video game trailers. While the actual discussion is to some extent steered by the terminology used in disclaimers, there is still space for negotiation over the perceived role of trailers in video game culture. Are video game trailers supposed to be representative at all? Due to the socially constructed nature of the notion of representativity, this question can only be answered through discussion of the involved stakeholders. Disclaimers and trailer literacy are parts of this process.
Jan Švelch is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism at Charles University (Prague, Czech Republic). He received his B.A. and M.A. in Journalism and Media Studies, respectively. His research focuses on video game paratextuality, glitches, fan communities and fan cultures. In his thesis, he explores the reception of paratextuality in the textual systems of digital and analog games. Besides research, he works as a freelance journalist covering video games for various Czech magazines, including the Metacritic-aggregated Level.