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Opinion – Leave The Live Action To Hollywood

by Jeff Marchiafava on Sep 05, 2014 at 11:26 AM

More and more developers and publishers are embracing live-action trailers and commercials, but even Hollywood-worthy production values don't do justice to the games they're trying to sell.

Despite a fundamental disdain for live-action video game advertisements, I understand why some game companies are embracing them. There's something about bringing video game characters and environments into the real world that demands the viewer's attention, and on more than one occasion I've had my wandering eyes drawn back to the television screen during a commercial break to witness some bombastic or goofy take on an upcoming game. Gameplay montages and in-engine visuals look paltry in comparison to living, breathing actors, and game companies must undoubtedly be enticed by the prospect that they're not only making gamers take notice, but piquing the interest of a much larger potential consumer base as well. Whether the random television viewer could ever be intrigued (or perhaps gullible) enough to go out, purchase a console, and start gaming just because of a Jonah Hill or Robert Downey Jr. cameo seems unlikely, but getting their attention for 30 seconds has to be better than not getting it, and on that level, live-action advertisements succeed.

Unfortunately, getting the viewer's attention is only the first step, and a good ad should theoretically follow that up by informing viewers about what it's trying to sell them, something live-action trailers are generally lousy at. The best live-action trailers rarely manage to do more than convey the tone of the game in broadest strokes possible. However, gameplay footage accomplishes the same thing – with the added benefit of showing what the game actually looks and plays like. In this sense, the less flashy gameplay montages win out – especially with the consumers who are most likely to actually go out and buy the game.

Yesterday's new Destiny trailer not only fails to convey anything about the gameplay (other than that you'll blow things up and go to "Venus, baby!"), but the tone is perplexingly off. The live-action take on Bungie's new shooter almost seems like a parody of other bad game commercials; the terrible canned dialogue, groan-worthy jokes, and use of Led Zepplin's impossibly overplayed "Immigrant Song" capture nothing of the experience I've had with Destiny so far, and I wouldn't want them to. It's especially perplexing considering Bungie's previous trailer, which mixed CGI with a live-action storybook motif, was actually quite good. Yesterday's trailer seems tone deaf in comparison, and with Destiny's sharp visuals and a limitless amount of gameplay footage available, it's a strange last impression to offer fans before the game's release.

Ultimately, live-action game trailers feel like yet another extension of the industry's undying idolization of cinema. If game makers love Hollywood that much, however, they should just go make movies. Gameplay is and will always be the most important aspect of a game, and that's what developers should be showing off to consumers. Gamers have complained forever about CGI trailers – live action is a further step in the wrong direction.