Behind the scenes with The Trailer Farm

Marie Dealessandri
Behind the scenes with The Trailer Farm

We all have that one trailer we remember fondly, one that got us really hyped and excited. The Trailer Farm’s job is to do just that. Executive producer Ben Lavery and founders and creative directors Tony and Dan Porter walk us through the process of creating a successful game trailer.

Can you tell us more about The Trailer Farm?

Tony Porter (pictured below, left): We’re a team of 15 from across the creative disciplines that create video content for game makers and publishers across mobile, console and PC. In the last year alone, we’ve delivered projects for mobile companies like Wooga and Next Games, TV spots for Ubisoft, Adult Swim and Sony Pictures, and created the launch trailers for a wee game called PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. And that’s really just scratching the surface. 

How has your business evolved recently?

Dan Porter (pictured below, middle): Put simply, it’s grown. Video is the most important marketing asset for any game. The prominence of video on storefronts with the growth of digital downloads  puts your video creative front and centre with even more immediacy than before. There’s no change in the principle that a great game deserves great video. But now it’s even more vital. Strong video can be what cements the decision of a gamer to download your game and generate interest generally, while a weak creative can kill buzz. Your video can be the first time a prospective customer sees your game in action, so you want to make an impression.

Ben Lavery (pictured below, right): On a practical level, while we’re based in sunny Brighton, we now have a truly global reach, with 80 per cent of our client base outside of the UK. We are seeing first-hand how the market is evolving and how different companies are using video in different ways. Our clients are also looking for us to serve more of their needs, so not just online video or TV, but developing full marketing campaigns. 

Tony Porter: As the games market around the world has expanded and fragmented, there’s never been more competition. So cutting through is essential. For mobile, the days of organic growth are long gone. Using great, tailored video is the most important thing in the marketer’s toolkit.

Ben Lavery: The growth of business intelligence data plays an even more important role in how we approach briefs. For instance, on Facebook, you have just 1.6 seconds before people scroll past your video. The first few seconds are vital. Using data intelligently, rather than slavishly, guides the creative storytelling process and versioning of content, depending on what a client wants to achieve.

Above: Co-founders and creative directors Tony and Dan Porter and executive producer Ben Lavery

What would you say are the key features all trailers should have?

Tony Porter: Creatively, we focus on content that is faithful to the game, hits its key pillars and tells a story. There are many different ways to achieve this and, of course, we love augmenting trailers with high-end motion graphics, but showcasing gameplay beautifully is really important. 

Ben Lavery: Structurally, there is no one-size fits all solution, and the trailer needs to work perfectly within the placement it is being seen. This is huge for us. We’re big believers that ads and content should have a sense of place. The right asset needs to be presented depending on the stage of the sales journey your viewer is at. You’re taking a customer from not knowing about the game to convincing them they need to buy or download it. The big dream and world reveal may come first, quickly followed by the promise of the experience you will have, and then detail on the features and depth of the game should seal the deal. That journey could be accomplished in one asset, but is arguably better served by a planned calendar of activity and placements.

Dan Porter: Overall, a trailer should be compelling and break the viewers’ inbuilt capacity for apathy in some way. This can be done via a multitude of techniques, but the goal is always to cut through the noise, stand out from the crowd and make as large an impact as possible while staying true to the essence of the game.

Ben Lavery: The new reality is summed up by the acronym TL;DR [Too Long Didn’t Read] – video is hands down the best medium to deliver content right now. We see this on Facebook with every other post now being a video. A video is a linear, creative and curated elevator pitch that you can put anywhere for instant clarification.

"A video is a linear, creative and curated elevator pitch that you can put anywhere for instant clarification."

Ben Lavery, The Trailer Farm

Are trailers still relevant now that game companies have so many options to promote their titles, such as live streaming, for example? 

Dan Porter: Absolutely. The bottom line is that when you go to a storefront, you want to see what you’re going to get quickly. Yes, a YouTuber doing a Let’s Play video has a place for marketers and game makers, but the storefronts and social channels should be curated for best impact.

Ben Lavery: A trailer can live, and get shared on, social media, forums, it could be on TV or in cinema. But importantly, it’s also there when someone is thinking about making that decision to purchase. Influencers and streamers are playing a role in how we produce creative ideas currently, and we’re able to connect with influencers to produce new creatives and leverage existing ones. But broadly speaking, live streaming should be seen as a complementary, rather than replacement activity.  

Above: The Trailer Farm created the launch trailers for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

How does producing trailers for mobile games differ to console titles?

Ben Lavery: Mobile publishers are data mad and user acquisition from video is big business. With all video online, it is possible to measure and test. But with mobile more than anywhere, user acquisition [UA] videos have to work hard or be replaced. We now regularly make multiple assets for testing and performance marketing purposes, often with very different creative approaches. Mobile publishers are chasing the best placements they can get at the best prices – balancing quantity and quality. Our opinion, however, is that the creative still plays a huge part in conversion. Putting out a shonky video is pointless.

Has the increasing importance of mobile gaming impacted your business?

Dan Porter: Yes! We were making game trailers seven years ago when other agencies turned their noses up at mobile games in favour of chasing triple-A only. All games are equal in the eyes of The Trailer Farm.

Tony Porter: We were watching Dragon’s Den and Peter said: “In the gold rush… Sell shovels.” So we did.

"Promotional pieces have to be able to stand alone. Every viewer is a potential customer. So why put them off?"

Tony Porter, The Trailer Farm

Do you consider silent playback, which is popular with some mobile users?

Dan Porter: I think the statistic is 70 per cent of mobile  UA ads are played silently. While that makes our audio guys sad, we would always still want to do an audio pass and potentially include voiceover.

Ben Lavery: On Facebook now, videos play silently until interacted with. We are also jumping on the social video bandwagon more often and including burnt in subtitles within our portrait or social square video formats. 

Do you create multiple cuts for different formats? If so, what challenges does this bring?

Ben Lavery: Absolutely. We believe video should be tailored to its placement. Facebook needs to hook a viewer fast. Unskippable pre-roll is a more captive audience so you can be more cinematic. Skippable pre-roll, again, you have to keep the viewer interested and get the message across in five seconds. YouTube official channel placement can be your hero asset for PR, while other YouTube videos on your channel can deal with the hub and hygiene content – show characters, weapons and features in more detail. Those aren’t ads necessarily. Portrait is also massive on mobile UA, as is localising if you want a standout storefront in non-English speaking markets.

Above: The Trailer Farm also worked on promotional pieces for indie games such as Blackwood Crossing

How do you select music for your work?

Dan Porter: Often game music is designed to be unobtrusive. So while we may want to stay sympathetic to the game’s original soundtrack, we also might want to find something impactful. Sadly, budget available plays a part, but there are plenty of libraries and composers doing amazing things that we can leverage. The music and the edit itself are symbiotically linked, so it’s definitely not a quick decision.

How can promotional pieces best appeal to both established and new players?

Tony Porter: It’s about being faithful to your game and the story you tell. We’re always conscious that, unless you have very specific goals and are releasing content directly targeted at your existing user base, you should consider that the video will be viewed by someone who has never seen your game in action before, or may not know anything about it. So it has to be able to stand alone. Every viewer is a potential customer. So why put them off? Ultimately, it’s about balance. If there’s already a community, we often find that a great video timed to announce a landmark actually reignites and confirms the passion of the user base, even if the primary goal might be for user acquisition or generating wider interest.

Have you ever made something that looked quite different to the game it represented?

Dan Porter: Depending on the state of the game when we make the trailer, we may need to swap out sequences throughout the process. Our job is to make games sell and look amazing. So it’s about doing the game justice. Misrepresenting the look of the gameplay serves nobody, but you can always showcase a game at its best. 

Tony Porter: Sometimes though, a trailer is needed but the game just isn’t ready for capture. In that case, we may need to create a teaser or tonal piece – a simple reveal. We may need to build elements in CG, live action or motion graphics, but it’s there to represent the creative or technical direction of the game. Sometimes, in fact, our work might actually find a place in the game. This is an area we are regularly being asked to get more involved in. People ask us, ‘Can you help our in-game explosions look better?’ or, ‘Can you design better camera moves for this scene?’ We’re always delighted to get stuck in, of course, but we still bloody love making a badass game trailer. 

I guess to sum things up, the company started out so two brothers could hang out more and do what we are passionate about based on a shared love of games – both making them and playing them to death. Every day, we get to create awesome game trailers and campaigns and we feel really blessed to do so. Things have definitely evolved since those early days – we really are a mature business now – but that same spirit is very much there at the heart of the studio.