It sounds simple on paper, but a good idea, executed well, has proven to be the most effective advertisement for a game in a long time.
While it's a long way from being as ubiquitous an activity as watching TV or going to the movies, playing videogames isn't the niche hobby it once was. Some of this mainstream appeal is the result of more varied and deeper games, but some of it is done to smarter and more effective advertising. In Issue 303 of The Escapist, Robert Rath looks one of the finest example of the videogame marketing ever seen, the simultaneously chilling and moving trailer for Dead Island.
Among game trailers, Dead Island is something completely new. A fully-formed story that emotionally blindsides us, jumping us from behind just like the undead girl it features. The trailer works because it subverts our expectations of the genre - we don't expect to see genuine poignancy in a zombie game.
"We set on a pretty emotional story early on," says Anton Borkel, Cinematic and Video Designer for Deep Silver. He's talking about the dead girl, the one who flashed across fiber-optic networks worldwide as soon as the Dead Island trailer debuted. A family tragedy played in surreal reverse, the trailer was widely dubbed on Twitter as "the best videogame trailer ever," a perfect marriage of mood, style, and relentless detail.
Everyone seems to agree that the trailer's reverse order is central to its resonance. Inverting the story arc emphasizes the most powerful moment - when a father and daughter reach out, neither realizing that they're about to destroy each other ... The astounding detail is another key to the experience. There is a moment during the closing home movie clips where we see the family checking into the hotel. The father drops an armload of suitcases, and we know just by looking at his face that his enthusiasm is dampened by jet lag. Traveling with kids is hell. He needs a nap. These pedestrian concerns make his coming tragedy almost unbearable.
Rath notes that the Dead Island trailer was perhaps a little too good, and that Deep Silver now has its work cut out for it trying to manage player expectations. You read more about it in Rath's article, "The Ballet of Death."