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The Mortal Kombat X teaser is everything wrong with modern trailers

A trailer for the upcoming Mortal Kombat X was released this morning, although the game’s existence has long been a poorly-kept secret.

I watched the trailer because, as a fan of the previous Mortal Kombat game, I wanted to learn something about the new title. What characters would we see? How will the game play be moved forward a bit to justify the sequel? What new ideas would the game spring on the player?

The trailer shows us nothing. It offers nothing. It’s a teaser that only confirms that the game is a real thing, it gives the viewer no other reason to care.

What do we want out of a trailer?

A trailer has one job: To sell you on the game. Its sole purpose is to move you closer to making a purchasing decision. It may ditch the game’s actual visuals for pre-rendered or even live-action footage, or live-action with so many special effects that it may as well be CG. It’s not there to give an accurate representation about the game, it’s there to get you to buy something. That’s it.

That’s what a trailer does from the point of view of the publisher, but as a player I want to learn something about the game. I don’t particularly care if the trailer uses in-game footage or not, a live-action trailer can just as easily tell us something about the tone and setting of the game using other means. Some of the Halo trailers, for instance, did a great job of setting up the scale of upcoming games and the sense of loss without showing much of the battles themselves. The "Believe" ad was a great trailer, as it told me something about the game. It got me interested because it made me feel something.

The latest Evolve trailer also pulled off the neat trick of showing a hunt from multiple perspectives, in real time. This allowed the viewer to switch between different characters on the fly to see what it was like when people worked together to bring down the monster. The voice-over explained the game to you, and helped you to understand what was going on. The whole thing was set up to bring you a deeper understanding of how to work together to bring down your target, and it did an excellent job of selling the game’s core concept.

A game’s trailer may not show you want you personally want to see — some people value trailers with in-game footage above all else — but there are many ways to achieve both goals: To get you to want to buy the game, and to somehow educate the player on that game.

A good trailer one of the game's strengths and communicates it effectively to the viewer. It pulls you in and sells you on the game's vision. It brings your hand a bit closer to your wallet.

So what went wrong here?

My problem is this: The trailer doesn’t look like in-game footage to me, and the pre-rendered scene only tells us that two characters we knew would be in the game are in the game. The video content shows off graphical details and tricks like the breaking bones and bruised organs that were in the last Mortal Kombat game.

If the challenge was to interest me in the next game in the series, or to show off what that game will provide or how it will look? The trailer completely falls flat. Even the music seems like a poor fit for the game, to the extent that I paused the trailer thinking another window is playing music that was unconnected to the game.

There was no new information. They didn’t throw in a character reveal, we didn’t see a surprising setting or story beat and we certainly didn’t see any hints about how the play itself will be updated since the last title. Hell, if you had told me this was simply a little-seen trailer for the previous game I would have believed you. There is no content in the video to call that claim into question.

Why do a CG trailer of just Scorpion and Sub Zero fighting?

I asked Twitter about it, and some people had an issue with the music choice, while others agreed that it didn’t serve any real purpose. "Music preference aside, unless that was game play ... why do a CG trailer of just Scorpion and Sub Zero fighting?" one person responded.

"I think it’s crazy some people actually think it’s game play. I guess that’s what happens when they don’t specify," another reader wrote back.

That highlights another problems here: If the trailer is is close to how the game will look when released, they need to tell people that in the trailer so we can get excited. If the footage is not indicative of the final graphics, they run the risk of letting people down.

On the other hand? "I liked it," another reader stated. "Did a good job of making me look forward to the game without actually showing any of it."

Maybe I’m just old and grumpy, but the trailer didn’t give me a reason to care about the game, it provided me no information about the game, and I’m speaking as someone who adored the last Mortal Kombat title. I can't wait to learn more about the game, because a Mortal Kombat title for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is an exciting thing, but if anything this video content has dulled my excitement for the game.

It's not just Mortal Kombat, this is just the latest trailer that suffered from a very common issue in modern video game trailers. I hope this isn't a hint of what we'll get from other trailers leading up to E3, but I'm not hopeful that things will get much better.

The Mortal Kombat X trailer could be held up as a textbook example of everything wrong with the modern trailer: It’s not just that that’s no steak to go along with the sizzle, I’m not sure if we even saw the skillet.