The title of the latest trailer for Mighty No. 9, which launches June 21, is "Masterclass," and the video does in fact work as a teachable example of what not to do when promoting your game.
The trailer's description states that "Mighty No. 9 is a side-scrolling action game that takes the best elements from 8- and 16-bit classics you know and love and transforms them with modern tech, fresh mechanics and fan input into something fresh and amazing!"
That may be the case, but the video embodies none of these qualities. It betrays its own description and seems to miss the mark on some basic marketing best practices.
What went wrong here? Let's dive in.
SHOW, DON'T TELL
Video games are a visual medium. They are often the best product to implement a "show, don't tell" strategy, which means that instead of telling you that a game will make you feel a certain way, trailers should be effective at making you feel that emotion. A trailer based on a tragedy should make you feel sad rather than tell you that you'll feel sad when you experience the real thing.
A trailer based on a tragedy should make you feel sad rather than tell you that you'll feel sad
On that count, this trailer misses the mark. The description states that Mighty No. 9 is a blend of classic game design elements with a modern flair. Cool. That sets the stage for some great video content that shows the mixture of old and new ideas and visuals. Instead, the video leans heavily on its voice-over to tell you that's what's going on. It shows a certain lack of confidence in the product.
The dad-voiced narrator trying to relate to millennials is explicitly telling you how cool the game is. Or, rather how "freaking cool" and "crazy addictive" it is. Saying that "[it's like] popping bubblewrap addictive," is at least helpful, as metaphors are powerful tools for the showing-without-telling strategy. But the rest of the voice-over is so melodramatic that it leaves the viewer wondering if another game is being described. The emotions the voice actor is saying we should feel don't match what's actually being shown to us.
It's not all bad; there are some impressive moments in the trailer. It's possible that the gameplay is interesting and could offer some level of depth and creativity. But the video tells you this; it doesn't show you this aspect of the game directly. The trailer asks you to take their word on it, and that's a risky play.
In this video's quest to show you "awesome things that are awesome," it misses the mark in another way.
Then there are things like this:
no offense but why do the explosions in Mighty No. 9 look like extremely cheap pizza pic.twitter.com/RkrRL19YJC— Nick Robinson (@Babylonian) May 25, 2016
FOCUS ON BENEFITS, NOT FEATURES
The goal of any trailer is to show off the game. Mighty No. 9's attempt at achieving the goal of a trailer is bungled by the video's language, both spoken and visual.
It's helpful to focus on the benefits of your product, not its features, when trying to draw in a potential audience. Apple is wonderful at this approach. Consider the marketing for the first iPod: It didn't mention much of the revolutionary design. It didn't focus on audio fidelity or ease of use. The marketing focused on the iPod's main benefit: 1,000 songs in your pocket.
The iPod marketing language made a distinct point about what you would get. The ability to store a massive amount of music in a small package was unheard of. Apple didn't need buzzwords or "cool" vocabulary to make a point. It blew you away with five words that painted a magical picture in your mind.
Contrast that with Mighty No. 9's trailer and its voice-over that reads like a hyped-up bulleted list of the hero's main skills. There is discussion of the game's explicit mechanics and its cool "combo-on-combo action."
This is all unnecessary.
Dark Souls 3 would sound boring if the marketing talked about inducing a sense of fear, challenge and uncertainty brought on by difficult enemies and far off save points. Journey's trailer didn't describe how you can form unspoken bonds and friendships through non-verbal communication and teamwork. Those are features. The benefits are the emotions these approaches to game design can inspire in players.
This is something people who aren't in marketing may understand innately. When our own Ben Kuchera was describing a VR headset to me, he didn't begin by listing the resolution or the latency; he said that you really felt like you were in another world. Hearing about the features would have bored me. The emotional benefit was what made me want to try the technology.
Side-scrolling games rely on action as their selling point. You want to feel like the hero. Look at any recent Call of Duty trailer to see how they merge intense action and large senses of scale. Watch a trailer for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and tell me you won't walk away from that game feeling like a cyborg ninja. Even games like Just Dance don't need to go out of their way to tell you that you'll feel like a dancer while playing.
Mighty No. 9's trailer thinks that listing all the cool dashes you can do will sell us on the game. It is very much mistaken.
COOL AND FUNNY VS. STORYTELLING
The last point is the most obvious to nitpick.
It's clear that this video was created to appeal to a mass audience. The problem is that traditional marketing ideas think that the way into the cultural zeitgeist is to be cool and funny, when the real avenue into everyone's heart is a good story.
You can't construct "cool and funny.". Cool and funny must come naturally, or they feel terrible to the observer. You never got the feeling that artists like Prince spent a lot of time worrying about how to be Prince. He just was. That's why he was so cool. You can argue it may have been a constructed character, but he looked effortless.
why does millennial-pandering "cool" and stale comedy need to be a part of Mighty No. 9's marketing?
Humor is the same way, which is why the comedians who seem the funniest spend years of their life perfecting the craft. It has to become part of who they are. It has to seem effortless. It can't sound written.
If the point of Mighty No. 9's marketing is to promote a game that is an "action game that takes the best elements from 8- and 16-bit classics you know and love and transforms them with modern tech," why does millennial-pandering "cool" and stale comedy need to be a part of it?
The trailer is so busy trying to develop an aura of cool and funny that it forgets to lean on what makes action games so much fun. It forgets that these can be simple but inspiring narrative experiences. Mega Man games are about overcoming long odds. They are underdog tales. Your hero starts with nothing and becomes an unstoppable force in the end. That's the appeal.
I often relate marketing to dating, so it can be helpful to look at a trailer through that lens. If someone walked up to you at a bar and told you how cool and awesome they were, would that work? Would you believe that they were cool and awesome? Or would you find that more believable if they threw a guitar into the air without bothering to catch it?
Many people have fallen in love with the idea of Mighty No. 9. It promised familiarity and updated gameplay that grabbed a place in our nostalgic hearts. But this trailer fails, even with that goodwill given upfront.
Mighty No. 9 has a chance to save the the relationship to its early fans, though. The game could be great. But this trailer has made the battle much harder.