The all-seeing eye

“Well, we certainly captured that white-haired nose ring demographic!” “We sure did, Phil!”

Quick: What does a mud-encrusted person, graffiti, a dude firewalking in an alley, and a lady swimming through an underwater dining room have in common?  The answer: Absolutely nothing.  A very distant second answer: They’re in Guild Wars 2’s “launch ad.”

I assume you’ve seen it.  It’s hard not to.  It’s by far one of the… weirdest marketing ads I’ve seen for an MMO, and I’m doubly flabbergasted that it came from ArenaNet.  Putting aside the logic of releasing a launch trailer two weeks after its launch, this is just bizarre avant-garde crap.  It’s like something you’d see from pretentious film students, really.  Just slap together a lot of artsy shots that don’t have anything to do with each other, but be bold enough to release it so that people feel stupid not “getting it” and then struggle to apply some sort of logic so as to feel better about it.  If you haven’t guessed, I really, really don’t like this type of thing.

I’m not against doing live action for an MMO trailer/commercial — it’s been done, and even done effectively.  But again, this is Guild Wars 2’s launch trailer.  This should be exciting and, I don’t know, more than 10% about the game itself.  There’s no narrative here, despite what the voice-over might make you think.  It’s a launch trailer about a fantasy MMO, and most of it features live action people in a very contemporary setting doing nothing that has anything to do with GW2.  Is this really from the studio that’s brought us a whole bunch of kick-butt videos, starting with the manifesto?  It’s like a whoopee cushion at the end of an opera.

I’ve heard a couple theories on it.  I’ve heard that it’s just weird to get people talking; mission accomplished, but I don’t know how much the thought of “These are weird people and I should stay far, far away from them” helps the cause of sales.  I’ve heard that it’s not for gamers, but for the mainstream, to sell them the game.  That doesn’t pan out either, because it’s got to be just as weird and nonsensical (if not more so) for non-gamers, and it’s a launch trailer.  Remember TSW’s launch trailer?  I do.  That thing was a masterpiece, and it was all about the game, showing in-game footage.  That made sense.

This… I’m just reeling.  And according to a bunch of “What the what?” discussions on Twitter, I’m not alone.

It’s just a trailer, who cares, I know.  But this is a big whiff when it should’ve been a grand slam for a terrific game.

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46 thoughts on “The all-seeing eye

  1. I agree with you there. They obviously showed on the trailer that they have the tech to get in-game models and animations look even more amazing than what we usually see (yes, those are in-game models re-rendered with more specific animations and higher quality), and from the previous trailers, and from in-game cinematics we know beyond any doubt that they can make the most kick-ass animated concept art videos our eyes have ever seen.

    The launch trailer should have been the best in-game cinematic-style 30s/60s of animation their team could craft. It would consistent with the game, and it would be more awesome even than the SWTOR trailers in my opinion. Instead, they went with “the crazy”. It’s a huge missed opportunity.

  2. Yeah, I don’t really get their message with this video. I’ve seen the “break out of your ordinary/oppressed modern life with this game” thing done before quite effectively, but it seems an odd choice for GW2. My understanding is that much of the game is about enjoying environments and dressing up your character in fancy clothes — how does that have anything to do with gas masks and walking on hot coals?!

  3. That…was more straight forward than expected actually. It didn’t seem particularly crazy or avant guard, albeit not the route I would have chosen. I think if you make a pretty game, you should show off a pretty game but I “got” the trailer. I think the message is exactly what Liore said. Still, it got people’s attention and at least showed how good the characters look. I did like the real girl morphing into her character. That was a neat, visually striking touch.

  4. Oh, meant to mention that as much as I loathe Blizzard I do remember the Diablo 2 trailer, which was live action and pretty amusing.

  5. Well, it’s directed by the guy who did V for Vendetta, which was also like something that a pretentious film student might throw together.

  6. This definitely looked like a Secret World trailer. If they had morphed each person into a character, that could’ve been cool. Instead, it was, as you said, crap.

  7. It was so dumb. So, so dumb! I don’t even!

    It reminds me of Bioware’s terrible, terrible ads. A classic case of a marketing department coming unhinged.

  8. I agree that the ad is artsy crap that has nothing to do with the game.

    BUT, at least it’s not Bas Rutten yelling in your face about being an MMO-FO in those horrid Tera ads.

  9. Have to laugh at the reactions to the trailer. Every part of the trailer relates to a different aspect of the game. The twitter feed hints at this best.

    It’s a brilliantly conceived trailer but is lost on 90% of players who won’t “get it”. ArenaNet should have released a dumbed down version for the masses.

  10. @Mekhios: OMG, an elistist, “you just don’t get it” reply! I never saw that one coming.

    We get it just fine. We know exactly what it means, who is supposed to be targeted at, and what it tries to accomplish. We are just of the opinion that it fails on all of those categories.

    You like it? Great for you. Don’t flatter yourself thinking you’re smarter than everyone else because of that. You’re not.

  11. @kemwer
    Not an elitist. Just someone who works in the industry that knew immediately the thousands of groans this video would generate. From a marketing perspective it is an excellent video.

  12. @Mekhios: if we’re exchanging credentials, I’m a graphic designer major with 12 years of experience in motion design. I done a lot of trailers and similar videos for a living, and I still feel this video doesn’t work.

    Not because it’s “too smart for people to get it”, which is the implication of your first post. It doesn’t work because it’s visual language doesn’t have anything to do with the game, a game that has been promoted, and it is itself based on visual art excellence, on “painterly looks” to quote Daniel Dociu, the game’s art director, not on bizarre metaphors.

    It doesn’t work because it spends 3/4 of the movie talking about the very generic and overused “free yourself from the shackles of reality and go live adventures” message, and it only shows a quick scene for the game. When players buy into trailers that don’t show gameplay, they are buying into a feeling of “epicness” that is completely missing from this video except for the last 30 seconds that show the game world, the only 30 seconds that belong there.

    This trailer reminds me of the ads for the Palm Pre smartphone that tried to sell an idea of “transcendence” that most viewers ended up finding creepy instead of inspiring. The response for this trailer has been very similar.

    The part I find most interesting on your reply is saying that “ArenaNet should have released a dumbed down version for the masses” because “90% of players who won’t ‘get it'”. You know… YES, they should. Because the people disliking this video, the people you think don’t get it, this is the target audience for this trailer. If the trailer fails to connect with 90% of its target players, it is a complete failure. Any trailer is made to get people excited about the game, not to generate debates over the quality of the trailer itself.

  13. @kemwer
    Yes maybe the video is wrong for this target audience. I do apologise for coming across as a dick. I still believe it was an excellent video (as a marketing person)

  14. I dont see what the fuzz is all about… they are trying a different out a different perspective with this one, erasing the border between youself irl and your character ingame. But what is fiction and what is not?

    And it is clearly working, since all is talking about it :)

  15. @tootzi
    Agreed. ;) As an aside I thought the original release date video was excellent. All ingame graphics and very effective music/sound. I still applaud ArenaNet for taking the chance with this latest trailer.

  16. Stupid beyond belief. If I hadn’t already bought GW2 and experienced how good a game it is, this terrible, terrible trailer could well have put me off checking it out, that’s how bad it is.

  17. I agree with both sides. On one hand, I personally really liked the trailer, and while I respect syp’s opinion that it’s just a bunch of random avant-garde shots thrown together, I interpreted it as a juxtaposition of ingame events and the player’s perceived sensation. The woman swimming gradually shifts to her in-game avatar, which indicates that all the preceding footage is also of avatars doing their in-game thing (thief jumping about, explorer walking on fire etc) but manifested through the perception of the player. Not really that complicated.

    On the other hand, I fully agree with Kemwer that it fails on a fundamental level as a trailer of a game renowned for its unique and satisfying art style. The juxtaposition of vibrant images works, but only if you attribute them to any other game.

    A better trailer (not dumbed down, necessarily) for marketing purposes would have used the game defining art style, instead of this direction.

  18. Well, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, so it’s doing it’s emotional work well enough. I think the imagery is cliched, but it’s clearly intended to appeal to a demographic that wouldn’t normally touch an MMO with six bargepole tied together.

    People who look like the actors in that video, and more importantly people who would like to look like them, are not going to be pulled in by gameplay footage. I doubt they’ll be pulled in to buy GW2 by anything, to be honest, but if there’s going to be any attempt to interest them it has to be something other than the usual “here’s our video game, this is what playing it looks like” stuff. That works for people who already know they want to play online roleplaying games and ArenaNet already *have* that demographic nailed down.

    The real problem with the video is that if it successfully manages to attract and hold the attention of wanna-be firewalkers and graffiti artists, it is going to lose them spectacularly the instance the game footage appears near the end. The switch from extremely cool, beautiful, aspirational actors to a bunch of fantasy stereotypes with a cartoony Asura right at the front is going to make anyone who bought into the first part either snort with disgust or howl with laughter.

    If they were going to make a video with actors representing the people actually playing GW2 in the first section, I suspect they’d need to hire actors 10 – 20 years older, a good few pounds heavier and nowhere near as stylishly-dressed. Truth in advertising!

  19. I’m not sure what everyone thinks the targeted demographic is, but it made me want to check out GW2, so it can’t have been all bad.

    Justin, how would you compare this to the live-action trailer for the Riders of Rohan expansion for LOTRO? I found LOTRO’s trailer to be distractingly silly, and I wish Turbine had spent that money on developing the game instead of on armored horses and bad actors.

  20. This is a complete tangent, aimed at bhagpuss’s post. You touched upon something that has been bothering me for a few years now, namely the pervasive self image concerns our little gamer demographic suffers from.

    Throughout you make references to “those people looking like the actors”, and “truth in advertising”, and I feel this mindset is very detrimental. In recent years we’ve had an influx of more casual gamers, hobby geeks and the likes. And I see a lot of the veteran geeks make the erroneous conclusion that anyone not looking like a stereotypical neckbeard is of that particular persuasion.

    It’s a new world, welcome to the age of the fruitbat. You can be a massive nerd, while being in decent shape, having a decent sense of style and actually having an active sex life with above average looking women without incurring a penalty in your social nerd score. At least, that’s how it should be.

    Just a random rant, but I get frustrated seeing the constant “Heh, we’re all fat and ugly right guys?” perception.

  21. I am straddling the fence on the Riders of Rohan live action bit — I actually really liked the voice-over for it, but the actors didn’t really add anything to it that in-game footage could have.

  22. I’ll add that at least that trailer featured actors portraying Middle-earth characters, with a great level of detail put into their outfits. It had something to do with the game, is what I’m saying.

  23. Since they sold more boxes ‘than expected’, I’m guessing someone lost a bet at Anet and their kid’s art project was made the release trailer, in the hopes of curing some of the overflow issues and reducing WvW queues. I think the trailer will prove most effective in this goal.

  24. @Mekhios I’m sorry to see the BS they’re passing off as excellent marketing campaigns in business schools these days. No one is going to rush out and buy GW2 based on this video, nor will they casually browse down the video game aisle, see the box, and say to themselves, “Hey there’s that game that cool commercial with the graffiti punk, the firewalker, and the crazy lady swimming through the dining room was for,” and buy it. This is as stupid as the commercial trying to convince anyone who’s ever put a dish in a dishwasher that Cascade Complete will scrub crusty food off all by itself. At least we know that one is about dishwasher detergent right off that bat.

    Nope, chalk this one up to the same idiotic marketing that hires an MMA fighter to beat LARPers and bully them into playing a video game. The same idiocy that plagues half the flops in Hollywood that target the wrong audience with nondescript trailers, then leave execs wondering why no one went to see their movie. Not that GW2 has anything to worry about; plenty of people are snatching up copies of the game. Perhaps SynCaine is right for once, and this is an effort to stem the flow of eager gamers.

  25. It’s why some commercials for, say, tires or perfume or shoes are so bizarrely unrelated to their product: they know you’ll tune them out if the message is obvious, so they have to lure you into paying attention by throwing off the scent. Probably what’s going on here; if this had been two minutes of gameplay footage it might appeal to the hardcore who pay attention, but to the average Joe it’s going to look the same as a WoW or Rift commercial, I bet.

  26. It’s a strange ad, to be sure, but hey – everyone is talking about it. I liked parts of it – particularly the girl morphing into her character – but honestly I do not think seeing the ad would have influenced my decision to purchase the game, one way or the other.

    Then again, this ad is coming out two weeks after launch, when presumably all the “natural” GW2 players would have already purchased the game. Maybe an ad that is different, that stirs up a bit of controversy and which gets lots of attention will be effective. It certainly seems like more people are talking about this trailer than the Mists of Pandaria ads that just came out. Is that a bad thing for GW2?

    And, in any case, it is better by far than the Riders of Rohan live action trailer, which (like one of the posters above) I also found silly and distracting.

  27. Hmm…funny how opinions vary on these things. maybe the trailer does work in attracting new customers outside the gamer/MMO demographic, I don’t know. :) personally I’m a bit sad about this missed opportunity, as Kemwer put it. I find the trailer shockingly bad for many reasons and so far apart from the imagery GW2 inspires when playing. I too would’ve taken the first half for a TSW trailer rather than GW2. what happened to the masterful 2D/3D artworks that are its trademark? the cynic in me is thinking now I understand why Kekai Kotaki left ANet :P
    Anyway, the timing on the whole thing is so bizarre too that personally I am not too bothered. it sure would’nt have served as teaser though should I have required any more teasing pre-launch. ;)

  28. @Syl if I were Kotaki and they ditched the painterly lifeblood of the game for this… awful offal… I’d definitely find somewhere that appreciated what I do. Somewhere else. Of course, a trailer isn’t the same thing as the game, but if the company is edging in that direction, I think it’s safe to say that the Kotaki style isn’t really welcome.

  29. I don’t think wild speculation about why Kekai Kotaki left the company is necessary, relevant or does the discussion any good. He left because he’s a creative artist, and after spending half a decade working on a single project, he needed to create new, different things. That’s what he said himself on many different channels, and considering the good mood between ArenaNet and him as he left, I see no reason to doubt it, and as a creative professional (I wouldn’t call myself an “artist”), I can relate. Kekai is currently working at Bungie from what I understand, might be on a freelance basis.

    I think we can just stick to the facts instead. And the fact is that one trailer is not a signal of a “change in direction” for the company. Right now, this was just an experiment. We know Martin, Regina and company are pretty good at tracking the webs for the response of everything ArenaNet puts out, so if they understand this response was not very good, they’ll probably stick to what they do best which is producing amazing art and gameplay. There’s no need to “doom-saying”.

  30. @Kemwer
    I don’t think I need to be educated on what speculations are ‘allowed’ or relevant and which aren’t in this topic- especially if there aren’t any serious ones to begin with. I know, humor sometimes is hard to grasp on the internets. :P
    I am also not a ‘creative professional’ (I consider myself incredibly creative though – does that count?) nor on first-name terms with ANet staff; I hope I get to have a voice nonetheless. ;)

    Everything in GW2 breathes Kekai’s art direction and that’s what many players associate with GW. the trailer should’ve been a celebration of that and it isn’t. trailers are huge opportunities to show off sparkle and pathos, this is just confusing to everybody as was best explained by bhagpuss further up.

    @Tesh
    am not too worried about them edging in that direction, this just feels like a freak accident. none of that imagery is contained anywhere in the game. quite baffling.

  31. @Syl: I didn’t have a problem with your small nudge, I meant that more to Tesh who seemed to take that nudge too seriously; I thought a little reality check would be timely. I do believe that Kekai leaving the company is completely irrelevant, but as I mentioned myself, here and on my own blog, I do agree that this trailer should have been a celebration of the concept art cinematics ArenaNet produced for the game and for previous trailers.

    I also don’t like associating Kekai’s art as the single visual marker for the game, no matter how impressive or groundbreaking his work might be (he is indeed my favorite concept artist, and one of my favorite artists, full stop), because there are many, many great people working on that game, and I think they all deserve the spotlight this trailer should have provided. ArenaNet is weaker for losing Kekai, but they are nowhere close to be at danger because of that. After all, Kekai might have been the lead concept artist, but the art direction is still in Daniel Dociu’s hands, and you can see his work everywhere you go in Tyria.

  32. @rowan
    “@Mekhios I’m sorry to see the BS they’re passing off as excellent marketing campaigns in business schools these days.”

    I wouldn’t know either since I completed my marketing studies some 20+ years ago. But I will say regardless of what I think of this trailer it is probably lost on a generation that has become cynical and immune to marketing in general. I agree with the original comment it was probably a waste of money (and ArenaNet seems to have copious amounts at this time) as most GW2 enthusiasts really want “more ingame graphics” trailers and have already bought the game anyway.

    I think the point being missed here is the trailer isn’t being directed at existing GW2 players but more the general population. I’ve shown the trailer to a number of my peers in the industry and they were impressed. The style and tone is not unlike the original 1984 Apple Mac ad which basically became the benchmark for stylised ad trailers. The GW2 trailer has been effective though as love or hate it has generated discussion. The message it communicates is to force change in a stagnant MMO genre. If people slowed down and actually listened to the trailer through their rage filled red mist they might actually understand this.

  33. I speak as an artist in the game industry, and yes, I’ve seen company culture embrace art direction that isn’t compatible with where it once was, and I’ve seen people leave for it. Perhaps this isn’t the harbinger of a mutation in the ANet art stable, but it sure isn’t consistent with where they have been, or what the game itself is.

  34. @Mekhios: again, I think it’s very patronizing of you to think people can’t understand what is the message. You apologized earlier for sounding a little like a troll; if you don’t want to troll, then stop implying critics are just enraged and unable to comprehend this movie. Yes, it’s a beautifully done trailer. Yes, it is reminiscent of classics like the 1984 Apple trailer with a powerful message about change in a stagnant industry, and about freedom from a boring life. But being a well crafted trailer doesn’t mean it’s a good Guild Wars 2 trailer.

    I don’t think at all they should have done full gameplay. I think they should have done what they have been doing the entire development process: display good concept art. Their entire visual communication has been consistent in its use of the amazing art produced by their team. Box, shirts, website, previous trailers, in-game cinematics, everything has a consistency that is hard to find on this, or any industry, and established Guild Wars 2 as something completely unique. This trailer breaks this consistency for an unnecessary search of novelty that just makes the game look closer to its counterparts, because this language is much similar to what other companies are doing (how many people here thought this looked like a TSW trailer?). If you still work on marketing or communication, as I do, you know how hard it is for a company to find an unique marketing language to separate them from the competition. They didn’t need this trailer, they needed more of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRUvqgz53c0

    @Tesh: sure, it happens. One artist leaving a company doesn’t mean it did happen tho; actually if you look up posts and interviews on this particular case you’ll see that it is very unlikely that it was anything more than “I need something different in my career at this stage”. My point is: unless there’s any evidence of it happening, implying Kekai left ArenaNet disgruntled by the company’s direction and that this trailer is a reflection of this new direction is nothing more than a strawman argument. It’s one thing to joke about it as Syl did, it’s another to actually consider it a possibility.

  35. @Mekhios I’m sure your peers are impressed. It’s a high concept ad; that fails to convey any sense of the product it advertises. This is not from a red-mist POV any more than yours is from a rose-tinted one. I have shown the video to my peers—only one of whom is a gamer, and he doesn’t play GW2. They were as dumbfounded as I was as to the purpose of the movie, until the logo displayed. There is no sense of how GW2 is forcing change in a stagnant MMO genre; all an uninitiated observer sees is a bunch of fantasy tropes at the end marching to fight a dragon.

    And while, especially upon rewatch, I see that the tone is reminiscent of the 1984 Apple Mac ad, as I recall everyone talked about the ad . . . and no one bought the computer. The cult of Jobs would not rise for another 10 or 15 years. Luckily for ArenaNet, GW2 is bought and paid for many times over. Because this ad does nothing for them. Getting talked about does not mean a campaign is successful, despite what the marketing majors, no matter how old, want you to think.

  36. @Kemwer
    A lot of people don’t understand the message. Look at the thousands of YouTube comments under that trailer.

    As for trailers the original is still one of the best – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em0Sd60iI2w – but probably way too long for someone not familiar with the Guild Wars universe.

    My preference is still this trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-CB0hheQRg – modified to remove the launch date it is effective, short, and still keeps the GW2 “enthusiasts” happy and won’t cause people not familiar with the game to fall asleep.

  37. @rowan, who wrote: “Getting talked about does not mean a campaign is successful, despite what the marketing majors, no matter how old, want you to think.”

    Perhaps. Then again, maybe it is what people are NOT talking about that is important here. As long as people are talking GW2 and its controversial trailer, they are not talking about Mists of Pandaria, or Riders of Rohan, or the next EQ2 expansion, or whatever new game is on the horizon. Maybe just creating a buzz (and deflecting the conversation off the competitors) is worth the cost of the trailer, particularly since anyone with any prior inclination to play the game is likely already playing it.

    I did show the trailer to two women I work with, both non-gamers (anti-gamers, even) and they really liked it. Will it make them play the game? Not a chance. But it left them with a positive impression of the game, for what ever that’s worth.

  38. @Yes, I’m familiar with that original trailer and I agree with you it’s probably the best. I linked the dungeon cinematic instead because it’s shorter and it’s technically a little more impressive to me, while even more focused on the concept art aspect I wanted to emphasize. I posted a retrospective of all the GW trailers yesterday on my blog and that one is included.

    And of course there are a lot of people that don’t understand the trailer.. not that Youtube comments are exactly good example of anything. However you’re not talking to “a lot of people that don’t understand”, you’re talking to us here, and I didn’t see a single comment on this thread that could be interpreted as lack of comprehension of the trailer’s message. My gripe is with your comments implying that everyone that disagree with your view are either too dumb to “get it”, or just filled with blind mindless hatred for the movie to see the truth. We can see it, we just don’t like it, and I feel most are being very reasonable about it. Maybe you didn’t mean to give that impression… but it happened anyway because you’re generalizing. Remember, all generalizations are bad, including this one.

  39. @Aerynne On the other hand, people who are going to buy MoP or RoR likely have already made that decision, regardless of whether bloggers are talking about them yesterday today and tomorrow. Come the 25th, there will be plenty of people discussing MoP.

  40. @Kemwer
    “We can see it, we just don’t like it, and I feel most are being very reasonable about it. Maybe you didn’t mean to give that impression”

    Well I certainly don’t mean any ill will towards anyone here. My frustration at the YouTube mess has probably carried over here because the video was mentioned. Anyway it has been an interesting discussion. I’ll get back to the game now which is what matters the most.

  41. Addendum:
    If I was the CEO of ArenaNet I would probably withdraw the YouTube video. It has polarised discussion into those who love it and those who hate it. Which is a shame as the game itself has generated almost universal positive feelings from the community. At this stage all the video is achieving is a focal point for peoples perceived gripes about the game and a distraction for those who love the game like myself.

  42. you know what this whole thing reminds me off? Mass Effect 3 ending and what happened once people had a chance to play through it. majority doesn’t like it and things its out of place, select few think its amazing and they are just naturals the only intelligent ones to “get” it… and in the end as much as conversation it generations – IMO it doesn’t work as a marketing device, because it doesn’t make you want to grab the game and play it.. which is what game marketing should accomplish. the only part of that trailer that comes even remotely close is the swimming girl, morphing into a Norn. but by the point you get to it? they are already losing you as a potential consumer.

    if you want good marketing? think back to vanilla WoW and TBC trailers, SWTOR all 3 trailers, and yes, secret world? they give you a look at the characters, and classes, glimpses at what game is going to be, what you are going to be doing in it, while telling you a story. GW2 trailer doesn’t do much of that, barely any at all. I enjoy the game. but that trailer? it wouldn’t make me go “I gotta check out that game”

  43. Pingback: Weekly Roundup: Customer Service and the Weirdest Game Trailer Ever «

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