CGI Trailers: A Complete Waste Of Time

CGI Trailers Suck

The trend is annoying. It’s deceptive. It’s insulting to my intelligence. And sadly, it shows no signs of ever coming to an end. I am speaking, of course, about the video game industry’s constant use of CGI (computer generated imagery) trailers.

My disgust for this practice has been sloshing around inside my head for a while now, but the issue really peaked for me back in 2006, when Sony unveiled supposed in-game footage of Killzone 2, which later turned out to be a CGI trailer. There was a lot of backlash over this, and I agree with all of it – it pointed out both how tempting it can be for game companies to deceive the public with CGI, and how easy it can actually be when our game systems are almost capable of producing such visuals anyway.

Imagine you’re putting together an awesome movie. It finally comes time in production to get the word out and get people excited for the upcoming film. Your press agent asks for some promotional materials to show people… what would you give them? Would you create a video of animated characters and special effects, completely unlike the visual style of your film?

Of course not – it’s ridiculous to even suggest it. But if you were working on a game instead of a movie, you’d probably come to the (erroneous) conclusion that as long as it’s generated by computers somehow, it should pass for a good way to show off your game.

I find this trend annoying because, when I hear about a new game, I want to see what it looks like. If I watch a commercial or download a trailer, I want to see the game in action to get a feel for how it will play, how good the graphics are, etc. The last thing I want is a CGI trailer that gives absolutely no clear idea of what the game is about. What good does that do?

My other main beef with CGI trailers is the fact that I sometimes get the sense that they are meant to masquerade as real game footage, and the deceptiveness of this disgusts me. As game graphics get better and our systems become more advanced, the line between CGI and real-time rendering is getting blurrier. So not only does it sometimes seem pointless for a studio to release CGI when real game footage would be just as good, it also makes the CGI route seem like studios just want the public to think their game will look better than it does. For gamers, this isn’t usually much of a problem – people who are used to viewing game graphics and computer-generated videos can usually tell the difference between the two – but it is still a very low-class thing to do, in my opinion, and just serves to confuse people who aren’t dedicated game-players.

In the end, I suppose my complaints don’t hold a heck of a lot of weight, considering the games industry has been in constant growth for many years, despite the rampant use of CGI trailers. Pre-rendered computer-generated videos definitely have a place in there somewhere, but I really think that publishers / developers should always try to show real footage first. I know that sometimes it’s important to get PR materials out the door, in order to generate buzz for upcoming games, but if they just took a little extra time to polish existing videos and screenshots of the actual game, they’d be doing both themselves and their fans a favor.

And I’d have one less thing to complain about.


  1. xot - Over a year ago

    You observations are right on the money, Marty. I’m just as fed up as you about this kind of (I’ll say it) deceptive marketing. A few years ago, it didn’t matter, the CGI cut-scenes / marketing was obviously not possible as game play on the consoles of the day. Today, with console makers promising interactive Pixar-quality visuals, they need to be held to a higher standard of truthfulness in their advertising because much of the CGI fakery seems utterly plausible to the non-expert. The infamous “target renders” presented for the then-unreleased PS3 and X360 consoles are the worst kind of deception because they were unequivocally passed off as game play footage.

    I think you might be going a little too easy on Hollywood as well. How many times have we seen a trailer for a film that was nothing like the film we saw? How many people went to see Sweeney Todd without knowing it was a musical? The reality is, it was carefully marketed to hide that fact because musicals are death at the box office. And to hit upon your specific scenario, the film Spider-Man was marketed with a highly deceptive CGI sequence involving a web-swinging helicopter escape amid the World Trade Center, something that was never intended for the final film.

    The game industry is making a huge mistake if they continue this practice. They are fostering consumer distrust and resentment which will bite them square in the ass as consumers become more cautious and less impulsive at the retail channel.

  2. FredFredrickson - Over a year ago

    Excellent points, Xot… I agree with everything you said.

    I was really hoping that with this generation of consoles / DX10 powered PC games, we’d finally be seeing some game footage, or at least some in-engine renders for commercials, but so far, I have been sorely disappointed.

    There have been a few steps forward though; I was pleased to see that the Gear of War commercial was all done in the game engine itself, but since the cinematic featured a scenario that wasn’t in the game, the same misrepresentation remains.

    Still, I personally can’t understand why a developer wouldn’t insist on using real footage – especially since so many studios these days put out such amazing work, and are (hopefully) proud of what they’ve done. At this point in the evolution of games, it just seems that the graphics speak for themselves.

    But anyway, again, some excellent points made, including those about Hollywood. Glad you remembered the Spider Man movie too (another Sony production… coincidence?). I’ve been duped by movie trailers myself so much so that I usually read the synopsis and multiple reviews before even considering seeing most films in theater. It’s the safest way to go!

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