It’s easy to forget that the humble television is still widely regarded as the pinnacle platform for advertisers to promote their brand. Even though the Internet has opened up a multitude of channels for advertisers to target possible consumers, be it by sponsoring a tweet on Twitter, generating interest in a Facebook fan page, racking up views for a video on YouTube, or simply plastering an advert on a blog or website, there’s a lot to be said for the old box and its powers of persuasion. But is the same true for video games?
In recent years, gaming adverts have strayed away from the typically loud, action packed, sizzling segments of old, evolving into a more sophisticated and provocative attempt at luring in the uninitiated. The recent Resident Evil 6 advert is a prime example of this new-style execution; an evocative blend of footage that aims to hook more than the already informed, infatuated fan. But what goes into creating a video game advert? And how difficult is it to summarise a game’s entire identity, in just a few seconds of airtime.
The Resident Evil 6 advert, entitled ‘No Hope Left’, was created by Lion Eyes, an award winning TV and film production group in the UK, in collaboration with Head First, an advertising and design company who have worked with some of the biggest video game publishers. I was granted the opportunity to ask Carl Pugh, Creative Director from Head First, a couple of questions about the advert, and to find out what exactly goes into producing a video game commercial.
How did the collaboration between Lion Eyes and Head First work?
We (Head First) come up with the idea and storyboard it all, then we pitch it to Capcom. If we win the pitch, we’ll sometimes create a first draft trailer in-house and deliver that to Martin (Director at Lion Eyes) and they’ll basically put it all together for us, under our direction. Lion Eyes have the contacts to send it out to the relevant channels.
Can you explain why the majority of video game adverts, including the one for Resident Evil 6, contain absolutely no in-game footage apart from cinematics?
Yeah, I guess its because we’re technically selling the sizzle and not the sausage – that old adage. We’re trying to get across the experience. A lot of the time, CGI is naturally more cinematic than gameplay footage. For TV, because you’ve got more of a mainstream audience, it’s maybe not as critical for them to see gameplay, and the hardcore fans will have already seen gameplay footage online. It’s probably down to the fact it’s easier to sell the bigger theme of the game (through CGI).
Do you believe that TV spots are still relevant for promoting video games? Online media and magazines publish so much information before a games’ release nowadays, that essentially, seeing a game pop on TV just seems like a reminder rather than a chance to really sell the product.
Yeah, that’s definitely part of it. TV is part of the marketing mix made up of billboards, specialist websites, social media etc. It’s literally part of the mix. There’s probably a certain sector of the game buying audience who will respond really well to a TV ad, maybe the people who tend to just purchase the blockbuster games as well. It’s just a case of hitting as many people as you can through all the different mediums.
How much work goes into producing a video games commercial exactly? Is thinking of the idea, the accompanying audio, and how best to showcase the game the most difficult element? You’re not dealing with a film crew and actors for example.
With Resident Evil 6, the amount of footage that was available to us at the start was massive. Obviously you have to be careful not to show spoilers, and you’ve got to be aware that you’ve got clear cast approval for TV especially – so you can’t show too much gore and that kind of thing. But with Resident Evil 6 being not so much a full on an action game like Gears of War for example, showing some storyline and the relationship with the characters, these kind of things are important.
We wanted to show contrasting audio to what was going on on-screen.
The process is probably the same as you would do with a movie trailer, really. You go through all the movie footage and pick what best represents the movie, or game, in a nutshell. Certainly with the audio, we wanted to show contrasting audio to what was going on on-screen. The storyline for Resident Evil 6 focuses on an ‘end of days’ scenario, with the outbreak going global; there’s more of an emotional thread to put across. The contrasting audio definitely highlighted that kind of down beat feeling, end of world type scenario. That’s what was key for us, really. To put across that ‘no hope left’ scenario, keeping cohesion with the live-action advert that was released previously.
How much creative input did Capcom have in producing the advert? Are publishers keen to push their vision of what they want to see, such as certain features highlighted, or did they allow you the freedom to express yourself?
We were given a lot of freedom within the context of the marketing campaign. When we pitched our original idea, there were elements in there that Capcom didn’t want to go out because they were too critical to the game. They’ll always check us on that, to make sure that we’re not giving anything away that we shouldn’t basically.[blockquote_right]If we used a blockbuster soundtrack, with really fast visuals, it wouldn’t suit this kind of game.[/blockquote_right]
But yeah, we did get a fair amount of freedom. We felt that if we used a blockbuster soundtrack, with really fast visuals, it wouldn’t suit this kind of game. We had to make sure it was balanced, that it came across intelligently enough. There’s a lot of aspects to the game, a lot of characters, a lot of locations, so we had to blend it together nicely without it looking too choppy. Also, we had to make sure we’d covered the points that Capcom wanted us to get across. It did go backwards and forwards quite a few times, but that wasn’t a problem as obviously they’re closer to the product than we are. We just wanted to make sure it was working at a basic ad level.
The fact that the game is split into three campaigns, with the action divided between numerous characters, did this make producing the advert more difficult due to the fact some may argue that the game lacks a true focal point, other than the virus outbreak?
With the fact that zombies were finally returning to a Resident Evil game for the first time in 12 years, did you feel under any pressure to focus primarily on the return of the undead?
We wanted to get across the outbreak, definitely. And the footage that we wanted to use… we tried to use potential real world scenarios at the beginning of the ad, and then bleed through the more fantastical elements of the game as the advert went on. But yeah that’s a good point like you say, the amount of locations, the amount of characters, it could have easily started to look fragmented. We tried to achieve that balance, between showing all the relevant bits, all the relevant characters, and just making sure it was smoothly edited together so nothing’s too jarring. That was the challenge, to ensure that everything ran smoothly as an ad so that people came away with an overall feel of what the game’s about rather than just a set of sequences.
What was the reasoning behind producing so many different executions of the final commercial? I believe you made over 40 different types?
Yeah, a lot of that is due to placements. The actual footage isn’t significantly different. Some of them are 30 second time slots, others are 20 second time slots, so they’re basically edited down versions tailored to where the ad is being shown and in which territories. There wasn’t really any variations, just adaptations to fit the time slots.
Is that something that you have to bear in mind when creating the overall advert then? How can we break this advert down into mini-ads, so to speak.
Definitely. Generally we’ll do a 90 second ad that gets released online as well; a director’s cut, that kind of thing. It’s definitely something you have to think about especially if you have a 10 second version going out that needs to be punchy and make sure that the logo is on so everyone knows what the game is.
After viewing some of the reactions to the trailer on YouTube, there seems to be a lot of interest into who composed the piano track that was used? Could you possibly shed some light on that?
Yeah, it’s something we commissioned: a composer who does game ads so it’s an original composition. I’m not actually sure if it’s available as Capcom probably own the use of the track. But that’s one good thing about working with Capcom. If you think that something works, they’re quite happy for you to generate it yourself so you have creative freedom. We’ve worked with other companies in the past who will ask us to use the in-game music or what’s specific to that title. But Capcom are flexible like that which is great, as then we can come up with something that matches the mood properly, rather than shoehorning something in.
Is the poem that’s spoken over the advert an original piece, too?
No, actually that was part of the live action ads which came from Capcom. We decided to use the voice over from that as we thought it encompassed the campaign nicely.
The advert definitely attempts to highlight a more moving, evocative side to the Resident Evil franchise, focusing on the characters’ constant struggle. Was that your aim from the beginning?
It was briefed in from Capcom that they wanted to get this desperate world idea across. The advert stays with you a lot more than just an action packed scene I think. So yeah, I think we achieved that.
Ok Carl, well that wraps us up. Thank you for your time.
No problem. Thank you.
You can check out the full advert below: