Trailers in general hold a dirty little secret few seem to talk about (which probably gives them their power)—they're ads first and foremost and are often the first glimpse most people will have of a movie/game.
Game trailers can be downloaded from any number of sites on the web (including GameDaily.com). However, there is only one site that devotes themselves entirely to video game trailers and video content: GameTrailers.com. The site has gone from a start up five years ago to the powerhouse of the web it is today, not to mention the jewel of MTV's digital content crown.
Brad Winters, general manager at GameTrailers, very kindly took time out during E3 to answer some questions for us, giving us an in-depth look at the popular game site.
GameTrailers: The Rise and… Rise
It's difficult now to imagine Internet gaming coverage without trailers, but during the nascent days of the online enthusiast sites, the bandwidth simply wasn't there to offer up large video files. After the dot com bust, most major gaming sites locked much of their content away, including game trailers, exclusively for their paying customers. Now, however, trailers for games are free and widely available on all major gaming sites, and it was GameTrailers.com that helped spark this revolution.
"GameTrailers was started by Geoff Grotz and Brandon Jones in 2003 (both founders are still at GT)," detailed Winters. "They were gamers that saw an opportunity that wasn't being served by any of the major gaming information sites at the time. Remember, back in 2003, online video was still not widely adopted (pre YouTube) and the game publishers weren't showcasing trailers, walkthroughs, gameplay edits and other video assets the way they are now. So the timing of the site was absolutely perfect in terms of predicting future trends of both the gaming industry as well as the Internet in general. I joined the team in late 2004 when it was still a very small group working out of the offices of Hornet Inc, an animation and video production company, that had partnered with Geoff and Brandon to provide capital to really grow the business. (Jon Slusser, who was the CEO of Hornet at the time, joined MTV after the acquisition and is now the SVP of Spike Digital Entertainment which GT is a part of)."
"Geoff, Jon and Brandon were the driving force of GT and I was always impressed by their singular vision of creating the ultimate site for video about video games," he continued. "They concentrated on bringing gamers professional-level original video as well as one-click access to high definition content, all for free, which at the time wasn't being done by anyone. This concentration on giving gamers the best experience possible was the driving force behind pretty much every decision that was made and our growth over the years is proof that their theory was right on the mark. Since 2004 we have seen tremendous traffic growth. Back then we were serving between 4-6 million videos a month, which is what we do on a daily level now."
Of course, one of the main drivers for GameTrailers is its dedicated fan community. The easiest way to see this is to click on any video and scroll down to the user comments. Most trailers draw dozens of comments, and the most popular of trailers have comments numbers reaching four digits. Anybody with a web-based business will tell you that stickiness to a site is key, and there are thousands of the GameTrailer faithful that hang out on the site every day.
"Our community is the foundation of the site," affirms Winters. "Geoff and Brent Phillips, our head engineer, knew from the start that community was key and have developed a ton of cool features that make it very easy for our community to participate in the site and be rewarded for their participation."
"Between our forums, comment system, factions, user movies and user reviews, our community contributes way more content to the site than we could ever hope to. Because they contribute so much to the site I think it gives them a sense of ownership and say in the direction of the site. We feel that our content and user experience get people to the site and our community features keep them coming back. A site could have amazing content but without a sandbox for the community to play in it will be like a revolving door—people will leave as fast as they show up."
Video killed the write up preview
Being acquired by a large media company is not an uncommon boon for popular gaming sites. GameTrailers' ship came in when MTV purchased them to make them part of Viacom's growing online presence. This has helped GameTrailers balloon in size, and has landed the site its own original programming on Spike with the aptly named GameTrailers TV.
"The acquisition was big for us obviously," commented Winters. "First off, we were given the resources to scale our operation by adding the editing and video capturing equipment needed to increase the output of original content. In addition, we were now able hire the video editors and gaming journalists who had deep contacts in the industry that gave us access to the publishers and their games that we didn't have in the past. Second, by having the MTV name behind us it opened doors to opportunities that we hadn't had before and kind of legitimized us a bit in the eyes of the publishers. Lastly, and probably most importantly, MTV trusted us and our vision enough to not micro-manage us into the ground. As we were a young and growing site, they really trusted us and their trust was rewarded by year over year traffic growth in the high double digits to low triple digits."
"GameTrailers is the first digital-only brand at MTV to create a weekly half hour show start to finish; we are really proud of that," he added. "This isn't a show that is created out of house with our name slapped on it; almost the entire show team came from the GameTrailers.com world. Jon Slusser was the one who really pushed internally for this to happen for a couple years before we got our shot. Anyway, it's a great synergy between the show and the site. We are able to really market the show to our user base which has resulted in a significant year over year ratings increase on-air as compared to GameHead (the show "GameTrailers TV" replaced) last year. In addition, the show has a true online home now, with each episode being viewed on average, over 350,000 times. On the flip side, we are really able to leverage the combined power of our big online audience and the on-air presence of the show to land big exclusives which help drive buzz and anticipation. Because there is so much crossover between the site and the show teams in terms of content creation and staffing, we all work really hard to make sure both succeed."
Even GameTrailers Needs Ads
The MTV acquisition, along with helping the site grow, has also opened doors for exclusive video content. It's becoming common that trailers for anticipated titles, such as Resident Evil 5 or Gears of War 2 will make an exclusive debut on GameTrailers on Friday at midnight. It's really another feather in the site's cap to land these major debuts and drive more clicks.
"Geoff Keighley, executive producer and host of GameTrailers TV and Shane Satterfield, our editor in chief, work extremely hard to land these exclusives," said Winters. "We have pooled the various outlets at our disposal in order to offer a unique package to the publishers. We have both an on-air platform on a major cable network, SpikeTV, and a huge online presence dedicated to video game media that makes it very appealing from a publisher's perspective. Other gaming outlets have either the on-air presence or the big online presence, but we are able to offer both. In addition I think that publishers know that their trailer will get the most views and exposure on GameTrailers.com, because video is all we do."
"We also present their games in the best light with our high definition video. If there is news or a screenshot to break, publishers usually go somewhere else, but if they have a new trailer or video asset, GT is the place to go."
Even a site with promotions like these needs ads of its own. While GameTrailers has pre-roll ads for companies like T-Mobile and the like, the majority of what the company offers ad-wise is, appropriately, games. Along with the usual wallpaper buyouts, GameTrailers gives games companies the opportunity to promote their games using in-depth trailers coverage of certain features, highlighted trailers like what EA did with Battlefield: Bad Company or even unique trailer mash-ups like what Ubisoft did with Haze.
"With any custom advertising campaign we do with advertisers, we try our best to be consultative and come up with a plan that will work out best for both our advertisers and our users," noted Winters. "A great example is our recent Haze mash-up video contest we ran with Ubisoft where Ubisoft provided our users with video assets from the game and the title music track from Korn. The challenge was to create a unique music video using just those assets. We received hundreds of entries and all of the submissions were cumulatively viewed several hundred thousand times. So the end result was very satisfying for everyone: Our users obviously loved the challenge and responded in a big way, which we love and Ubisoft was able to get a high level of engagement from our community around their title (it takes hours to create these videos) that they would never get with more traditional advertising. We also tied the promotion to the TV show, announcing the finalists and winners during the news segment on GameTrailers TV."
"We are also seeing a growing trend of non-endemic advertisers wanting to time their campaigns around big gaming events," he continued. "We have advertisers who are going beyond the banner to integrate their product and align their brands with gamers by capitalizing on game industry events like big game releases (GTA IV) and trade shows (E3). Again, they just aren't buying banners; they know that they will be getting a huge share of voice by timing their campaigns around tentpole events in the industry that all gamers pay attention to and that drive big increases in traffic to our site. Thus T-Mobile and Puma will get more bang for their buck by sponsoring our coverage of E3 and the Best of E3 Awards during this extremely high traffic period. And because all of our coverage is video, the sponsor elements are more dynamic and TV-like than text based coverage."
Even the Angry Video Game Nerd likes GameTrailers
Some game sites are very "personality driven" in the way they emphasize the contributions of certain editors. By contrast to that, most of the people behind the videos are relatively anonymous, with notable exceptions being GameOne host Amanda MacKay, Editorial Producer Daniel Kayser and ScrewAttack's James D. Rolfe (aka the Angry Video Game Nerd). Winters thinks this helps keep the attention of GameTrailers' visitors focused where it should be: the games themselves.
"I think there are a few reasons, but it all centers around being community/user-centric when deciding on the content and features of the site," explained Winters. "The first is our complete focus on games and not personalities, which sounds obvious but I'll give you an example. We believe that gamers come to the site to see the games and for the most part don't come because they know a particular member of our editorial staff is going to be reviewing a game or interviewing a developer. This is why all of our reviews are gameplay and VO and why we do most interviews off camera so we can show as much of the actual game as possible. Gamers want to see the actual game, not someone talking about a game. Even our new weekly show, "Invisible Walls" featuring the GT editorial staff, is all gameplay that corresponds to the topic they are discussing. Secondly, everyone who works at GT is a gamer and as such, we always evaluate our content through that lens. By asking 'What would gamers want to see?' we have come up with a lot of our original program ideas such as Retrospectives, Bonus Round and Versus."
"We have a number of improvements we are dealing with on the development side such as more robust forums and we are always looking at ways to improve the video experience on the site. We also have a new stats product, Stream Stats, that I am showing publishers, which will give them insight into gamers' behavior and how they are interacting with their titles. On the content side, we have a ton of ideas for new segments and original content ideas, which we will get to when we have time, but right now we are so busy keeping up with editorial that it makes it tough to find the time. As you know, there is much more involved with creating a video segment than creating a text piece," concluded Winters, leaving us gaming writers feeling mildly zinged.