5 reasons Sea of Thieves has the best trailer of E3

Faces are the first thing we learn to connect with as children; they’re how we learn to trust. So when you’re trying to sell a game that can’t show human faces, you’re working with one arm tied behind your back. That’s why it’s so brilliant that Sea of Thieves’  trailer focuses on player’s faces to show you how to read the game. Using player’s faces to teach viewers how to read the game is absolute genius. You might even forget you’re watching a trailer.

The introduction calls your attention

This is how you do an establishing shot: a camera quickly pans over the ocean with a bit of on-screen text as the orchestral score escalates, pauses on a reveal of the pirate ship, then it goes dark. Next you’re learning what it’s like to actually play, starting from below the deck of a pirate ship. It’s a perfect way to ensnare the player’s curiosity. Then, just as they get above ship and you’re wondering where the game is going, we get a player showing up picture-in-picture to explain the game.

Players’ faces guide you through the emotional journey

Players laugh, tell jokes, and get virtually sloshed together. The players’ journey together spreads a sense of joy, excitement, and “OH NOOO!” Those shouty bits get viewers into the emotional tension of the game. It’s hilarious when you can see that the ships start sinking and you can also feel the gravity/hilarity of the loss from the players’ responses. I love how every potentially-confusing moment comes with a real player guiding us through the feelings of that moment. Plus, using players to showcase the play experience is just plain old brilliance in structure, planning, and editing.

It teaches you how to play without you realizing it

Notice the key cues that players shout to one another like, “Okay Mike, you’re repairing, right?” and Mike says, “Uhh, we’re sinking.” It’s funny and brings you up to speed on a complex in-game system. It doesn’t matter what the meta-goals of the game are, it’s clear to the viewer what’s going on in the moment, thanks to players explaining what’s going on. You always have enough information to read the whole experience—and hopefully—see yourself in it. Their playful tone teaches you how you’re going to enter into that world. If you pay close attention to the picture-in-picture framing colors, you’ll see that it changes colors to show which team is in control.

Subtle graphic branding immerses you into Sea of Thieves

Anybody who streams regularly uses picture-in-picture, but they don’t have ripples in tears on the video frame. That little touch keeps you in the spirit of the game; same with the roll-on graphics that tell you which crew you’re looking at. The smartest graphical choice was shooting the player cameras at the same angle—it means we feel like each crew-shot is a part of the same experience, unified in theme and position. When you make a game trailer, make sure every visual compliments your game’s spirit.

It makes you feel like you’re in the game

You will feel important when watching this trailer, though you might not know why (I’ll tell you): the on-screen players draw you in. Your role in this experience isn’t clear at first, but they’ve designed this trailer around the very best moments of a live-captured game. It drew me into the experience in a way that goes far outside my preferences (I don’t prefer online multiplayer games); and that extra-preferential immersion is the very highest achievement of game trailers.

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M. Joshua Cauller makes game trailers that leverage the player experience. He offers free consultations. Contact him at mjoshua@mjoshua.com, check out his work at mjoshua.com, or sign-up for his trailer tips newsletter: