In her latest column for PCGamesInsider.biz, Haley Uyrus - now working at Mediatonic as marketing and communications manager - tells us about how her old home Failbetter used trailers to market its latest release, Sunless Skies
Our game Sunless Skies brought with it multiple new frontiers for us to explore as a company, and one of those frontiers was trailers—both in their design and quantity.
We knew that as a larger game, Sunless Skies was likely to stay in Early Access a bit longer than Sunless Sea, and so we planned to release one trailer per in-game region.
This allowed us to offer more during press hits, keep our players and Kickstarter backers intrigued, and also continue to accrue Steam wishlists. Our four trailers included: The Reach, Albion, Eleutheria and Launch.
Since these trailers have all been out for different lengths of time, we’ll be looking predominantly at their first week of data. Unfortunately for The Reach’s data, we hadn’t yet set up the Google Analytics for the Sunless Skies Steam page, but there was still plenty for us to learn.
What we can see is the traffic sources list on the Steam page. Out of the external visitors, YouTube barely made the top ten sources for The Reach’s first week, losing out to other social platforms like Reddit, Google, Twitter, Facebook and publications like PC Gamer. If we were going to be creating three more trailers, we hoped to improve them in a way that lead to more store page traffic.
During First Week Video Views: 13,100 Rank on Steam's External Sources: 8th Percentage of Visitors on Steam Page from YouTube: 0.15 per cent
As Sunless Skies is the follow-up to our first game, Sunless Sea, we used the same format for The Reach trailer as we did in the Sunless Sea and Zubmariner launch trailers. These trailers used a series of title cards to call out the main sentiment of the game, as well as what you could do within the game (discover, fight, die, etc.) and featured music that built up a steady pace to a climax at the end.
Given the similarity in their structure, it’s unsurprising to find that all three retention rate graphs look nearly identical. There is one exception, which is that The Reach trailer has a very steep decline during the first two seconds of the video. There’s a very simple reason for this—we put the Failbetter logo indent at the beginning of this trailer. We would not recommend doing that as it lost us about 35 per cent of our viewers right off the bat.
In hindsight, it was also probably a bit too long. We definitely felt that we could make some marked improvements with the next one. Also due to what we saw in the comments, we realised here that we needed to set up clearly defined and distinct branding for Sunless Skies, as players were wondering if it was just a reskin and not its own substantial game.
Nine months later we released our second region, Albion. Albion was the region we worked on during pre-production. In this sense it was clearly a great region to use to define the branding for Sunless Skies to ensure that it could stand on its own two feet.
We also decided to do a small advertising test on Facebook during its first week, which definitely caused the bounce rate to increase and duration time to decrease. It was excellent to see though that its rank on the external websites jumped four places. As much as I’d like to credit this entirely to us honing our trailer making skills, I don’t think that’s quite it. With Albion, we also made another tactical decision, which was to offer it as a twenty-four hour exclusive to a larger publication like IGN, which we did with the subsequent trailers as well.
During First Week Video Views: 17,300 Store Page Bounce Rate: 90 per cent Average Store Page Duration: 12 seconds Rank on Steam's External Sources: 4th Percentage of Visitors on Steam Page from YouTube: 1.08 per cent
With Albion, no time was wasted on a logo at the front, instead we created a punchy six-second initial burst, eager to see if that would hook viewers more successfully. We also decided to test if trailer length improved its retention rate, and so kept it near the sweet fifty-second mark.
These additions meant that the pace of our trailer was no longer a steady rising peak, but instead a more complex pace that peaked once at the beginning and then built up again to finish at another higher peak at the end. We were thrilled to see that our improvements were reflected by a 78 per cent retention rate. It was also the first time we saw the shape of our retention graph change—the six-second burst at the beginning making a clear impact, holding viewers there until the initial burst subsided and even then we only lost 12 per cent of the viewers.
We felt satisfied with the standalone branding of the Albion trailer, but with Eleutheria came an additional objective: showcase just how dark and terrifying Sunless Skies can be. Both The Reach and Albion were bright and vibrant, and so Sunless Sea players began to worry that the follow-up wouldn’t be as twisted and horrifying as its predecessor.
Eleutheria’s release didn’t include any advertising or any other special treatment besides its own exclusive on IGN, yet it accrued some similarly impressive stats as Albion.
During First Week Video Views: 12,300 Store Page Bounce Rate: 88.97 per cent Average Store Page Duration: 31 seconds Rank on Steam's External Sources: 4th Percentage of Visitors on Steam Page from YouTube: 1.63 per cent
Our length and pace structure seemed to pay off well in Albion, and so we wanted to use them again with Eleutheria, but we wondered if it always had to be so high-stakes. The trailer after all was meant to represent the region and Eleutheria was indeed dark, terrifying, strange and something altogether different that the previous regions.
We used inspirations from horror trailers in games as well as film. Using the same pace structure but with a slower tempo to pull viewers into the strange landscapes featured in our visuals. In this way, it was here that we really learned to capitalise on Failbetter’s distinct weirdness as a visual brand for the game.
Thankfully our efforts paid off, and the retention stayed quite high at 72 per cent - incredibly similar to Albion despite how different the marketing campaigns were from each other.
In the Launch trailer we used everything we’d learned: we opened strong and clear; we kept the pace exhilarating and complex; and we packed it full with Failbettery strangeness. We also very specifically whittled it into a very exact launch-trailer format that showcased its USPs in a way that would be easy for new viewers to understand our niche game. Admittedly, it could have been a smidge shorter!
While we did advertise the trailer, that advertising didn’t begin until after its first week, so any upticks in its figures are due to launch hype and the momentum of other advertising efforts for the game as a whole. With so many new people viewing the trailer, it’s unsurprising that it dropped a bit in average store page duration and had a small increase in bounce rate. Considering we were advertising on other platforms, it’s ability to stay in 4th on Steam’s external visitors chart was actually impressive.
During First Week Video Views: 28,800 Store Page Bounce Rate: 88.92 per cent Average Store Page Duration: 19 seconds Rank on Steam's External Sources: 4th Percentage of Visitors on Steam Page from YouTube: 1.85 per cent
Even though its retention rate wasn’t as strong as Albion or Eleutheria, it managed to retain the same structural shape. After asking around the industry, it seems that for launch trailers 60-to-65 per cent retention is quite a standard and good figure.
Most trailers show a steep drop in retention directly after the climax point, around the endplate. In the Launch trailer we had quite a hefty endplate, both due to wanting to make sure people knew where to go to get the game, but also to show one of our Correspondence Sigils at the end to delight our current players. Perhaps if this had been shorter the trailer’s overall retention rate would’ve been better.
Okay, so views and store page visits are well good, but what about the effect these trailers had on our business goal of wishlists?
The Early Access launch and final release wishlists make this graph pretty difficult to read, and of course all our trailers occurred alongside other marketing activities. When looking into how many wishlists were achieved during the first week of trailers being released, launch trailers gained a significant amount more of wishlists, while the interim trailers like Albion and Eleutheria received about a sixth of their success.
But if we look at the Albion and Eleutheria trailers, which were released as content updates at quieter times, we can see that they were some of our most successful spikes. The only spikes that came close were during big Steam sale events like the Summer Sale.
With such a crowded marketplace, easily digestible pieces like trailers amplify other marketing punches. They’re a quick way to have anyone understand what your game is about without playing it, and they’re easily shared. Alongside that, they act as bargaining tools with the press or as a way to attract streamers, but even with all those benefits it’s still important to think about how you can use them strategically.
So, what have we learnt from the trailers for Sunless Skies?
Shorter is better, 50-to-60 seconds is a sweet spot
Be tactical with pacing structure; music and imagery beats are important
The first six seconds need to be tailored with precision; don’t waste it on branding or too much text
Trailers have become more important within a game’s marketing mix over the past four-to-five years, so give them proper attention; use them as tactfully as you can.