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How music and cinematic trailers enhance games brand identity

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Games pull their audiences into extraordinary worlds made of fantasy, deeply human stories and epic challenges. As the 'gaming' demographic reaches an ever so broad spectrum of audiences all over the world, gaming brands are finding new ways to appeal to a public that goes beyond their traditional consumer, tapping into the realm of film and TV to entice those affectionate fans.

Cinematic trailers, for mobile games or otherwise, play a crucial part in this story. And an equally important part plays sonic branding – or, in other words, the sound identity of any given games brand. How does sound work to strengthen and expand the reach of a gaming brand through spectacular cinematic trailers?

To learn more about the topic, we reached out to Sefi Carmel – Composer, Sound Designer, Producer & Mixer, and founder of Soundtrack Creation.

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The rise of the cinematic games trailer and how audio is an important part of the creative mix that enhances games brand identity

We live in the era of the epic. Epic blockbuster films, epic TV series with A-list casts and even bigger budgets, and over the last few decades, gaming has exploded into our lives in epic proportions. People flock to massive auditoriums to watch e-sports being played, livestream platforms such as Twitch have astounding viewing figures, and the latest blockbuster game will have marketing campaigns with trailers so cinematic they could be mistaken for a Hollywood movie franchise. Audiences want big, epic, exciting stories told to them across all mediums. And right from the very early days of arcades through to modern breakthroughs in VR landscapes and high performance platforms, one thing has always been key to the gaming industry’s development, and that is storytelling. 

Like nothing before it, games have such an ability to transport the user into a world where every decision they make has a direct impact on the story, character arcs, and overarching adventure of the entertainment. Being able to decide on and direct one’s own narrative is extremely appealing yet unique. With the growth of gaming, the number of lives and adventures we can take on is ever expanding. From mystic fantasy lands all the way through to mind-bending sci-fi universes ready for exploration – or world domination if that’s what takes your fancy – gaming allows us to step into myriad alternative realities, all in a more engaging way than other mediums.

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A by-product of this expansion and diversification of the gaming industry is that there is no black-and-white, clearly definable gamer demographic anymore. A growing focus in the industry is to attract wider, more diverse and even ‘mainstream’ audiences as film and TV do. With it has come this rise in the use of cinematic trailers to alert players to new games or content within a game, and the lines between gaming, cinema and TV being blurred. If you look at launch trailers of games such as Call of DutyBattlefieldDestiny and Halo you quickly realise they are more akin to the epic trailers of Marvel films. This bolsters fan engagement and keeps players coming back for more.

So, how does sound play into all of this? 

With gaming’s huge growth, something players have come to be used to – and to want – is quality sound design as a part of the advanced user experience. From decades of experience creating soundtracks for animated feature films and cinematic launch trailers, we’ve learnt what is needed to build brand identity with audio in games. We work closely with Waste Creative on brands such as Riot Games (League of Legends), SEGA (Football Manager 2021) and have been fortunate to work for Supercell’s franchises Clash of ClansBoom Beach Brawl Stars which heavily implement the use of cinematic trailers.

Like any other medium there’s potential for audience retention with this sonic branding and consistency, which originates right from the trailer. Franchises such as Boom Beach have a very specific sonic identity, one which reminds players of the game in an instant, immediately transporting them back to the hours spent in the levels.

Take the Mega Crab theme that runs throughout Boom Beach. Our initial brief was to use sound design to bring home the feeling of scale and ferocity that the Mega Crab character brings with it. These are gargantuan mechanical machines made with the sole purpose of decimating navies and defences so the game makes use of heavy metal groans and creaks along with a bed of fierce warfare. 

Sound can be used to build an intense sound landscape, define characters, and signpost narrative points. These are all mixed in an immersive, binaural setting, and create retained recall from the audience. You will find this consistency and deliberate construction of sound in feature films – just think of the two note ‘da-dum’ in Jaws.

With Boom Beach’s Proto Crab, for some character differentiation, we built an 80’s homage feel, created with a soundscape based on a new wave, electro-flavoured score. This is another theme common to games’ sonic identities, as often classic songs are taken and rewoven with a modern, cutting edge style – intentionally or unintentionally a nod to the roots of gaming and the arcade style.

Looking across to different games brands, you can see how themes are built in trailers for a variety of effect. With the Clash of Clans cinematic trailers, there is a slightly different workflow and approach. Take the Clash Town Hall 12 video.

You can immediately feel the imitation of classic cinema trailers with an intense VO that ominously threatens what’s to come. This coupled with dramatic shots of the Town Hall, punchy sound design, and a score that is synced up to visual cue points creates a sense of epicness which is very characteristic of the cinematic trailer.

The majority of Clash of Clans content focuses on introducing gameplay demos, used to entice the players with the upcoming features. This enables the use of in-game sounds when constructing the audio, so that we can create a piece that goes hand-in-hand with the brand identity of the game.

Naturally the rise of the cinematic trailer is not unique to the games industry, but can also be seen in other areas. Audible used this technique for the launch of its audiobook Alien: Out of the Shadows to deliver a terrifying experience in line with the rest of the franchise.

The technique also appears in entertainment and arts. Take the music and sound design for The National Theatre’s Treasure Island commercial. Again, this centres around an ominous score cemented with impactful sound design moments to support the dramatic visuals of the piece. When watching, you wouldn’t think that it was for a west end show – the bold sound and visuals create something universally engaging.

The rise of the cinematic games trailer certainly makes it an interesting and exciting time to be a sound designer and composer. With the emergence of immersive formats like Dolby Atmos, we’re in for even more sound exploration, with new techniques and ideas being applied with every project.

By putting trailers from other industries into the cinema format, we open up areas of entertainment to people who might not normally be inclined to engage with that type of media. And with consistent sound branding and identity-building, you provide your brand – gaming or otherwise, with the opportunity to keep those audiences engaged, connected, and part of the story.

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