17 Feb

Trailer: Dead Island. How Not To Market Your Zombie Video Game

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday February 17, 2011 | News

Dead Island TrailerI drew a little fire this afternoon on the ol’ Twitter feed when I dropped some criticism on that Dead Island video game trailer that’s going around. Believe it or not, my major criticism had little to do at the time with it being another god damn zombie game and had everything to do with it being a gigantic bummer.

Let’s assume for a moment that you didn’t watch the video before reading this. In a nutshell, zombies lay teeth into the child of some vacationers while they fend off an approaching wave of running zombies in a hotel. She turns and attacks her father who flings her off his back and out a window. This all happens in reverse slow-mo and is set to a moody piano piece. As a demo for an upcoming video game, it’s not too shabby. There are console games with far better graphics going around but it demonstrates an interesting particle system where blood splashes on player models in a fairly realistic fashion. Let’s set that aside, though. Let’s also set aside the glaring fact that there’s, like, nine million zombie themed games out there and like the glut of zombie themed movies, about one percent of them are any good. Let’s focus, instead, for a minute on the subject matter of this trailer. A game which tantalizes you to play it by watching a child die.

I’m not so much outraged that the rather graphic death of a child is being used as marketing as I am confused about how this was supposed to make me want to play the game. It’s a piece of blatant shock publicity and, no doubt, this trailer was crafted to get people talking because this game “went there”, as it were. At the last Super Bowl, there was an ad for Groupon that pissed a lot of people off because it made light of the tragic human rights situation going on in Tibet right now but let’s be clear: that was the point. TV advertisers have to fight tooth and nail these days to get people to pay attention to their ads. Game publishers don’t. Cable subscriptions are on a steady decline so fewer people every day are seeing ads on TV. Game publisher marketing takes place almost exclusively online, so what’s the deal with this viral trailer? LA Noire, whose trailer is like a fucking movie, never resorts to cheap shock tactics to communicate the message to me that I want to play that game.  The same goes for Heavy Rain.

I guess I’m just mostly disappointed that a mostly underwhelming game trailer with a neat reverse time gimmick resorted to such trashy measures to sell its product. When a game or a movie does something like this all I can think is ‘publicity stunt’ and this translates in my mind as: We have no confidence in our product. Dead Island strikes me as a game by a developer who has no confidence in their product. The shock gag didn’t really shock me so much as it bummed me out. Bummed out will not convert me into a customer.

Flame on.


  1. February 17, 2011 9:29 pm

    Knarf Black

    Yesterday the interwebs were positively spooging over the trailer and today everyone hates it. Weird.

    I’d say it’s a huge win for the marketers either way. Earlier this week it was a game I vaguely remembered hearing about back when I was first shopping around for a new console (2007 or so) and assumed it was cancelled. Now it’s the talk of the genre community.

    Also, if Dead Space 2 is any indication, the gruesome slaughter of undead children is the most recent bit of gunk dredged from the bottom of the rapidly drying taboo well. (For games that is; Dawn obviously went there before I was even born.)

  2. February 17, 2011 9:54 pm



    As you and I had the debate on the old twitterverse earlier today, i didn’t realize at first that what you meant was wrong was the whole deal with the young girl. At first glance when I saw your tweet about not liking it, I fired up the video and watched it. I personally thought of it (as a video and being a fan of the zombie genre in general) to be REALLY good. The reverse time mechanic was used really well and overall it told a really neat story from several different angles as the action unfolded (refolded???).

    Now I understand from your point of view of having a younger daughter might make you look differently at this trailer. I have no children, but at the beginning when it pans out and shows her there, slowly floating up, I was like “OH SHIT!! She actually had to bust out the window and fall to her death to avoid the Zombies!!” And I felt what was a little of the horror that you may have felt. Which I kind of think is the point of any good horror story zombie or otherwise. If it wasn’t for shock, gore, or scares… not of us would be watching this crap.

    And to say that this is really a taboo??? Call it desensitization at this point, but The first episode of the walking dead showed a little girl of about the same age getting her skull cap removed by a .357. And NO one screamed and complained nearly as much, even though it was a lot closer to reality than this game is.

    I think the whole idea of the undead baby in the remake of Dawn of the Dead was a thousand times worse and “More taboo” than this little zombie girl attacking daddy and being flung out of a window. There are things that I have also found more disturbing and graphic in horror (In Chainsaw, when the victim gets hit in the head and starts twitching out, or most of Audition for example) because they are a lot more realistic looking perhaps.

    Now I have a question for you : Would it have been as striking to you if it had played forward and you knew the girl turned into a zombie FIRST, then attacked daddy and got thrown out? Or is the gimmick more effective that they use the reverse and you don’t know that right away ?

  3. February 17, 2011 10:01 pm


    P.S. The secret to any good Zombie (Game, Movie, Short, story, Novel etc.) is making you care about the characters that are alive and their survival, not about the Zombies themselves.

    And you being bothered by it being a little girl being turned shows that the writers of at least this short, if not the whole game…have done just that. Just a thought.

  4. February 17, 2011 11:01 pm

    Bryan White

    You know? In the case of The Walking Dead, I was mostly distracted by the out-of-time logic that went into that scene and the fact that the zombie was a kid didn’t bother me so much as I had to wrap my head around a scene where our hero really should have known better at that point than to assume that the little wandering around the dead survival camp-out was still alive. There was something about this trailer that got under my skin and it probably had to do with the parent/child dynamic happening on the screen. You don’t get that exchange in The Walking Dead, the kid’s already dead and you can conveniently fill in the blanks in a way that your mind can handle, I guess. If you fill them in at all. Here’s a different story, though.

    Chris Dahlen wrote a short for Zombie Bomb in the same issue my story is featured in that’s supposed to be this kind of funny story about a dad trying to provide a normal life for his zombified kid but it has much the same effect on me as this trailer. It’s just massively depressing. The parent/child relationship is right there on the page and you can’t fashion a back story that you’re comfortable with because it’s already filled out and it’s not very comfortable.

    I really try and keep the parent component off of this site because I like to keep those worlds separate and if I reveal this vulnerability then somehow I’ll be sacrificing horror-guy points because I’m not keeping it real or something. I never reviewed A Serbian Film because I couldn’t seem to take the parent part of me out of the review. I had a real hard time with movies like Antichrist and Inside for this reason. Maybe this point of view deserves its own article but when it comes down to it, I mostly disliked Dead Island because it hit me in the place that horror makes me actually feel horrified and I didn’t really care for it.

    Based on that, I have no idea how anyone could watch that spot and in the end be totally pumped to play the rest of the game but I can’t seem to step outside of that and be objective so maybe I shouldn’t even be commenting on it in the first place.

  5. February 18, 2011 12:20 am


    The theme of a young girl getting bitten and then turning into a zombie and attacking her parents goes all the way back to the original Night of the Living Dead, so its certainly not an original concept at all. That said, I really liked the trailer, it was well constructed, had incredible atmosphere, and told a complete story without one word of dialog, which is a challenging endever. It also took a game I was not aware of and made me aware enough that I was interested in checking it out, so from the publishers perspective it has to be considered a great success.

  6. February 18, 2011 9:27 am

    Spooky Sean

    So you were pissed because there weren’t enough children dying in the trailer, right? Personally, I was hoping for a whole school bus of kids running down the hall. Maybe, a wheelchair bound guy could have been trapped in the hall also, and the little girl could knock him over to be zombie bait. Oh, and it was also missing a beloved family pet being bitten, and then hacked to bits and tossed off the balcony.

  7. February 18, 2011 10:01 am

    Bryan White

    Wait a second. Who are you addressing?

  8. February 18, 2011 10:37 am


    Wow Sean… I really hope that was sarcasm (as it does not come across in the written word well) …or I would have to say that you are one classy guy.

  9. February 18, 2011 10:39 am


    Also… when I asked you if it would make a difference if it was forward playing?? Here’s what I meant. I don’t think that it has NEARLY the impact (nor does the Wife who I showed this to today.)


  10. February 18, 2011 4:41 pm


    I really liked this, it told a great story, and really did make me want to play this video game… I mean, they don’t really show any game play, but it intrigues me enough that I’d love to see what it has to offer. I think because the video disturbed you so much is why it is actually very successful.

  11. February 19, 2011 1:56 pm


    This from the person who liked taint and its skull crushing and cock exploding goodness? So exploding dicks is good, child killed by zombie is for shock value only and bad?

    Hehe. I kid, I kid. I understand what your saying. Its not the fact its a kid being killed, its the fact you see it as yet another zombie product before shoved into entertainments already bloated hole and instead of doing something inventive or unique with it they just put out a trailer for the sake of shock value. Kind of like saying “Pay attention to us! We killed a child!”. While I would argue exploding cocks is them saying “Hey pay attention to us! We have exploding cocks” is the same thing but its not like our society is being bombarded with exploding cocks left and right like we are zombies.

    I love zombies dont get me wrong. Ever since I saw return of the living dead when it first came out Ive loved zombies but over the past decade I have slowly gotten really sick of them because it seems you cant turn around with seeing zombies shoved into every facet of entertainment and media we can muster. Left 4 dead, Dead set, 28 days later and a few other examples are pleasent surprises for me but for every shaun of the dead we get we get 97 others that arent worth a shit.

    Sadly in todays world of entertainment its much easier (as well as often correct) to assume something is shit until it can prove itself to me later, and when it comes to zombie related material this holds even more so true.

    Dead island however set a very nice tone. I enjoyed it like I do a good david fincher film in that it has this sense of dread and depression to it, I wallow in that feeling. But, thats the extent of my enjoyment because once the trailer ends Im left staring at yet “another zombie game” and nothing else. What it did, it did well and all it did was raise attention and in todays society attention for any reason by any means is considered positive and thats a shame. Bottom line is, if this were released oh say in 2005 I would have been impressed. But it wasnt so Im not.

    I just hate its gotten so much attention for its material. I mean the internet went nuts and are praising the game, the movie rights have been sold and all this other shit, over what? A short trailer that doesnt tell you a thing about the game? If it showed you its awesome story, amazing gameplay mechanics, intuitive controls, unique concept and basically showed it was a great game then I would get on board. But it doesnt, everyone is talking about what a great game it is when they havent seen it or know a thing about it. Yes I can see getting excited about a movie over a short trailer because all you do is watch a movie, but a game you have to play and interact with. Doesnt surprise me how many sheep out there buy into the hype machine bandwagon though. Its a pity.

  12. February 21, 2011 9:39 am

    Bryan White

    I’ve actually seen some screenshots from the game while I was looking for an image of the logo. It’s just another FPS that urges you to aim for the head. Nothing new there and that’s one of the reasons I make the criticism that I do. They avoid showing you ANY gameplay in favor of an admittedly novel trailer with some dicey subject matter that managed to get under my skin and bug me. A lot of people are telling me that because it bothered me so much, the trailer was actually successful in doing what it needed to do: generate a conversation. On one level I think this is true but on another, you hit the nail on the fucking head, Gargus! This trailer revealed NOTHING about the actual game. All it did was get the name out there.

    However, addressing the Taint, even though I know you’re just busting my chops, it’s another thing I hear often from people when I praise one movie and condemn another for reasons similar to this. The difference being that The Taint was so over the top that it was funny. Sure, dicks explode left and right; a lot of women get their heads crushed by rocks but it never really feels like it’s trying to be mean and hurt somebody’s feelings. The Taint is the film equivalent of that asshole in your life who makes fun of everything and can’t help but make antagonistic remarks because they think its funny to see people get riled up. Dead Island’s trailer is just mean-spirited and that bit at the very end showing the happy family getting ready for the vacation was the twist of the knife. You know? In case you’re too stupid to put two and two together while the trailer is running. They need to remind you that the little girl who is run down and bitten is their child.

    Seriously. What the fuck is that about?

  13. February 21, 2011 6:04 pm


    Well again, I was just teasing you. No one has room to say anything about you liking one thing but not another, here in reality we all do that because there is nothing thats just black and white. Its a fucking stupid as saying you like big macs but dont like whoppers and someone saying “Your a fucking hypocrit and a fake because they are both hamburgers! How can you like one burger but not the other?!”. Yeah well they both are hamburgers yes but they are still completely different.

    But I can appreciate you taking issue with this more than most because aside from your opinion being your own, Ive also seen the picture of your cute daughter. So perhaps being a father to a little girl that might change your point of view some and make you take it more seriously. Perhaps if I were a father I might share your point of view.

    But in the end this video did not excite me or get me interested in it for two reasons 1- Because Im sick of zombie stuff and 2- Anytime a game or movie purposely tries to get hype by doing something shocking and not actually telling you or showing you anything about the product that usually means its shit and trying to get as many hyped up day 1 sales as possible before word gets around its not worth it.

  14. February 22, 2011 12:33 am


    Well.. It would appear that you are not the only one with those feelings Bryan… And at least you got through the whole thing. Check this out:


  15. February 23, 2011 1:12 pm


    I have to admit, I loved the trailer. I’m not sure what that says about me, but there you have it.

    As for the actual game, I’m gonna reserve judgment until I have the opportunity to actually play it. If the game turns out to be shit, the trailer would certainly leave a bad taste in my mouth–but not because I think the content is shocking or inappropriate, but because it’s just fluff.

    I agree with Malache’s point that it’s the emphasis on characters that make a zombie story successful. Dead Island will reportedly feature RPG elements and open-world exploration, so it sounds like there is the possibility for the game to be very story-driven (vs. just a cheap shoot-’em-up). Perhaps this trailer was Techland’s way of giving us a lens through which to identify with these characters, and set the tone for what to expect in game? I hope that’s the case.

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