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Cuphead's trailer hype cycle goes deeper than its one of a kind style. M. Joshua looks at some of the less-recognizable strategies that pushed Studio MDHR's title at the front of people's attention.

M. Joshua Cauller, Blogger

September 29, 2017

4 Min Read


Can Cuphead’s trailer hype be reproduced by others? I think so. Let’s explore how.

I’m M. Joshua. And I started this whole things because I just love trailers. When I’m not making indie trailers, I’m playing games — and thinking about how their trailers should go.

Cuphead is out today!

You know why it grabbed your attention: that subversive Early-1930s animation art style. It got you on the hook right way. But here’s the thing, that’s not why the game’s successful. Hear me out. But first? Let’s watch the game’s first trailer, which first debuted in 2013, four years ago:

That's it. That's all, and it's not saying a lot.

Weirdly, it starts with this tell, don’t show approach, that doesn't really give you much information about what the game is actually like to play. But it tries to tell you instead of showing it : “run and gun fighting game hybrid” and it overtly states its stylistic inspiration. Then it shows the controls before jumping into the most basic gameplay, barely hinting at the “run and gun.” This is boring. And it shows everything you shouldn’t do with your trailer.

The funniest part? “Coming 2014” Haha. Clearly they changed their plans. And it’s a good thing they did.

They revised their plans to develop more of an audience before launch.

1. Style isn’t enough — You need to stoke player interest.

So Studio MDHR did some deals with the devil (err Microsoft), pushed back their launch date “a little bit”, and at 2014's E3, they stole the show with this piece:

That’s it. Just 29 seconds — that's oozing with style — at the world’s biggest gaming venue (E3). And of course, ending on the subtitle: “Don’t deal with the devil.”

That’s point number 2:

2. Yes, deal with the devil — Look for a publisher with a world-stage

This is pretty easy to do if you have already built the groundwork of your distinct style. Remember Studio MDHR already had this style in the can before anybody heard of the game, but nobody cared until they sold their game’s soul (for probably like 70% of the game's revenue).

Now, we’re all thinking, “I want to see more.” 29 seconds just isn't enough. We had to wait a year until the next E3, in 2015:

There they go: give the people what they want: much more gameplay. And it kept people satisfied... for a while.

3. Give people a pacifier — A teaser trailer to retain interest

Then, we didn’t hear much from Studio MDHR for two years.

Not until E3 2017.

There’s two things I want to point out in this trailer. First? This barker text, reminiscent of 1930s carnival barkers: “A special announcement for a thrilling game…” This is more style than necessary information. But the part here, “...the likes of which has never been seen before?” Oh man. You could study this concept for a long time. And it’s always been there from the start.

But it’s grown.

4. Be a REFINED kind of distinct — Grow into a MASTERFUL “never seen before”

While the game really thrives on this style that’s fresh and new, they’ve refined it on the world stage and really pushed for an APPEALING quality. The distinctness. The style? It’s not enough. They had to hone the sales pitch, to really make sure it’s resonating with people in the right way.

5. They took their time building an audience.

So that’s it. That’s how Cuphead did it. Obviously they found their one of a kind style first. But then what they did with it is what turned it into a hype cycle. So after the style is set?

  1. Find a way to Stoke player interest

  2. Devil-deal: Get a Publisher with a world stage

  3. Stick a pacifier in your audience’s mouth: Tease interest

  4. REFINE that “one of a kind style”

  5. Take your time building your audience

So keep that in mind building-up your game’s marketing approach through trailers, so that you see it’s a grand strategy thing and never a one-off tactic.


Keep up with me, by following me at mjoshua on Twitter. My trailer work is at mjoshua.com. And subscribe on YouTube if you liked this commentary.

I may follow-up with a quick play shesh on Cuphead, if I’m not so terrible at the game that it’s painful to watch. Thanks again. I’m M. Joshua. Til the next time we look at some indie game trailers. Bye bye!

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