Let's talk about TikTok.
Most of what I know about TikTok is from Thomas Reisenegger and this excellent primer he wrote to help get game devs started. I also recommend reading Victoria Tran's EXTENSIVE discussion of her strategy for running the TikTok for Among Uswhich has lots and lots of examples, data, spreadsheets and other organized things I'm too lazy to do.
A bunch of what I share with you will overlap with what I learned from them. But I've also use TikTok regularly to see what game developers and game influencers do with it, and I post my own videos too, so I'll have my own insights based on what I've learned.
In this post I'm going talk about:
- What TikTok is
- Why game devs should use it to show their games
- Best practices for making TikTok videos
- How trailer editors fit into TikTok
- Recommended TikTok accounts for inspiration
- Tools and apps to use
- Final thoughts and advice
If you don't know, TikTok is a social media app for posting short videos. Its reputation is that it's populated by a bunch of teenagers and young people filming themselves dancing (which is absolutely is) but there's so much more going on than that. There are lots and lots of built in tools for making videos like: auto generated captions, speed ramping footage, green screen compositing, computer voiced text, and lots more all within the app.
The main feature of TikTok is its "For You" page which is an endless feed of videos TikTok thinks you'll like. This is based off accounts you follow, and videos you watch, like, and comment on. For example, if you watch a lot of videos about cats, it'll show you more cat videos. Same goes for videos about game development, influencers sharing their favorite cozy games, therapists sharing tips about relationships, CG artists making super satisfying renders, deep cleaning videos, pet grooming, art videos, people explaining how to use TikTok, filmmakers sharing tips, and anything and everything else.
This of course has a dark side where people can fall down a rabbit hole of extremist political videos, disinformation, body shaming, and all sorts of really terrible stuff that you wouldn't want say, your children to watch for hours and hours. That is a topic far out of the scope of this article, but the point is TikTok is good at showing you more of what you want, and it figures it out VERY quickly.
Whenever I watch a video that doesn't really fall into my interests I just watch more cat videos to re-teach TikTok what I want :P
Why You Should Care
The reason game developers and trailer editors should really care about TikTok is it is THE platform for organic discovery.
What does that mean?
Basically, every time you post a TikTok video it of course gets shown to your followers, BUT the really big difference between TikTok and other social media platforms is every video you post will get shown to a small number of completely random people. TikTok will try to show it to people more likely to be interested in your videos based on the hashtags you use, but the really important thing is that some amount of people who do NOT follow you will see videos you post.
If the video gets enough engagement (people watch a large percentage of the video, they like it, comment, etc.) TikTok will try sending the video out to MORE people, and this cycle repeats if the video receives more engagement. This is in stark contrast with sites like Twitter where basically no one sees your tweets unless they follow you. Or YouTube where a video has to somehow be blessed by the YouTube algorithm so it shows up on a person's YouTube homepage or search results. Or Facebook where almost no one sees anything you post unless you pay Facebook (lol, don't use Facebook).
The other big difference is the audience on TikTok uses it to discover new games! People don't really browse Twitter for new games to play; it's more for people working in the game industry looking to see other people's work, scout out new games, share what they're doing, etc. People on YouTube might be subscribed to channels which share trailers, but it's not the same because there is no button or feed to just absentmindedly scroll through to find new stuff.
In marketing speak, TikTok is the ultimate "top of the funnel" way to reach a wide audience, get them to click the link in your profile (you get the ability post a link in your profile once you're past 1000 followers) or just learn about your game and find it on Steam or another platform.
From Chris Zukowski's post "Seven great tips for marketing your indie game on TikTok."
If you need proof TikTok is a big platform, almost every other major social media platform is trying to compete, because right now TikTok is eating their lunch. YouTube created "Shorts" and Facebook/Instagram has "Reels." A big difference is there's a 60 second limit on Shorts and Reels, whereas TikTok videos can be up to 3 minutes long, and certain accounts can post videos up to 10 minutes. You can also livestream on TikTok. The tools for making videos on YouTube and Instagram also aren't nearly as robust.
The other big difference I've noticed is the engagement on TikTok is so much higher. By which I mean, I generally receive more comments on my TikTok videos than my YouTube channel, Instagram, and Twitter account despite having fewer followers there, and sometimes fewer views on a video. As a not-very-scientific experiment I posted the same video to YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.
Here are the results (the numbers are from about four months before the writing of this post):
YouTube (15k followers) 298 views 22 comments
Instagram (357 followers) 2700 views 5 comments
TikTok (1400 followers) 2000 views 22 comments
Twitter (6300 followers) 2600 views 19 comments
TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter received about the same number of comments, but the key difference is I had far fewer followers on TikTok when I tried this out. I also noticed I gain followers on TikTok far faster than on Twitter or YouTube. It's pretty bananas how quickly people can grow a following. If you're just getting started posting these sorts of videos, I don't think I'd bother with Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts. The people I've seen have success with those platforms are generally in interest groups outside of games.
Not all numbers are created equal. As far as I can tell, Instagram blasted my videos to lots of people in a short period of time, but I get a LOT less engagement.
Best Practices for Making TikTok Videos
I'm by no means an expert, but here are some things I've picked up and noticed from watching videos and making them.
1. Post about your game!
For gamedev I recommend posting small videos about different aspects of your game. Sort of like how you might tweet an animated GIF. It's just a little nugget about the game, yourself, or something people might find entertaining. I've also seen people use TikTok as a means to poll their audience about a feature they're going to add to the game. It can be a very 1:1 relationship with the audience, so really think of it as you leaving a message for your audience (and responding when they comment).
2. GET TO THE POINT
TikTok is a very unforgiving platform because it is SO easy to swipe away to the next video if you're not interested in what you're watching. You have to get to the point AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. If you thought I was stingy when I said game trailers shouldn't start with logos and slow environment shots, you have to get to the point even faster on TikTok. For example, a movie trailer editor I follow literally starts every video he makes by saying: "MOVIE TRAILERS!" so people know he's about to talk about movie trailers. I also try to make sure "game trailers" is either the first part of my sentence, or after the first few words.
If people don't know what the video is going to be about within the first second or two, the person watching might swipe away. The fastest way to establish the topic is to use text or to say what they're about to see. Positing an interesting question can work too, but good visuals and an easy to digest idea are a key way to hook the audience. If you have trouble figuring out exactly what this looks like, I recommend watching TikTok videos to see what techniques grab your attention.
3. Keep it simple and SHORT
I often say a game trailer should have 1-3 ideas in it, but even a pretty focused trailer actually has many more in it. TikTok videos really need to strip things down even further. Some of the most successful videos I've seen were something like: "Here are the animals in my game" (This one goes even more specific, only showing the desert animals) This video is just about a VR glitch in the game and it has 270,000 views!
People watching TikTok are generally looking for little nuggets of entertainment or information. So you don't want to make videos which feel like they're tackling too big a topic or made in a way where it feels like it's going to take a while to get to the point. I think the TikTok audience would rather watch a dozen short videos about tiny parts of your game rather than a long video which feels like it was made for YouTube or a documentary short. There's a difference between starting a video with:
"I was born to two Taiwanese immigrants in the early 80s. My two older sisters and I always got to the movies on time so we could see the coming attractions..."
"Here's how I became a professional game trailer editor..."
And even the second one probably could be rewritten so that "game trailer editor" is said sooner :P
I also recommend sticking with one of TikTok's title templates to keep your grid of videos looking clean and consistent. This is from
4. Don't overthink it
Similar to the previous tips. TikTok videos are flighty, quick, and light, so you should really try to think of topics which feel like they carry that amount of weight like: "Here are all the animations for petting the cat in my game." Or maybe: "This is the first concept art for this character, and here's what the finished version looks like!"
Also, the audience on TikTok tends to be much younger, so no matter how fundamental you think the topic of your video might be, you can probably go even simpler. For example, a topic I might discuss in this newsletter, a talk or YouTube video might be like: "Here's the mindset you need to have when capturing footage for a 3rd person game," but this is too cerebral. A better topic for the TikTok audience might be: "Yes, people who make game trailers ACTUALLY GET TO PLAY THE GAME!" This is good news because it means every tiny little thing is a potential video.
5. TikTok is fun and MESSY
This closely follows the "Don't overthink it" tip. TikTok videos are generally crudely made, messy, and unpolished when compared to something you post on your website, YouTube channel, or maybe even Twitter. In fact, I think it can be WORSE to post something like a highly polished trailer on TikTok. It would be like showing up to a casual house party in a tuxedo. I feel like trailers reposted to TikTok feels kind of extra and corporate. It's simply not what the other videos on the platform look and feel like.
TikTok is a great place to experiment, practice, try out new things, let your hair down, show your messy desk, your game's bugs, and say "lol, look at this." It is the complete opposite of the carefully curated and polished PR message (that said, you can make messy videos which do still have PR & marketing strategy behind them).
I think messiness feels authentic, and polish can feel disconnected and out of touch. The exceptions I can think of are accounts which are specifically about filmmaking and making high quality videos. For example, this account @OhCanadaCreative has well produced videos that explain fundamental filmmaking concepts like: "This is a boom shot" and this woman makes product commercials from her own home but just got started by making commercials for random objects in her place. These are cases where the medium fits the message and discipline of the account. For game devs, it wouldn't make as much sense to have this level of quality.
Even if the video takes a lot of thought to concept, I think the more "raw" it appears, the more authentic it feels.
6. Make it Personal
A huge part of TikTok's appeal is the strength of the personal connection between the creator and the viewer. I think this is because of the immediacy of the format, and the fact videos usually are taken with the selfie camera of a cell phone. It's very different than a YouTube video show with a DSLR, tripod, high quality lighting, and then edited, scored, and carefully honed.
This is one reason trailers feel especially out of place on TikTok. It's much harder to feel the presence of the game creators when you're watching a trailer. This is good in other contexts, but I think it's a detriment on TikTok where people crave that seemingly 1:1 connection with the audience. The best performing videos are often the selfie cam videos or videos where people are filming their computer monitor and showing a little tidbit about their game or whatever.
7. Caption your videos
This is just a quick tip, but videos without captions are highly frowned upon on TikTok. Part of it is probably that people might watch on mute, but also, I think it's because text helps you digest a video much faster. Our brains are super duper hard wired to read text in our primary language, and it's a fast and efficient way to deliver information. Spoken narration or words don't absorb in quite the same way. It's also just a very standard practice on TikTok to caption all videos.
I highly recommended either using TikTok's built in captioning function, or the plethora of other ways to caption. There are so many mobile apps which create auto-captions (one is literally called Captions, and there are several others you can find on the app store if you search for captions) and also Premiere Pro has pretty darn good captioning features.
8. Post consistently
You can't expect to drop a trailer or a highly polished video and expect that to get you a big following. A lot of short videos posted consistently is what will get you followers and views. Again, every video has potential to get seen by lots of people, and it takes a lot of experimentation to find something that will resonate.
The good news is that if a video doesn't well, it's easily forgotten. Don't worry about trimming or pruning your feed to have only the best performing videos. It's good to have a body of videos for people to scroll through if they decide to follow you and want to watch old videos. The other good news is that if you don't make videos for a while, I don't think people will necessarily get frustrated the same way as if a YouTube channel fails to hit its once-a-week-on-Fridays schedule.
9. Fit the frame
It's better if you use the 9x16 vertical video size because TikTok is primarily a mobile platform. This doesn't bode well for 16x9 widescreen trailers. But if you post a 16x9 trailer or even cropped to 1x1 it just feels like it doesn't belong. To somewhat mitigate this you can put text above and below the video, but that just makes it look and feel more like an ad. I think better to fit it as close to the 9x16 vertical video format as possible so it feels like it belongs there.
You can fit widescreen content into TIkTok in this way, but it's still not super ideal.
10. Maybe try using trends
I haven't even talked about one of the biggest features of TikTok which is how audio and trends work. You can take the audio of any other TikTok video and use it for your own. For example, there was a time this particular sound was used with specific choreography in order to inform people about a topic.
If you find a trend which fits well with your particular game or videos you make, then by all means do it! For example, I used this trending audio about something going wrong, and used it to show my experience of capturing footage in VR, only to discover my mouse cursor was on top of my desktop viewer, thus ruining all that capture.
In stand-up comedy terms, the strength of trends is it gives you a "warmed up" audience. They know what to expect from the audio and are interested in seeing a new take on it. For example, everyone at a grilled cheese festival is clearly there because they like grilled cheese. So you're in a good spot if you come up with a unique grilled cheese recipe and show up there. But only use trends if you can find a good way to fit it into your game or niche, otherwise you'll be the Steve Buscemi "How do you do, fellow kids?" meme.
You don't want this to be you on TikTok
How Trailer Editors Fit into this
So if you're a game trailer maker, are you out of a job!? Not at all. If anything, TikTok has created an entirely new job different from trailer making. I also don't currently think trailer editors should be super concerned with adding TikTok videos to their list of services. What I do think can be done is repurposing trailers for TikTok. After all, if you have all this nicely captured footage, you might as well use it.
I'm still pretty new to repurposing trailers for use on TikTok, but here's one recent example of an approach which I think is worth exploring further. I recently made the launch trailer for The Last Clockwinder and also some cut downs to put on social media. It's a beautiful VR game where you create an assembly line factory comprised of robot clones who mimic your recorded gestures in short loops.
When I made a cutdown to be used as a 15 second Instagram story I knew I had to show the robot clones in the very first shot because they're the key visual of the game (and they're super cute!). In the context of a TikTok clip, the launch trailer feels like it takes an agonizing amount of time getting to the point even though the intro is all about showing how the game works. I knew including the story setup of the trailer would be a lot of time wasted by not showing the game's hook, so it was better to just show the robots and use text to explain how the game works.
If I made this specifically for TikTok I probably would've used text made in the app with one of the computer voices. As it is, this feels more in the style of square social media clips which feature prominent text explaining news stories or cute animals. For trailers I typically recommend people NOT explain and talk about the game, but with TikTok I think it's the exact opposite. You need text and voiceover to grab the attention and give context. For a good example of this, I recommend Jenny Windom's TikTok account. Her account @kimchica has lots of videos where she talks over game footage with an explanation of the game works.
Your trailer might live on, muted, with someone else's voiceover on top of it. All the more reason to make sure its visual storytelling is on point!
Solid b-roll clips can also be good for simple TikTok videos like these ones made by Sabotage Studio, the creators of The Messenger, and the upcoming Sea of Stars. If the game looks beautiful and just needs one line of text explaining what people are about to see, then don't overcomplicate it!
On a purely technical level, if you're repurposing a trailer for TikTok, it's worth going through the whole thing and reframing every shot as necessary so the main subject of the shot is visible in the vertical video format. It won't always work, but is worth doing to make sure it looks as good as possible.
I've mentioned several accounts in this post, but to get them all in one place here are a handful I follow who do a great job.
Jenny Windom @Kimchica - Cozy game recommendations
Sabotage Studio - Simple game clips and behind-the-scenes videos
Among Us - Behind-the-scenes videos, trends, game updates.
Kinder World - Videos about their cozy houseplant game. Good mix of videos about the game and trends.
Bobabria - Videos about the boba game she's making
Oh Canada Creative - Good example of how to focus on very small and fundamental topics in each video.
Tools and Apps
While TikTok has a great set of editing tools within the app (that is expanding all the time) these are some 3rd party editing apps which can help you make videos.
Captions - Automatically creates captions for your video in a more striking way than TikTok's. Though I don't like how difficult it is to customize how the text blocks are formed.
Video Leap - I don't use this app, but my sister uses it for her TikTok videos and swears by its ease of use.
Premiere Rush - My preferred mobile video editing app simply because it allows you to see the audio waveform of video clips, which makes it much easier to edit out gaps if your style of recording is to record a long video where you mess up a lot, and then cut out the bad bits.
Silence Remover - This is a plugin for Premiere Pro which I've started using recently if I know I'm going to edit a TikTok video on my laptop or desktop computer. It automatically removes the silences from a video clip, which makes editing much faster. Though for non-MP4 files you have to take the additional step of exporting the audio of the video clip, finding it within the plugin window and then clicking the button to remove silence.
Cut, cut, delete, repeat, export.
Final Thoughts on TikTok
I think TikTok is probably one of the best current social media platforms for reaching an audience and I really like how its messiness does away with the perfectly curated Instagram feed mentality which can be paralyzing for creators. It feels very low stakes, and I find its messiness makes it very approachable and fun to use. How quickly you grow a following really depends on you and your game, but it's worth trying it out and experimenting. Again, no topic is too small!
For trailer editors I recommend browsing it a bunch to get a feel for what fits and what doesn't so you can be better informed to repurpose trailers you make or clients. For TikTok, explaining the game isn't a dirty concept; it's pretty much exactly what you have to do. Just don't make it feel like a trailer or TV spot that got reposted. You should approach it like you're a person saying directly to the audience: "Check out this cool thing!" Rather than a person re-uploading a digital spot or trailer and then running away.