Friday, June 10, 2011

Game Demos and How I've gotten them wrong

So when developers get together to make a game, their first priority is usually to get a demo out.  After several games and several demos, I have come to my own conclusions about demos and how most of them get it wrong.  I can say this with certainty, because I've gotten it wrong many many times. 

For Blackwell Legacy, I didn't even consider creating a demo.  I just wanted to make a game, and surely the game would be so awesome that people were going to buy it sight unseen, yes?  Well, duh.  Of course not.  People wanted to try it before they bought it.  Perfectly understandable, but I was faced with a problem.  The draw of the game was the emerging relationship between Rosa and Joey, but Joey doesn't actually show up until you've played through a decent chunk of the game.  I could have started the demo there, but the events that followed wouldn't have made any sense. 

So, I hemmed and hawed and I patched together a demo that that was a heavily edited version of the first fourth of the game. It did the job, barely, but many people have told me that it doesn't sell the game terribly well.  I have to agree.  So from then on, I always planned my demos alongside the actual design of the game.  And for Blackwell Convergence, I thought I got it nailed.

From the Blackwell Convergence demo.

I had a brilliant idea.  I would start the game off with a stand-alone story - a ghost in an abandoned office that you had to save.  It had nothing to do with the rest of the game, but it would serve as an introduction to the Blackwell world for newcomers and a refresher for everybody else.  And the bonus?  I could break it off and release it for free as a demo.  Win-win.

But no.  I realize in retrospect that it was a mistake.  I'd forgotten the purpose of a demo, which is to encourage people to buy my game.  By releasing a demo with a stand alone story -  with a definite beginning, middle, and end - I utterly failed to leave you wanting more.  There was no reason for you to come back.  You had already left perfectly satisfied, and got it for free to boot.

So what's my plan for the Deception demo?  To leave you hanging as much as possible.  You're welcome, everybody.



  1. Interesting. Nowadays I very rarely buy a game without trying it out first, through a demo or something like GameFly. So I consider demos to be quite important.

    If I play a game that has a self-contained experience, but that experience is fun, I'll buy the full game. least, that's what I'd like to THINK I would do. >_>

  2. Considering what you're proposing, shouldn't the last paragraph of the article have been "So what's my plan for the Deception demo? Stop by next time to find out"? :p

  3. That was my exact feeling when playing the demo. I was like, "Oh now, it's gonna end", all the time, and that never came.

    Weirdly enough, teasing is annoying, but the two demos I've played most, are Grim Fandango and CMI, both being extremely teasing!

  4. Does this mean we are to expect a demo some time soon? ;-)

    I guess it's harder to make a demo for the kind of game that isn't broken down into individual levels. Of course, just packaging the introduction and calling it a demo is probably fine in many cases (I certainly haven't got any gripes with that) but as you point out this wasn't ideal for Legacy

    I don't really like demos with time limits, which was the case with Puzzle Bots if my memory serves me correctly (which it usually doesn't).

  5. Puzzle Bots didn't have a time limit, unless you bought it from Big Fish Games (which still does the one-hour time limit thing).

    As for a demo coming soon, that will be discussed in the next blog entry!