To Build a Demo, or Not to Build a Demo?
We've been talking a lot about game demos over here at Studio Kumiho. This has probably been one of the hottest topics that we've discussed over the last few months. Here are some of our thoughts on the subject.
Great reasons to create demo for your Indie Game
Visibility - Some of the research that I’ve done has dug up a few positive stories of Indie Game Developers getting more visibility when they’ve released a demo. If you have a minute, I highly recommend this post from the creators of Death and Taxes. It’s informative and shares their insights on the process as well.
TLDR - Releasing a demo increased their visibility to a level that they never would have achieved otherwise. With a creative idea, a fun demo, and the love of some streamers, they grew their base and their game was a smashing success!
Community Growth & Accessibility - After spending some time with some awesome groups in the indie game community, we’ve seen just how awesome this group can be! Working together, and growing together in what many consider a cutthroat environment has been one of the best parts of our journey as an indie game dev. What better way to grow and share than to release a demo? Share the love, build a connection, it’s a fun way to stay in touch.
Feedback - How can you grow without feedback? Even constructive criticism is necessary to help create the best content you can. When you’re working together in a bubble, it can be easy to miss details that can bring your game up from average to amazing.
[Jimmy: This is the scariest bit for me, it's hard to get feedback on something you've spent so much time on. I just keep telling myself that it'll make Cricket better, and deep down, I know I'm right.]
Morale - Building a game is hard. It’s a long process and sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in the little details. Seeing finished work & getting positive feedback from the greater community can boost team morale, making everybody feel like they’ve got a little more momentum to reach the next goal!
Reasons to skip creating a demo
Time & Money - Creating a demo can take a lot of time. Sometimes if your demo is part of the finished game, it’s “killing two birds with one stone” if you will. Sometimes, it’s a completely different adventure happening in the same universe, which is also great! It’s fun without giving away spoilers. Unfortunately, this can take up a lot of time, which ultimately delays the final release date.
[Jimmy: Fortunately for us, we are in the "killing two birds with one stone" group.]
Indie gaming companies, especially new ones often work with limited finances. I can’t speak for everybody, but at Studio Kumiho, we strongly believe in paying everybody on staff with fair wages and fair hours without “crunch”. We would rather release a finished game together than to try and crunch and stress over time by splitting our focus.
[Jimmy: This is 100% true, we believe crunch is unethical, and that people's time is worth something. Studio Kumiho believes in paying people what they're worth, and that no effort goes to waste.
On top of no crunch, we also challenge employees to continue growing by expanding their skill set. We provide benefits. We care about our coworkers. A caveat to this is that we have to plan stuff out well in advance, which admittedly we could have done better, but will do better going forward.
"A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad." - Shigeru Miyamoto]
Demos hurt sales! - Contrary to popular belief, research has found that game demos on average HURT final sales! Why is this?
Some of the reasons that we’ve found include:
A. Time & Money investment (see reason above)
B. Why buy the game, if the demo is fine?
C. Kills the hype, you’ve tried it, now you don’t have to wait to scratch that itch.
D. Demo doesn’t sell the premise well enough.
SPOILERS - If you’re not careful, you might get carried away and give away the entire plot for your RPG!
Alright alright, it’s not all bad. Maybe you’ve always loved demos, maybe you love having something to give away, maybe you have a bottomless bank vault with all of Smaug’s hoarded treasure. Here are some things to consider if you do decide to create a demo.
Content - A recurring theme to releasing a successful demo seems to be using content that doesn’t give away too much of the story. Instead of starting the story off right at the beginning, some give you a side story. This eliminates spoiling the plot, while also providing an immersive experience.
In an informal poll created by yours truly, I found that the majority of our test group preferred seeing action scenes, the game’s environment, and tutorials that allowed you to quickly get into the game.
Length - I have yet to find people who enjoy demos that ask for money the second they’ve started the demo. On the other hand, you might be fully satisfied with your gaming experience if you give away too much of the game. Finding that perfect length is something to really take into consideration!
Marketing - Awesome, you have a great demo, now what? Like a certain famous book about a mouse and a cookie, a demo needs a place to get more information. This means making sure your website, and SM is up to date, content to draw attention to it, and a way to analyze the feedback that you receive.
Quality - A great demo makes you look great! A demo with unfinished and lackluster content can make you look….well… not so great.
Timing - Steamworks suggests that releasing your demo when you launch your game is for the best. However, they also mention that if your audience needs more time to process your demo and the game idea, that it may be best to release ahead of time.
As with everything, there is always more to add to this argument. We’ve been hashing this out for months now and these have been just a few of our thoughts. Have you released a demo, or are you planning to? Let us know your thoughts!