A Great Game Demo

How to Be a Demo God by Guy Kawasaki gives 11 tips to entrepreneurs looking for venture capital at Demo.

While I don’t plan on being involved in Demo in the near future, I was wondering how his points can apply to a shareware game demo. Some of them don’t seem to fit at all, such as “do it alone” instead of with a partner. Then again, making sure you demo runs on its own instead of requiring the existence of exotic-third party applications might be something that would be desired.

So how can they apply? I’ll try to answer, but feel free to chime in with your own thoughts. I don’t have the personal experience of putting together shareware demos myself, so what follows is what I’ve gleaned off of the various shareware marketing and sales articles and posts out there.

  1. Create something worth demoing. It’s generally understood that your game better be able to stand up on its own. Not all good games sell well, but all bad games definitely don’t sell or sell for long. The demo is supposed to be a small part of that awesomeness that is your game. If you are showing a small part of junk, your customers will know. Don’t begrudge this fact; it’s how shareware is supposed to work. The way to compete is to make a good quality product.
  2. Do it alone. I suppose if I stretch I could say that your game shouldn’t require your players to install five different third-party libraries that aren’t included with the demo. Maybe another interpretation is that getting onto a shareware compilation is also bad; being one of the “best 100 Windows games”, for instance, you’ll get lost in the crowd. If someone tries your game demo and likes it enough to pay for the full version, how likely is that person to say, “But let me check the rest of the games to see if I like something better”?
  3. Bring two of everything. Some people lose sales because the demo couldn’t run on certain computers. If DirectX support is not available, OpenGL might work better. Message boxes might pop up and disappear before a person can read them, so use a log file to store the error messages. Having a Windows version AND a Mac OS X version might double your possible sales.
  4. Get organized in advance. Your game’s demo is part of the marketing of your game. Don’t just take the full version and cut out a bunch of features and throw it out there. Really think about what would make it a good demo. How does it fit into the rest of your marketing plan?
  5. Reduce the factors you can’t control. If your demo requires the Internet to function, it should say so. Otherwise, don’t assume an always-on connection because it might not be there. What resolution do you need? Don’t assume that your customers will have a 1920×1200 resolution monitor. If you do need certain factors to be there, you should state so in your system requirements. Those should be easy to find on your website, I think.
  6. Get to it. Do we really need to learn who you are or what libraries you used as soon as I start the demo? Show me the game! I don’t know if showing Buy buttons is a bad thing that early in the demo, but I would imagine that until the person plays the game, having a BUY NOW splash screen before getting to the main menu would be more of an annoyance than anything.
  7. “Do the last thing first.” I read that Daikatana is actually a decent game, and I’ll be playing it this year to learn for myself. I also read that with all the hype surrounding it, people were turned off by the first couple of levels. They were apparently boring. I think it will probably be fine to say, “The full version features even more weapons!” but the demo should at least feature some awesome weapons too. If you have a puzzle game, I think putting only easy puzzles in the demo is a problem as well.
  8. Then show the “how.” I’m not sure how to apply what Kawasaki was saying to the game demo, although I suppose a tutorial would be one way. IGF finalist Flashbang Studios’ Glow Worms is a good example of a game that had a nice tutorial to show you how to play. On the other hand, I know that Darwinia, as great a game as it is, was hard to get into at first. I didn’t know how to get the game to recognize my mouse gestures because I didn’t know I was supposed to be on a specific screen to do them.
  9. Cut the jargon. Your customers want to play the game, not reconfigure their computers. While drivers need to be updated and libraries need to be installed, don’t expect your customers to hunt for files or do anything out of the ordinary.
  10. Don’t take any questions until the end. I’m not sure if this one applies at all. If your customer has a question, answer it! Also, record it and resolve to fix your demo so that those questions are addressed before they ask. Make it so you don’t have to worry about being asked questions until the end.
  11. End with an exclamation point. Your demo should start awesome and it should end awesome. Don’t fizzle out or people will think that with the exception of that first part, which they’ve already played, the entire game is boring.

I suppose there is a challenge applying these tips to shareware games. You can’t depend on the player making it all the way through the demo, so you can’t easily define the “end” of it for that potential customer. Perhaps it shows that there is a flaw in your game demo? Should your demo be so good that people play through it completely, or is it possible to be better even if the person only plays a portion of it? If the person stops part of the way through, will they simply uninstall and forget it or will they actually drop you a line to tell you why? With a shareware demo, your captive audience isn’t forced to sit and watch for six minutes. Your demo better be spectacular and make the potential customer want to see more.