In his latest blog post, Simon Carless analyzes free prologues on Steam in an attempt to find out whether they affect games’ sales and the number of wishlists.

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The prologue is a freely distributed piece of a game that has a lot in common with demos. However, these two categories have significant differences:

  • the prologue is always launched on a separate Steam page that contains a link to the full version of a game;
  • unlike demos, the prologue is a standalone game, allowing users to write reviews on its page;
  • the prologue is usually launched a few months before the game’s release date.

Carless points out a boom that happened in April or May of 2020. That’s when 4 of the 8 of ‘New Trending’ games on Steam were free prologues. It led to some indie developers seeing a huge boost of interest thanks to people playing those free demos.

A week after Jollypunch Games released a free prologue of their game Fly Punch Boom! the metrics rose to 20K+ unique players, 100+ good reviews, and thousands of wishlists. However, some studios weren’t so fortunate. The release version of First Impact ended up with only 62 Steam reviews, opposite to its prologue’s 445 reviews.

Going deeper into prologues, Carless created a sheet with games that had both prologue and the full version. He compared the prologue’s number of reviews with the full game’s number of reviews.

Here’s what Carless found out:

  • Launching a prologue after the release of the full version might be a bad idea. Developers of titles like Fantasy General II and Rising Hell did just that and it had almost no effect on the number of reviews.
  • Studios that come up with quality prologues with good content get the best results. Demos that are too short — games like Summer in Mara (prologue’s 1002 reviews vs. the full game’s 629 reviews) — don’t increase the players’ interest in the full version.
  • Making a prologue too long and showing too much of the game is also the wrong way. Dreamscaper is a good example of it. Its prologue lasts about 4-6 hours and it reflected in the game’s reviews — prologue’s 1982 reviews vs. the full version’s 695.

However, some studios manage to find unique ways of promoting their games through prologues and making great results. Rubber Bandits developers launched a special Christmas prologue with holiday levels. It worked so well that they saw the number of wishlists spike several times, while streamers also noticed the game and increased its popularity.

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Rubber Bandits’ wishlists after the release of the Christmas-themed prologue

Carless concludes that the best way to make a prologue is to make it short, sharp “in both content and duration of availability.” It’s worth mentioning that there’s no universal solution, as the game’s results depend on a variety of factors.

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