Developers usually make demos and prologues relatively short. However, titles like Loop Hero and The Riftbreaker prove that letting people play your game for hours before release can increase its discoverability and number of wishlists.
Back in January, games industry expert Simon Carless analyzed free prologues on Steam and their impact on sales and wishlists, concluding that they should be short and sharp “in both content and duration of availability.”
In his new column for Gamasutra, Carless decided to look at this topic from another perspective and tried to answer the question: “When you should leave your demo up for longer?” Here is what he found out after analyzing cases from developers of Loop Hero and The Riftbreaker.
- The game had a demo that people could play for hours. One user even admitted to spending 160 hours in it.
- After debuting at Steam Festival in February, Loop Hero gained the attention of players and streamers. “The hype was real here, because the title has a killer — and brief — gameplay loop,” Carless explains.
- Publisher Devolver Digital took down the demo a few weeks before the release. However, people who liked it helped boost the game’s first-week sales and increase its discoverability on Steam.
- Loop Hero consists of relatively short runs with a great level of replay value. That’s why players wanted to get more content and buy the full game even after spending hours in the free demo.
- EXOR Studios made both demo and prologue permanently available on Steam. Although the game hasn’t come out yet, it has already reached 23rd place out of 5,000 unreleased Steam titles in terms of wishlists.
- The Riftbreaker is a survival base-building action that also has a high level of replay value. Some people have already spent hours in it (with one user even playing it for 754 hours) but they are still excited about the upcoming full version.
- “[Demo and prologue] are physically identical, but exist on Steam as separate apps at the same time for increased visibility and technical reasons for the festivals. Right now we have 170,000 + 245,000 downloads of each respectively → 415,000 total downloads,” EXOR co-founder Paweł Lekki said.
- Lekki also revealed that The Riftbreaky already has 34,500 “super hardcore fans,” who are gathering in Discord and making mods for the demo. “I think that demos can be a great way to build up and nurture a community of super fans,” he noted.
Carless compares these types of demos to early access versions of games. “[You can have a longer demo,] if you have a demo with a standout (but short!) gameplay loop, where players don’t get bored of the demo and can play it many times, yet still want to buy the full version,” he concludes.
Of course, long prologues and demos suit only games of particular genres. However, they can become a great tool in increasing the discoverability and visibility of smaller indie titles.