Many indie developers are still hesitant to release demos before launching their games. But the reality is that they are the essential tool for increasing visibility on Steam, so it is simply unwise to neglect it.

Game demos don't hurt sales — they help devs to increase visibility

Mob Factory

Game marketing expert Chris Zukowski tried to dispel the stereotype that a demo decreases the player’s desire to try the full version and hurts sales in the latest post on his How To Market A Game blog.

This bias is based, among other things, on old stats showing that console games with demos sell significantly worse than titles with only a trailer. However, that’s not how this marketing tool works these days, especially in the case of indie developers on Steam.

According to Zukowski, a game demo unlocks two essential marketing channels: Streamers and Festivals. Getting access to them might increase both the game’s visibility and wishlists.

  • When an influencer streams a demo or posts a video on YouTube, it raises awareness of the game among their followers.
  • People don’t even need to download and play the demo themselves, they just watch their favorite streamer and wishlist the project if they like it.

Your demo is providing content for Streamers so they can share your game for you. If you don’t have a demo, you have to wait until your full release before you have something that Streamers can play. Demos are basically a hack to get Streamers to play your game before your full release.

Chris Zukowski

Video game marketing consultant

  • This doesn’t mean that all these people will end up buying the game, but getting the attention of a big streamer before launch greatly increases wishlists and potential sales.
  • Zukowski also mentioned his article about the success of ZERO Sievert, saying that the highest wishlist-to-sales conversion rate occurred during the month that popular YouTuber Splattercat released a video about it.
  • When it comes to Steam festivals, Zukowski cited the tower defense game Mob Factory as an example.
  • The chart, shared by its developer Lukas VanTilburg, shows huge spikes in wishlist additions, especially compared to a months-long lull when he tried to market the game without a demo.

  • Most importantly, streamers continued to find Mob Factory organically even after the end of the Steam Next Fest. So it is important to keep the demo up for as long as possible.
  • As a result, VanTilburg managed to reach thousands of wishlists, something he would have never achieved without releasing a demo.

Think of your demo as a fishing hook at the end of a rod. The lake is the internet and all the streamers and influencers are fish within it. When the streamers 'bite' your hook it is the equivalent of them playing your game. Fish don’t bite your hook because you yell at the lake 'I AM GOING TO PULL THIS HOOK OUT IN 30 SECONDS YOU BETTER BITE IT NOW!'

Chris Zukowski

Video game marketing consultant

Zukowski also noted that sometimes demos don’t work on Steam, but this usually happens with games that try to hook the player with gimmicky, one-off mechanics. You can find more information on this, as well as an explanation of why demos really hurt sales in the Xbox 360 era, in the full blog post.

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