Early Dev Notes — Part V: Releasing the Demo
Two years ago I published an article where I promised to write about the experience of having launched the prototype demo of Long Gone Days. Now that our game has finally been released in Early Access, and I’ve been able to work on it full time for the whole year thanks to that, I think it’s time to write it!
If you haven’t read the first two parts, you can do it here: Parts I, II & III and Part IV (building an audience).
In May 2016, after 5 months of intensive development, the prototype demo of Long Gone Days was ready. The only thing I wanted to do was to launch it as soon as possible to stop being so nervous, so I announced its launch just a few days in advance. I felt so insecure about it that only now that it was finished did I dare to send it to my friends. In other words, I had less than a week to receive feedback and make the necessary changes before the launch. It was an insane amount of work.
After the announcement, a couple of Let’s Players asked me if they could get the demo earlier to record a video and post it after the official release. I was afraid that the embargo would not be respected, but fortunately there were no problems.
I was minutes away from release and didn’t know what to expect. Would I get hate mail? Would they say the drawings and/or the story is bad? How much would it affect me if at the end of the day I had less than 10 downloads? I tried to mentally prepare myself for all these scenarios, to convince myself that even if people didn’t like it, it wasn’t the end of the world. At least I could be happy knowing that I had “tried”.
After I launch the demo everywhere, I was still panicking. I swear I tried my best to stay away from the computer analyzing metrics, but it wasn’t until one of my best friends sent me this that I managed to calm down:
(PSA: Try not to be alone during a big event like a release or a crowdfunding campaign, etc. You’ll need that support!)
Feeling a bit better, I tried to imagine what a positive scenario would be for a change. Long Gone Days had appeared in the international press before, without me ever writing to them, so in my naivety I thought these sites would be aware of the release. I firmly believed that the press would come on its own.
Prototype Demo’s Reception
As a reference, the prototype demo was only released on itchio, Game Jolt and RPGMaker.net (back then to upload the demo on Steam you had to go through Steam Greenlight first).
By the end of the first day, I didn’t appear in any gaming news site… but fanarts began to arrive! It was the first time I ever received fanarts from people who were not my friends (so, like… actual “fan” arts, haha). These were the first 3 drawings that I saw and I couldn’t believe my eyes (please follow those amazing artists!):
In addition to this, Let’s Plays began to appear on YouTube, some blogs wrote reviews, and within a week it had been downloaded over 2000 times. Back then I thought it was a number big enough to get the press interested, so I was surprised that no gaming news site had written about the demo yet. I only contacted them after a week or two had passed since the release, but obviously there was no reply. This is a lesson I’m very grateful to have learned with the prototype demo and not during the full release.
I wanted the demo to reach more people, so I decided to go through Steam Greenlight. Here it got over 21,000 impressions and within two weeks it entered the Top Ten, before it finally got greenlit! Personally, my experience with Greenlight was really good, I barely posted about it on social media and it got tons of exposure.
Later I decided to apply to Square Enix Collective, where people vote if they would buy your game. It didn’t make it into the official selection the first time, but the next month it finally got selected! The response it got was pretty good, a 94% of approval:
Regarding the approval of the demo itself, its score was always above 90% positive on every platform where people could rate. Even today, we are still on Game Jolt’s Top Ten Best Games.
In terms of downloads, growth started slowly and gradually grew. Eventually the demo was downloaded more than 100,000+ times across all platforms. Unfortunately we can’t give exact numbers, but I must say that more than half of our downloads came from Game Jolt. Steam comes second, then itch.io and finally RPGMaker.net.
Considering how well the demo was received, I set out to prepare the crowdfunding campaign and determine once and for all whether or not I could devote myself to developing the game I always wanted to make, now that I was an adult with plenty of bills and a rent to pay.
What I learned from this
- One of the most important lesson I learned was that if your “news” is more than a week or even just a couple of days old, it is no longer news.
- If you are going to contact the press, write to them at least a week in advance to make sure they read your messages on time.
- Set up a Google Alerts with you game’s name. There could be a chance your game was featured somewhere, and this is one of the easiest ways to know. Some sites don’t get tracked, so don’t trust 100% on this.
- Set up a Google Analytics account. Paste your tracking ID wherever possible (within reason…). If you ever wondered where did all those people come from, Google Analytics most likely has the answer. (I could write a long post about how Google tools can help indie devs if there’s enough interest…?)
- You can get your demo on as many sites as possible BUT this also means you’ll need to keep an eye on more sites at the same time. If you update your demo/game, you’ll have to update the build everywhere. You’ll have to keep an eye on the comments, etc. Make sure it’s worth your time.
- After you announce a release date, let’s players will probably contact you. Some of them tend to apologize for having a small number of subscribers, but you definitely shouldn’t dismiss them because of it. It’s way better to appear on a small channel that plays games similar to yours than to appear on a big channel that belongs to a target completely different to yours.
- If you are going to send an early copy to a reviewer, be VERY CLEAR about the embargo. As a side note, during our Early Access release I wasn’t very clear about it, and 3 days before the official release, a channel with 300k+ subs uploaded a Let’s Play. I panicked, but obviously the problem seemed way bigger from my side than what it really was, and there was no negative effect.
- If you have a free demo/game, definitely release it on Game Jolt! They also offer ad revenue sharing, and that’s always welcome!
- Register on every storefront you plan to use in advance before launch because you’ll have to pass the tax interview and it usually takes a couple of days. On some storefronts you’ll be asked to take the interview even if you’re going to release a free game. On Steam they have to verify your bank account, and that takes longer than the tax interview, at least for non-US citizens like me.
- If you have any doubts about how to get better visibility on those storefronts, don’t hesitate to contact them directly. My experiences contacting Humble Bundle, itchio and Game Jolt have all been really, really good!
I’m probably forgetting a bunch of things, and there’s a lot more I learned when we launched the game on Early Access, but I’ll keep them for the next part. I think there’s definitely a lack of information regarding Early Access launches, especially for narrative-driven games like ours.
Remember to follow @lgdays on Twitter for more updates!