Game Demos: Convention Build Guidelines 🎮

A look into what we require for the game demos we show at conventions.

Kitfox Games
Jan 20 · 6 min read

By Victoria Tran and Tanya X. Short from Kitfox Games, an indie studio in Montreal. Currently working on Boyfriend Dungeon, Lucifer Within Us and publishing Mondo Museum and Dwarf Fortress.

Game conventions can be one of the most tiring parts of marketing your game.

1 hour into the convention, we sleep.

But of all the stresses, one of the things you don’t want to end up with is realizing your game’s demo isn’t attracting anyone, is a buggy mess, or leaving the wrong impression on press. Then you end up running back to your hotel room and try to make an all new build the night before the show starts.

No. Let’s not do that. Please. Oh god.

We see fixing bugs while the demo is on the show floor as a catastrophic failure of process — it’s not possible to test builds properly on the go and staff the booth properly at the same time, so this is taking a huge, preventable risk. Instead, we try to finalize the build a week before the event, including playing through it at least 3 times in a row, to make sure it’s as thoroughly tested as possible.

So here’s the *base* guideline we made and check at Kitfox when we’re building the demo for our games. It includes what we think should be in the games, and how we can make sure it attracts as many people as possible.

Must-Haves for the Game Build 🎮

Naturally, the most important part of your game demo is the actual demo. Yes, truly, we are brimming with galaxy-brain advice right now. But it’s more than having a working game. Remember, not only will the public be playing this (who will likely be telling people about their PAX weekend and what games they’ve played), but so will streamers, content creators, and press!

Establishing a good rapport and relationship with them is quickly sped along with a fantastic game demo they can gush over afterwards, so keep these points in mind as the MUST-HAVES for your build.

Depending on your game, you might also require a few other things to make suer it runs smoothly.

Attract Mode 💖

When the game isn’t being played and idle, it should have an “attract” feature.

This could mean:

Essentially, anything but a static menu screen. This was originally invented for arcades. Movement, bright colours, animations, catchy phrases, etc. are great at catching wandering eyes and draws people in to try the game. Also, rather than the static menu screen, it tells people about what game they’re about to play instead of them sitting down, starting the game, and suddenly realizing it’s way different than they thought it’d be.

Time Out Mode

In the event a player leaves halfway through the demo or the game is left idle for more than ~30 seconds, the game should reset by itself and go into Attract Mode.

You’ll likely be busy chatting to players and press during coventions and want to minimize any distractions. Nothing’s more disrupting than knowing you’ll have to stop chatting, dodge between people, fumble around the keyboard and mouse, boot up the game, etc. If a Time Out isn’t feasible for some reason, have a quick-reset button that’s something unlikely to be pressed, like shift+F2.

Newsletter Sign Up 📰

In order to capture as many leads as possible, we highly recommend having a newsletter sign up in-game at the start (or end) of the demo.

For Boyfriend Dungeon, the way we do it is to have the emails gather in a separate .txt document that we import into our newsletter client when we get back from PAX.

Aaaaand those are our tips! Conventions can be hard, so putting the time and effort into making sure it’s worth your time and as easy as possible will be a blessing.

Hope to see you at a convention!

Kitfox Games Development

Game development posts and thoughts from Kitfox Games.

Kitfox Games

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Games with dangerous, intriguing worlds to explore. Currently: Boyfriend Dungeon, Lucifer Within Us, Dwarf Fortress, Mondo Museum •

Kitfox Games Development

Game development posts and thoughts from Kitfox Games. Biz dev, leadership, marketing, community management, art, game design, and more.

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