Game Demos: Convention Build Guidelines 🎮
A look into what we require for the game demos we show at conventions.
Game conventions can be one of the most tiring parts of marketing your game.
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.
- Runs smoothly. TEST. YOUR. GAME. BEFOREHAND. If you have the computers you’ll run them on, test it on all the systems to make sure it works. We use portable computers (laptops or mini PCs) which do not have the same processing power as a desktop, so it’s important to make sure it still runs smoothly. If you’re renting PCs, know the specs beforehand.
- Relatively polished art. It doesn’t need to be finalized (of course, the more final, the better) but it SHOULD hopefully seem to be ✨shippable quality. ✨ People take photos as they play, sometimes press will be around with video camera equipment, etc. You want to put the game’s best face forward.
- As bug-free as possible. Well. Not sure if we need to expand on this, but it’s frustrating to any player if their game suddenly crashes, especially if they’ve been waiting in line to play your game. Also, ensure the build has something like “ALPHA BUILD” clearly on the screen somewhere if you know you’re going to be working on it before it ships. Who knows what might change, and geez does it suck when a bad screenshot becomes the top Google Image search result.
- Ends after 10–15 minutes of gameplay. Hopefully many people will want to play your game. Hopefully there will be a line. And hopefully they’ll buy your game. So make sure YOUR DEMO ENDS. We’ve seen devs who didn’t have time limits or end points in their demo, and people have legitimately tried to stick around as long as possible in order to complete the game.
- Represents the ideal experience of the game. Don’t make the demo about cats if the game is mostly about dogs, EVEN IF the first 10 minutes/tutorial of the actual game are about cats. If people want and expect the dogs, give them the dogs. ASAP.
Depending on your game, you might also require a few other things to make suer it runs smoothly.
- Can work without audio. We know game audio is important and we’re sure your music sounds great, but during conventions some people don’t like the idea of putting headphones on, or the show floor is so loud it’ll be drowned out. Make sure your game is able to be played without audio!
- Ideally, ends on a cliffhanger of some kind, that leaves the player wanting a little bit more. You want them intrigued enough that they’ll sign up for your newsletter, want more information, or buy your game!
- Cheats enabled. Depending on your game, maybe the most fun way to experience the game is in the middle. But they haven’t necessarily learned how to play well yet and need some help. Or.. despite your best efforts, a bug happens. Oops. Cheats can help.
- If multiplayer, has a single-player mode. Herding people to play a game because it won’t work without 2+ players is no fun, especially for the lone person who has to wait.
- If adult-only content, has an age warning. Yeah. Don’t surprise people.
Attract Mode 💖
When the game isn’t being played and idle, it should have an “attract” feature.
This could mean:
- It plays the trailer on loop when idle
- A highlight reel of gameplay footage
- The game auto-plays itself for a little while somehow
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!