This is the story of how one indie dev left his demo up indefinitely and lucked out in getting a major streamer to cover his game yielding over 1800 wishlists. 

The rise of virtual festivals has incentivized indies to create free totally public demos. Overall these online festivals are super effective and yield waaay more wishlists than the old in-person ones.

However, too many indies have been removing their free demos as soon as the online festival is over! In this week’s article I am going to give you some reasons why this is a mistake and you should consider keeping your demo up as long as possible.

Example 1: Jupiter Moons and Splattercat gaming

Jupiter Moons Mecha is a card-battling mech game made by a two-man-development-team, lead by a developer named Artur (studio name RockAndBushes).

The game features a 30-minute demo that guides players through the basic gameplay loop. If you want to try the demo you can download it here for free!

Artur was browsing the official Discord server of popular variety streamer SplatterCatGaming when a random splattercat fan posted a link to Jupiter Moons suggesting Splattercat play it on Stream. Artur, wisely, leapt into action thanking them for the link and answered some of their basic questions. Here is a screenshot of the exchange.

Arthur: Wow, that nice people noticed it and is suggesting it to splat!
Kvothe217: I suggested the ones I think Splat would be interested in. I think splat loves mechs so hell probably check it out lol. I also always wanted to be a badass mech pilot myself. 
Arthur: I am humbled by that . I personally think my game is fun, but I'm aware that current quality is probably too low for what I typically see  on splat's chnnel.

Sure enough Splattercat saw the request and responded

Splattercat: I have checked out the game and I love mechs so obviously I;m interested but Id like to wait until supporting system are implemented to bring the whole thing together.

About 20 days later, Splattercat posted this stream of him playing the Jupiter Moons Mecha demo:

The result?

A gain of nearly 800 wishlists within 24 hours of the video going up. The one day spike was higher than the entire Steam demo festival that he participated in back February 2021.

Over the next few days the wishlists trended back towards baseline until another streamer picked the game up and gave it a slight bump upwards.

The key lesson

Let’s replay the timeline here: 

  1. A random fan played the Jupiter Moon Mecha demo at the start of April and posted about it in a streamer’s Discord. 
  2. The streamer was intrigued, bookmarked the game, then played it, and liked it. 
  3. The influencer played it again for his stream and posted it about 19 days later. 
  4. Fans of the streamer watched it, got excited, downloaded the demo too, played it, then wishlisted it.
  5. Then another Streamer played it yielding even more wishlists 

That is a long slow-moving sequence of events that played out over the course of a month. If Artur had pulled his demo after just 1 week, none of this would have happened.

Keeping a demo up for just 1 week isn’t long enough. It takes time for people to discover your game and recommend it to others.

Bonus lessons from this

  • Artur did his homework well before the opportunity presented itself. He knew Splattercat was a streamer who liked card battlers and mechs so he kept close and joined his Discord. When the smallest opening randomly happened, Artur responded. I don’t know for sure, but I bet Splattercat was impressed that the developer was there in his Discord. My recommendation: Find the top 10 best streamers who play your type of games and join their community. Contribute. Don’t just email them 1 week before your launch and email them a key. Be present. 
  • Some streamers do respond to requests from their community. So, encourage your super fans to post about your game if their favorite streamers ask for recommendations. Make sure it is clear that you don’t want them spamming other people. Just instill in them how helpful it is when fans share your game to streamers. 
  • Artur added a clear call to action to “Add to Steam Wishlist” right there on the game’s title screen. ALWAYS HAVE A CALL TO ACTION!
  • Hell! Artur even added a “Add to Steam Wishlist” button to his quit menu. Always make sure you get fans to know what you want them to do.
  • The Jupiter Moons Mecha demo is also a brisk 30 minutes. You want people to leave wanting more. When I did my most recent Steam Festival survey I found that games with Demos that overly satisfied the interest people resulted in fewer wishlsits. People played and said “I have seen enough” and just moved on to the next demo in the festival. Leave them curious.
  • Make the demo fun and full of rich gameplay. Artur told me that for the demo he turned up the drop rate of legendary cards. The demo isn’t just the first 30 minutes of the game. It is more like a playable trailer – a montage of the best bits of the game in a succinct package. Your demo shouldn’t just be the first 30 minutes of your game. It should be a super exciting slice of a bunch of the greatest bits. 
  • The game demo was posted even before all gameplay systems have been implemented! That is good. Always show your work and get feedback ASAP. I find too many indies do the opposite and never release what they are working because it isn’t perfect. Artur was brave and said, “good enough let’s post what we have now before it is fully there.” It paid off and if he had waited he wouldn’t have gotten this exposure.
  • Artur went with a separate Prologue build of his game to host the demo. I am not sure I would recommend this anymore. I now think that it is best to do a “Demo” that is tied to your main game because this prevents people from accidentally wishlisting your prologue instead of your paid game. Also when you have a “Demo” Valve lets you add a “Demo” button to the main store page. It is just less confusing.

Example 2: Neko Ghost, Jump!

Victor Burgos is the developer behind the cat-based 2D/3D platformer Neko Ghost, Jump! Victor has been very diligent about getting his game into festivals such as Pax South and the Tiny Teams Festival. Through many years of trial and error, Victor has also ended up with the opinion of keeping his game up indefinitely. 

Victor does sympathize as to why indies might want to pull their demo when not in a festival:  

[Developers] have to maintain [their game] (because if the game’s progressed nicely, you don’t want your ugly ass game demo to deter people from WLing) and [developers] may give away too much of the game (most devs that I see, and even talked to today, were talking about 1 hour+ game demos)

Victor Burgos

Ultimately though he said

Yeah, I think there’s more pros than cons, but the cons may be a really big deal depending on the game.

Victor Burgos

What the press thinks about removing your demos

In fact, Victor was talking to Andy Chalk from PCGamer about demos and the writer explicitly told him that developers need to stop removing their demos from Steam. Here is their conversation

I feel like might. It seems to be a fairly widely held opinion, that theres just no practical value to wthat many demos in that short a span. What I don't understand is, why dont devs leave the demos up? Not that it would help in the context of the fest, but if you can have a demo for a one-week event, why not have it on a permanent or at least extended basis?

I reached out to Andy to clarify this quote and he told me:

Time-limited demos may have some small PR value because they force a relatively short, sudden spike in demo plays, but what’s the real value to gamers who aren’t pretty solidly committed to your game to start with?

Andy Chalk from PCGamer

Basically, the press doesn’t have the time to play every game during a festival. So you are just hurting your game’s chances by removing the demo before the press can get to it.

Final thoughts

Based on these stories from these developers I think it’s imperative that developers keep their demos up indefinitely. 

Content creators are a great way to get your game free visibility (just look at Jupiter Moon’s 1800+ wishlist boost.) If your game is only up for a week during a festival you are reducing the odds that an influencer will discover, make a stream of it, and have their audience play your game. These things take time.

Independent developers don’t have many opportunities to increase their visibility so we need to maximize these spontaneous moments as much as we can.

Imagine you are fishing (in this metaphor your demo is the hook at the end of the line). You need to keep your hook in the water as long as you can to maximize the chances that a fish will find it and bite. Posting then removing your demo is like dipping your hook in the water then yanking it out before the fish even have time to swim over to it. If anything, all the splashing about will just scare them away. You are basically hoping your hook miraculously lands in a fishes mouth.

We must maximize the exposure of that demo by leaving it up. It increases the odds someone will discover you.

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