Kickstarter campaigns are rarely hurt by developers bringing too much to the table. As we’ve covered in the past, typically the opposite is true. Campaigns that offer minimal information or developer involvement rarely see the light of day. So, it might be tempting to take every bit of code, gameplay, and idea that make up your project and post it for all the world to see, but perhaps that isn’t always the best method.
Sometimes it is possible to over share, especially when what you’re sharing actually makes your project weaker. The best example I see time and time again, are developers who post stellar campaign pitches, only to ruin them with bad gameplay demos.
Before you take up pitchforks against this heresy, I love demos. I always appreciate free stuff, as a rule. The idea of “trying before you buy” certainly makes sense to most consumers as well. So how could giving potential backers a taste of your game possibly be detrimental? What do “bad” demos get wrong?
Showing Off Mechanics as Gameplay
This happens a lot with small teams who are doing all the work themselves. After finally getting a crucial gameplay mechanic to click they are eager to share their success. So they package up a “Pre-Alpha” Demo showcasing how the crafting or some other in-game system will function. The mechanic works well, so why aren’t people flocking to their page?
As disheartening as it may be, the majority of fans aren’t going to be impressed by piecemeal game functions. Even demos at the earliest stages of development are being seriously evaluated by prospective backers. Many of whom will not merely be judging the specific mechanic you hoped to showcase, but the project as a whole.
The majority of fans aren’t going to be impressed by piecemeal game functions.
“But, we clearly said it was a super early Pre-Alpha demo build. Why are they looking at what’s not there instead of focusing on what we’re trying to show them?”
The short answer, psychology. The slightly longer and more thought out answer? When presented with more choices people will evaluate them far more critically. That’s why if you’ve purchased a game you are more likely to try to justify the purchase, if it isn’t what you expected. If you’re playing a demo, you are still deciding if the game is worth investing in, and your brain will look for all the reasons it isn’t. Logically, you know there will be more features added later and this build was just meant to show off how you can change the protagonists boot color. Subconsciously you are looking for things to hate.
Fair? No, not at all, but there’s a whole TED Talk dedicated to the topic. Just in case you thought I was making it up.
The best way to show off mechanics is probably with a well edited video. This way you have more control over where the audience is paying attention.
Being Broken or Full of Bugs
With all the Alpha and Beta releases being thrown around, gamers are starting to accept that bugs are just part of the trade off. Sometimes things don’t work correctly in the rush to cobble together a playable demo. It’s not the full game though, so it’s okay, right?
Nope, sorry. While Alpha and Beta builds are used to weed out bugs and problems, demos shouldn’t be treated the same way. Ideally, a demo is a playable snippet of the game. Sometimes this is accomplished through just putting the first part of the game up for people to try out. For story driven narratives, this can be a great idea. Other times, a developer will go “all in” and make a second experience within the game world just for the demo. Also good. But whichever path they choose, the product (yeah even though it is free) must function. If the demo constantly crashes or is too buggy to complete, backers will quickly loose confidence in the developer’s abilities.
Demos advertise your game, and expertise. They are not there to troubleshoot a game’s problems.
Not Giving the Player a Goal
This could just be a personal gripe of mine, but I still think it’s worth noting. A demo should have an end. If that is the completion of a small tutorial mission, a pause in the story, or the end of a quick-play campaign, give players something to work towards. Open-world games can grow tedious once gamers run out of things to do in them. Campaigns that drag on indefinitely grow tiresome. Not feeling like you are making progress is frustrating. Just putting the player in the game world isn’t enough to get them hooked. Maybe that works sometimes, but why risk it?
Give them an adventure or objective that lets them play around in the world and try out the mechanics. Then, send them on their way. Hopefully, to fund your game.
Representing the Game Poorly
In truth, this problem is a bit of a synopsis of all the previous aliments. Basically, the demo should convey the same tone you plan to use in the game. If the game is an action title, the demo shouldn’t be a walking simulator. I recently played the demo for Dwindle, which suffered from this problem. The game trailer does a great job of establishing the psychological aspects and tension planned for the game. The demo, on the other hand, left me wandering around feeling completely disconnected from the characters or story. It’s hard to feel building tension when four days fly by while I lite torches in a cave with no idea what the rest of my team is even doing.
This is another case where a video showing off the gameplay would have served the developers better. They would have been able to shape the narrative and cut right to the elements that would contribute to Dwindle’s growing sense of dread. Instead, I spent an hour waiting for something to happen to break up the sessions of micro-managing my trapped miners.
Remember, you are your game’s best advocate during a crowdfunding campaign. Especially when it comes to what you do, or do not show to your backers.