One of the biggest challenges faced by indie developers (aside from the whole, making the game thing) is marketing their project. There are always good looking games that manage to fall through the cracks without getting the attention they deserve. In the past, we’ve harped on the importance of offering a playable demo to your potential audience. This not only breaks the ice to introduce your game, but also proves to players that you know what you’re doing before they throw money at you.
When developer LunaSouls was ready to solicit feedback from players they released an alpha demo of their psychological horror game, Lunacy: Saint Rhodes. The project has shown marked improvement since it first appeared on the Unreal Engine forums in 2016. The team grew from two to four members. The game’s graphics, sounds, and optimization have also improved over earlier versions.
Thanks to YouTube, horror fans are getting their first peek at the artfully detailed world of Lunacy: Saint Rhodes. Unfortunately, this over the shoulder glimpse is all they currently have, unless they are willing to pay 2.99€ EUR to access the demo themselves.
A Fanbase Divided
Back on the Unreal Forums an update from May 2017 revealed that the devs didn’t want to open up demo access to the public just yet. Instead, they provided an email for “YouTubers, Testers, and Publishers” to request access. Sure, it can be useful to have a focused test release like this while the team fixes bugs and polishes the game. Except, instead of just letting the demo remain “exclusive” the game’s itch.io page offers players a demo download if they ware willing to pay for it. You’ll recognize this as less of a demo and more of a shady sounding pre-early access situation.
Demos let players see if they are invested enough in the project to purchase the full version. Developers can have valid reasons to limit downloads of their early work. Sometimes a project isn’t ready for full public scrutiny. However, simultaneously limiting and charging for the same build feels sketchy. Ultimately it’s the regular players who will make up the bulk of a game’s user base. Adding extra obstacles for those players early on is a dangerous gamble.
Given that, LunaSouls might do well to either remove the paid download or release a demo build available to anyone. The demo for Lunacy: Saint Rhodes shows some potential, but not enough to justify a “buy to try” business model.