5 Tips for Indie Developers Demoing Their Game to the Public

December 12, 2019

So you’ve spent years toiling on the game of your dreams, and now it’s finally time to put your beloved creation out into the world. Demoing a game can be a nerve-wracking experience. You're about to let the public loose on your baby, and they're going to have "ideas" and "opinions" that you may never have considered. They might even break it, or have confused looks on their faces as they try to comprehend what it is they're playing. After all, they don't know how much time and effort you've poured into making those pixels move. And it might even mean more work and anguish for you, but first impressions are crucial to success. As such, we’ve put together a list of five suggestions – from a consumer point of view – that will help independent developers succeed on the convention circuit. 

Be present

This one might seem obvious, but it is the most important: you need to be present both literally and figuratively. Be at your convention station, and greet players as they arrive or walk past. Your biggest strength as an indie is your intimate and personable nature, which big corporations lack, so give everyone a big smile and introduce yourself and your game. 

This brings us to the figurative part of this, do not use your phone. You need to be mentally present, giving each player your full concentration. If someone walks up to your station and you are preoccupied, they might assume you either don't care about your game, or worse, that you don't even work on the game. Conventions are confusing for consumers, so be decisive. Which brings me to the next point.

You never know who you are talking to

So you've put your phone away, you've got a big grin on your face, and you're talking to people who are coming to see your game, but how are you talking to them? Treat everyone you talk to as if they have the power to shape the success of your game – because they do. Things spread like wildfire on the internet, and if someone has a bad experience with you it could bring all your hard work crashing down around you.

That day-pass holder might write an article about you and your game, or record your interaction, or write a particularly damning tweet that goes viral. Act like everything you do could affect the success of your game, because it can. On the bright side, you never know if you're talking to someone looking to invest in indie games ­– companies might send out reps looking for the next hit title, and you could secure yourself a publisher. If you want that to be you, then you need to show everyone how enthusiastic you are about your work before you even get to the introductions. Enthusiasm spreads. And even if it doesn't net you the big bucks, you can be happy waving off prospective clients in the knowledge that you did all you could. Plus, you might get a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Show something interesting

You've explained your game to someone, now it's time to let the game captivate them – except it can't if it's an open-ended experience. Make sure to select a part of your game which has a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. The player needs to be able to understand what's going on at a moment's notice because they haven't got all day to sit there, and neither have you. And when they get to the end of the demo, they need to walk away intrigued and excited to play more, which could lead to a sale, or positive word-of-mouth, or both.

Appearance is everything

Someone makes their way to your setup. They sit down, but someone else has left the demo in limbo. They can't work out what's going on, and none of the usual controls work, so they get up and walk away in frustration. You've just lost a customer, and they will tell their friends. Luckily, there are some things to prevent this.

Firstly, make sure you have key binds or console commands to reset everything at the press of a button. Someone encountered a bug? Click, sorted. Someone left the game halfway through? Clickety-clack, you've reset the demo back to its gorgeous menu ready for the next player. Make a gorgeous menu, by the way. It'll be another visual draw for your audience every time they pause or load the game – something that will happen often.

Secondly, make laminated cards depicting the control scheme and stick them right next to where the players will be sitting. Your audience has got fifteen minutes tops, and you don't have time to explain the controls to everyone, so putting them front and centre gives everyone a better experience.

Lastly, this goes for you too. Think about how you want to present yourself to the people who will be buying your game. Do you want a corporate vibe? Friendly? Make a concerted effort with your own appearance because you represent your game.

Trinkets for all

You haven't got a big marketing budget, you're an indie, remember? So you need ways to translate those interactions into sales later on. The way to do this is with trinkets. Everyone loves to get merchandise for their favourite games, so get some merchandise from your game made and give it away to those who play your demo all the way through. Badges, cards, artwork and lanyards all make great, cheap marketing tools that players will be all too happy to take off your hands.

Follow these five ideas and you'll be well on your way to success. Don't have preconceived notions, show people that you love what you're doing, hook them with your demo, and send them away with a smile and some goodies. Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive, and you will need to be prepared to adapt and learn, but it might just get you thinking.

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Jesse Gregoire

Starting with the Sega Mega Drive, I’ve been playing those video game things for what seems lik ean eternity. Anything with a good narrative is my passion, but you can also find me clicking the heads in FPS games, living a second life in a sim, or looking for those elusive objects in adventure games. I’m still trying to workout what happened in Metal Gear Solid.