I am in the situation to actually have a finished game I'd like to sell, but I never made a proper demo version along the process. I really don't want it to be just the start of the game. You know the usual cutscenes and tutorials are fine to dive into the story and the game mechanics, but I feel like in a demo you don't want to waste time and start right out with presenting your acutal game play, right?
To give some background on what the game is about: I have a rather traditional combat system, featuring a lot of enemies that have a little twist so that it's useful to find some information and prepare before head, a heavily choice based story and a lot of character interaction through (hopefully funny & engaging) dialogue.
There are also a few mechanics like crafting, a friendship system, lockpicking etc.
So, how would you start creating a demo for such a project?
By and large, I would create a "vertical slice" of said project. That is, it would have every part of the game you feel is "most interesting" to the player. If your crafting system is interesting, it would allow the player to do quite a lot of it to showcase how interesting it is. Same with a friendship system, or lockpicking, or whatever. If your story is the "most interesting", you showcase that story.
Many game demos get this wrong. What the dev thinks is "interesting", really isn't to a player.
Let's look at a couple examples from my childhood.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. It's a game about skateboarding and fulfilling objectives in each level, so that you can move onward. The demo gives you like two characters to play with (so you can play two player on it, which is a great feature, since it's more fun to skate with a friend at the same time, than it is to take turns... so revolutionary at the time of multiplayer, especially since it was cooperative). It gives you a single level to play with. That level has a lot of secrets and things to aim to do. In particular, there's a room above a half pipe that's difficult to get into with your default stats (you can't increase the stats in the demo), so it provides a "goal" for players to repeatedly play the demo. The game also "checks off" anything you completed during the run, despite never saving it, because it "feels good" that the game recognizes you completed objectives every time... and trying to complete more and more objectives in the alotted 2 minutes is another goal the players can strive for. The game also plays like... one track, I think? It's the most iconic track of the whole game, and puts you in the mood to skate. Goldfinger - Superman.
Great demo. Lots of people bought Tony Hawk because of it. Heck, I did.
Final Fantasy X. Typical JRPG stuff. Except... It highlights the game very well. Banging music to open the game up... exciting cutscene... and a general "WTF is going on!?" vibe through the whole demo. Combat is super easy and requires very little thought, because it isn't the "battle system" on display with this game. It's the characters, the story, the music, and the environments. The demo shows a creature blowing up a city... this guy in red that your character knows leading you over to it... and then it brings you all into the air and fades to black. What just happened? What's going on? Well, that's the theme of the whole game. What is this creature, what happened to you, and what is going on? The mystery sold me on buying the game and enjoying the crap out of it. It was a demo that was marketing the story and it succeeded. Especially since it was unlike any other Final Fantasy intro at the time. Every FF intro tells you what is going on, why it's going on, and your part to play in it. But, FFX did not. It says, "there's crazy stuff going on that you don't understand, and don't you want to play to find out what's going on?". And yes, I did. This was new for the series at the time, and I was genuinely interested. They put the story front and center in a time where I wanted more story from video games. They promised several mysteries to unravel, and that got me on board.
I know I am supposed to think about what makes my game special / what do I want to represent, but there are still a lot of options coming to mind.
You shouldn't have "a lot of options", not really. What are the absolute BEST PARTS of your game? That should be your demo. If you can't look at your game and point immediately to "this is the most important thing about my game that I want all players to experience", then you've probably got a "mediocre game".
Or, to put it in less "offensive" terms. You've got a game where you do everything competently, but nothing in an exceptional way.
So, you need to decide "was is the most important thing about my game?" and then make your demo revolve around that thing. What's the most engaging part of your gameplay? Or the game itself? The story? Is crafting really the most engaging part? Or lockpicking? Or the combat? If so, then you should have lots of opportunities for the player to do those engaging things in your game.
You need to tell the player, "you want to buy the game because of X thing in my game that you like."
Also, are your demos versions an actual part of your games?
Yes, mine is. It consists of the entire opening of the game and gives you access to 1/4th of the first map. Well, it's more than 1/4th, but it's roughly that much.
It is designed in such a way that a player can take the save file from the "demo" version, drop it into the "full version" and continue the game, if they like. At least... currently. Despite not having a released demo yet.
Or do you create a whole new mini project with the same mechanics and characters?
No thank you. I'd rather not do that. That sounds like a lot of extra work for maybe minimal returns. It'd be easier to "edit" the existing game into the "demo" instead. Especially since I could remove things that wouldn't draw players in, and streamline any "onboarding" process that way.
How long should a demo be? (Playing time for game is about 10 - 15 hours).
That's going to be up to you. Can the player be hooked to buy your game in 10 minutes? 5? 1 hour? Is 10 minutes enough time to show the player everything you wanted them to see to make a decision on getting the full game?
So yeah, what are your thoughts on all these questions? Are there any other things I need to consider or any other options I missed? Looking forward to your opinions about this : )
I'm not sure it will help, but I'll sort of highlight what my own "demo" consists of. Hopefully, it gives you some ideas.
So, the things I want to highlight to the players are:
I am particularly proud of these 3 features. Everything else is "not that impressive" or "not important".
The story is the driving force of my game. Everything revolves around story. Every Quest is a different story. The player can't "gain power" except through completion of Quests (which means, they must experience the story).
So, the player is dumped into a bunch of Quests and a world in which an "overarching story" is laid out for them. There are lots of characters to meet, with their own personalities, most have quests or useful information for quests, and the player is expected to interact with everyone.
The second feature I'm proud of is what I'm terming "The True Choice System". Where, every choice you make, changes your game in a "valid" way. That is, what you choose, changes the entire story of your game, and isn't just "fluff". Now, to make it work, I had to split the choices into 5 categories. Story Choices, World Choices, Location Choices, Character Choices, Personal Choices. In this way, the "change" is given a level of "importance". Here's how that works:
Story Choices - Affects the main story of the game. The one that involves all the party members and the ending of the game. These can have "knock on" effects for other choices, but these ultimately don't change too much of the game.
World Choices - Affects the entire world of the game. Yes, the world and the main story are different. For story reasons. The world is everything you're currently interacting with. If you save this village from bandits, there will be consequences/rewards for that later, and dialogue/quest availability may change as a result of that choice. A "world choice" can lock you out of locations, characters, shops, and quests... but it can also open up locations, characters, shops, and quests.
Location Choices - Just affects the location the quest took place in. Generally doesn't have any further bearing on the rest of the game. You delivered a letter for an NPC, so they're happy and will increase the stock of their store for you. Things similar to that. The choices aren't generally as binary as "delivered the letter or don't deliver the letter", but you get the idea.
Character Choices - This just affects one of the party members you have with you. It can alter their personality, their outlook, or other such things. Generally speaking, these choices tend to change the dialogue the characters have between each other and what information is volunteered or hidden, and other such things. If you've played "Dragon Age Origins", you can think of these choices as the same as whether or not you "Harden" the emotions of a couple of the characters. Though, it's deeper than that.
Personal Choices - These affect the player's personal gamplay only. Do you take the Fire Spell or the Lightning Spell? This can change upcoming gameplay, it can change how certain enemies interact with you (they may have different movesets depending on these choices!), or general "ease" or "difficulty" of the game at large. These affect enough that two players may have different experiences in the game, if they made different choices.
So, in the demo the player is given:
1 Story Choice to make.
4 World Choices to make.
8 (currently) Location Choices to make.
2 Character Choices to make.
6 Personal Choices to make.
This is on top of just the typical "game choices" the player would make as well. Since "Player Choice" is something I want to highlight, I keep the player in the loop of "make decisions". Even if those decisions are little more than "Change your equipment to better tackle the dungeon".
I keep the player making decisions in the story and narrative as much as possible, and bleed those choices into combat and even sometimes conversations. There are even 2 "collectibles" that reflect "make choices". Silver Keys and Guild Certificates. Silver Keys can open Silver Doors or Silver Chests... but there's only 50 keys in the game and way more than 50 locks. Guild Certificates increase or change the stock of some shops. But, there's only 50 Certificates, and far more than 50 Shop Upgrades (some shops can be upgraded a single time, others a bunch of times).
I want to highlight combat because it isn't your simple "my stats are bigger than yours, therefore I win" affair. The enemies will teach you tactics, you can then use those tactics against them. So, most of the combat encounters exist to showcase this. In fact, I've got 3 dungeons in a "completed" state at the moment with plans to add probably 1 more. Each Dungeon focuses on a thing I want to teach the player.
So, I teach the player that for some instances, certain types of armor are better than others. Sure, you can equip Plate Mail and get very high defense... But against wolves who are very fast, it makes you weak to them, and so they can wreck you quickly and typically in a single hit because you're wearing that heavy Plate Mail. The same might also apply to your weapons. Maybe Daggers would be better in this instance than Short Swords because Daggers inflict status ailments and can add defense against speedy critters, but Short Swords are just "standard" weapons only slightly stronger than a Dagger.
My demo highlights all 3 of these things, and they all have the same through-lines.
Story affects combat and choices.
Choices affect combat and story.
Combat can affect choices and can affect story.
It all bleeds back into the experience I want the players to have. I want them to make the choice to continue playing based on those 3 things.
The demo should take the player from Level 1 to Level 4-6, and that's it. It sets up the primary gameplay loops, the expectations I have of the players (what I will punish them for doing and what I will reward them for doing), and gets the main story "rolling" to a point where the player MIGHT want to know "what happens next?".
I hope that helps you decide what you want in your demo.