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The value generated by game demos in 2016 - are they worth making?

We take a look at hard numbers for the popularity of demos in relation to the full release of the same titles and compare them to try and determine if developers should still invest the time and effort in creating these demos for their playerbase.

Are demos really worth it?

On the 16th of February 2016 we released a demo for our title, Void 21, in order to give everyone interested a chance to try out the mechanics and gameplay. With 30 different sections in the demo, and a difficulty progression path, we estimated this will provide for about 4 hours of gameplay.

We have had a few downloads since then, on the 21st of February reaching 500. This got us pretty excited as at least 500 people were curious enough to try out the title. Some even were kind enough to make youtube videos and twitch streams about it, both with very positive feedback and with fair criticism. Of course this gave us quite the confidence boost but 500 is not really a representative number. What does it mean compared to other demos? Compared to other titles and to full releases? And is there really any benefit to actually having a demo from a marketing perspective?

Raw numbers:

We can check the number of downloads we’ve had, however there is no way to retrieve the numbers for other titles. Steamspy offers no data on demos as far as we could tell, while SteamDB giving a little information, but not much. They show the number of players concurrently playing the game and keep track of these numbers on a graph… but that’s about it. 

Our 24 hour peak, at the time of writing, is 5 concurrent players online, with an all time peak of 7. It’s not much, it’s barely any data to actually draw a bottom line. So we turned our attention to more popular games on steam that also offer demos:

Title

24H peak

All-time peak

Release Date

Dying Light

17,062

45,871

26 Jan, 2015

Dying Light Demo

289

748

 

Demo/Full Release

1.69%

1.63%

 

Castle Crashers

855

16,013

26 Sep, 2012

Castle Crashers Demo

11

84

 

Demo/Full Release

1.28%

0.52%

 

The Stanley Parable

222

4,818

17 Oct, 2013

The Stanley Parable Demo

27

966

 

Demo/Full Release

12.16%

20.04%

 

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

12,836

22,328

12 Oct, 2012

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Demo

20

59

 

Demo/Full Release

0.15%

0.26%

 

Total War: SHOGUN 2

5,416

9,546

15 Mar, 2011

Total War: SHOGUN 2 DEMO

12

54

 

Demo/Full Release

0.221%

0.565%

 

Euro Truck Simulator 2

18,844

33,215

16 Jan, 2013

Euro Truck Simulator 2 Demo

338

433

 

Demo/Full Release

1.79%

1.30%

 

American Truck Simulator

11,439

19,153

2 Feb, 2016

American Truck Simulator Demo

750

1,210

 

Demo/Full Release

6.55%

6.31%

 

These results were quite surprising. People don’t actually play demos, almost at all. Looking at the table above, The Stanley Parable is the only game that actually has some numbers to speak of, and that’s considering that their demo is a prequel to the full game itself with its own unique content, and not a section of the finished game. American truck simulator comes in second (I’m actually downloading the demo myself as I’m writing due to curiosity) but at most 6% of their player base actually tried the demo before buying the full product. If you take into account the fact that some people didn’t go on to buy the full game, that 6% is an improbable best-case scenario.

If there is one thing to comment on the data above is that it doesn’t list any smaller games to show how they compare between demo and release. This is because the data sample is too small to actually draw a solid conclusion from it. Here are three very small and unknown indie titles and their numbers

Title

24H peak

All-time peak

Release Date

Color Symphony 2

1

4

16 Oct, 2015

Color Symphony 2 Demo

2

4

 

Demo/Full Release

200%

100%

 

Shift Happens

5

16

9 Sep, 2015

Shift Happens Demo

2

10

 

Demo/Full Release

40%

62%

 

Kick Ass Commandos

1

5

20 Jul, 2015

Kick Ass Commandos Demo

1

7

 

Demo/Full Release

100%

140%

 

As you can see, this is not really the best sample to be analyzing in terms of averages.

How about the promotion value of it?

I don’t believe we can give a definitive answer to this one, as we uploaded the demo straight away after opening the steam page, however it is worth noting that because we uploaded the demo, it was featured in Steam’s new releases section without the game actually being released. That brought quite a bit of traffic to the game’s page on steam, having 10,000 unique visitors in the last 5 days. It was displayed on the new releases first page for about 2 days until “Trainz Driver” released around 20-30 DLC packs which pushed it down significantly.

So in terms of promoting the game, it did have an affect, but in the grand scheme of things it was probably a very small one.

If you’re starting off, and this is your first game, it’s probably worth making a demo as it is cheap advertising (at least on steam) which will help with the creation of a small community. It also aids your reputation as a developer. If the gameplay in the demo is solid, it’s a fun experience and it doesn’t crash you’re already making a statement for the quality of your work which helps towards building that community you need.  However if you’re an already established developer/studio with two or three titles in your portfolio, making a demo may not be that profitable since, as the stats above show, barely anyone plays it compared to your fully released game. But hey if it’s not too much trouble to create, it doesn’t seem to hurt either.

Hope that brings some insight and helps you make good and informed decisions going into the future. We will now try and see if there are other platforms, like itch.io where we can release our demo and see if there’s any differance in traffic behavior and download count. Analyzing the data of only one distribution platform is not a very accurate representation of the whole industry, even if it is the biggest platform.

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