Why you need a separate prelaunch demo on Steam
Core Defense is my second game and my first premium game. It's a singleplayer spinoff from my first game Coregrounds – a free-to-play multiplayer game we had published on Steam in early 2018 and shut down in early 2019 due to various reasons outlined here. After the experience with my first game I opted for the First Access strategy this time and released the game on itch.io in January – but I will be taking my time to polish the game as best as I can before I release it on Steam.
In February I stumbled upon this Twitter thread by Mike Rose about whether it's worth to do a prelaunch demo. While Mike doesn't recommend a demo linked to your game, he mentioned demos set up as free, separate apps on Steam. Up to this point I didn't even think about doing a demo – but checking out all these prologues people seem to be doing on Steam it dawned on me that this might be a tremendously good idea for a couple of reasons:
- you can test-drive your game through Steam and find bugs you won't have to fix in your final product
- you can get your game in front of people and get honest reviews without "tainting" your actual game
- you can increase wishlists for your actual game (without reducing the wishlist rate of your full game)
- if you do crowdsourced localization for your game, the demo can get you more translators, netting you more supported languages at launch
All of these points sounded very promising, so I decided to take the detour and create a separate app and do the setup for Steam earlier than planned – which has a nice side-effect: I did it for both the full game and the demo at the same time which means I'm ready to release on Steam without any more work.
Then almost three weeks ago I have released the demo on Steam and I have been blown away by the numbers. The prelaunch demo as a separate app did not only meet my expectations but clearly surpassed them. Without doing any marketing! From only organic Steam traffic I got
- lots useful feedback, bug and UX issue reports
- dozens of new translators
- two new translations finished within days
- very positive and encouraging reviews
- a constant daily trickle of new players on Discord
- an unexpected surge in sales on itch.io without any link to it on Steam
- wishlists per day skyrocketed – below a graph of the past month
What could have positively impacted the results is the fact that the demo is replayable like the full game: the only difference being that in Core Defense: Prelude you can only play 20 of the 50 total waves. You can play multiple runs even in the demo and get a good impression of what the game is going to feel like.
Making the demo meant no extra work apart from adding a bit of extra user interface and creating a separate app on Steam; I spent the most time on fixing issues raised during the app review by the Steam team, which would have been necessary for the full game anyway.
There was a bit of a back and forth when creating the app on Steam which I had then called Core Defense: Demo. The Steam Team rejected it, asked me to remove the demo banner from the store assets and pointed me to demos linked to your full game. Alright then I thought, changed the name to Core Defense: Prelude, removed the banners and tried again, successfully. By the end of the playtesting the Steam Team ironically requested I advertise the fact that the app is a demo. I have a feeling I could have avoided this by clearly stating the app is a demo from the start: even though the Steam Team might point you towards linked demos, they clearly have no problem with demos as standalone apps.
It has only been a bit over two weeks and all this might be an initial spike which will die off – but I felt really good about the results of doing this demo and I wanted to share. Time will tell. Until then, if you're interested, check out the game, the demo and follow me on Twitter if you'd like to read posts like this one again in the future.