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Is Your Demo Too Easy?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Since my decision to get involved in shareware game development, I try to play as much demos of shareware games as I can. I keep a list with a short description of each game I play, including some consideration why I should or should not buy this game.

This has allowed me to form an opinion on aspect that can make or break a demo. Game demos are either feature-limited, time-limited or both. Regardless of the method chosen, the goal is to get the player to buy the game. Personally, I prefer feature limitation over time limitation. I might go into that in a later blog entry. Right now I want to talk about a certain aspect of feature limitation.

Limiting your demo to only the easiest skill level(s) might lose you some customers. More than once I have played the demo of a game I liked enough to consider buying it, only to be left with the question: but will it be challenging enough? There are enough great games out there that I am sure I will enjoy, so why buy a game that I'm in doubt about? The solution is quite simple, too: don't limit the skill levels in the demo.

This advice is particularly applicable to puzzle games, altough it's certainly not limited to that genre. The whole idea of a puzzle game is to provide me with a mental challenge. What is challenging for me, might be very easy to someone else; that's why we have skill levels in the first place. But if that someone else can only play the easiest puzzles in the demo, he will not find the game he is looking for.

Some puzzle games don't allow you to go to level N + 1 before you have finished level N. This makes it hard to give demo players a taste of levels that are more difficult. It's a scheme that I personally don't like very much anyway. If I happen to be very good at your game, why let me plow through fifty levels that are nothing but obligatory mouse clicks to me? I payed for the game; I should be in control.

Of course not every game is alike. Some puzzle games manage to show you within the first five of their easiest levels that there is a good challenge up ahead. In that case, you might not need to show harder levels, but do consider carefully. As I said, this decision about skill levels isn't limited to level-based puzzle games. There is not much fun in a racing game if I always win by a mile.

My upcoming game Trichromix is a level-based puzzle game and you can be sure that the demo will include puzzles in all skill levels.

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