I know they’re often lots of work, but from my perspective demos are an incredibly crucial part of marketing a game or tech product. Among other things, having a vertical slice for people to try out helps entice them to use your product; provides proof that said product is working and actually exists; can alleviate concerns users might have; and helps your creation impart a sense of ownership with its potential user base.
When it comes to tech/engine demos, I prefer to focus on vertical slices pertaining to the industry that you’re marketing towards. If you’re making an engine for video games, for instance, create a simple, one-level gameplay demo that developers can play through; if you’re showing it to film industry folks, a cinematic would be more appropriate. If your tech can fit into multiple industries, show off features that all of those industries are looking for (in this example, things like terrain, scale of worlds, simulation components, VR/AR features, etc).
So, what makes a good demo? I’ve broken down the things you need to make sure you convey, regardless of whether it’s a tech or a game demo:
It’s enjoyable. Make it a fun gameplay level, an animation that evokes some sort of emotion, or a tech tutorial that isn’t bone dry. Stimulate your users’ senses, even if just for a moment.
The UX/UI is easy to understand. People need to be able to pick up very quickly on how to play or use the product you’re making, or they won’t give it a chance. Perhaps even moreso than with the final product, the UI needs to be clean and accessible.
It must represent the full product. It can’t look completely different from your final released product. I prefer a small, playable level to show off the game or engine (especially if that engine is directed towards game development), with indoor and outdoors scenes… rather than showing a crazy cinematic that doesn’t reflect how the game will be, or how the engine is going to pull off terrain, onscreen enemies, etc.
Short and sweet. Keep cinematics under two minutes, and gameplay/show floor tech demos around five minutes. Of course, to some extent this is determined by what kind of event/customer/feature you’re trying to convey, but always try to keep it short!
How do you make demos? Do you have an internal team that can build them? If it’s possible to keep a few developers on your team to build them internally, I’d make sure that you add “demo development” to your company timelines. Make sure that you give those teams enough time to test and make these demos as polished as possible before showing them off. I’d even suggest A/B testing the demo to a small outside group to make sure all the messages you’re trying to convey in the demo are there; when you’re building a full game or engine and then pluck off a small section for the demo, it’s easy to become too myopic and miss the bigger picture of why you built the demo in the first place. Perspective is everything.
If you don’t have an internal team that can help (due to either lack of time or bodies), there are plenty of third party companies out there that can make demos for you. I’ve found that if you pick the right ones, external teams can really help flesh out your ideas and function as prime beta testers — especially if your tech is unreleased, or if the feature they’re highlighting is new. Picking the right team is always crucial, so look for teams that are familiar with your tech, or if your tech is new, can pick up working alongside your internal devs. Also, if you’re working in a certain genre or on a specific feature, pick a team that has experience in developing gameplay, art, and environments pertaining to those teams.
It seems obvious, but if you’re showcasing something for VR, get a team that has worked on VR games/applications. You don’t have time and money to waste on a team you think is really awesome, but has never developed under those parameters (unless, of course, you’re using the team as a case study for newbies using your tech). Set a budget, but create some wiggle room just in case something runs amok (it always does). Communicate thoroughly and often with the team. If you have your own ideas about gameplay or themes, get them across early: Give the team your messaging points and what features you’re trying to convey, as well as the demographic or event you’re trying to reach. Make sure this stuff is all put into a document for them to refer back to.
When building these demos, also consider how people will be introduced to them. Is this meant as a download from your website or an app store, and will it need a thorough tutorial about how to use it? Will it be something you’ll demo in person, and will your developer be there to walk people through it? Will it be at an event? Do you need speakers or headphones? Make sure you consider all these small details early, because they can significantly impact the overall feel, budget, and design of the demo.
Honestly, I love putting demos together with both internal and external teams — I find it just as fun and frustrating as branding. I also find it to be one of my most important tools for marketing products — full stop. The proof is always in the pudding! My two favorite companies that I’ve worked with on demos so far are Massive Black and Blur Studios. Also, don’t forget that if you’re working with tech partners, they can always help build (or fund) your tech demo, especially if it shows off their product. We’ll get to more about that in the next blog post, when we talk co-marketing.