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How do you factor demos into scheduling? Is it better not to make a demo before the release of a game at all, and have you managed to persuade other people about that?
Robbie Edwards: We have been fortunate enough to turn our demo production into a mostly data driven effort. This allows us to build our demo with basically no effort and be confident that its quality matches the full version. The demo build is initiated towards Beta and is maintained until it is submitted or released, typically ahead of the full version. As to whether or not a demo is necessary, well, I have my opinions, but ultimately a quality product is not damaged by a demo.
Frank Rogan: These are two very different questions – how to schedule for a demo, and whether to have one at all. The former is a fairly traditional production challenge – a demo should be treated, after all, as yet another milestone with a fixed, tangible result.
The latter question gets into marketing philosophies. Clearly, some demo strategies are huge wins for marketing the product and energizing the fan base. But some demos are so full-featured, I have no desire to purchase the game – it’s like watching a movie trailer that gives away all the best jokes.
We need to think differently about demos, which smack of being done in a certain way simply because “that’s how it’s always been done.” Movies like Shrek and Ratatouille have handled trailer releases quite differently – extended trailers of single, uncut, bravura sequences that a) are great to watch, because they give you a better taste for the overall movie, b) are easy to produce, because they don’t represent significant new work or production hiccups, and c) don’t give away the farm.
We need to support marketing efforts, but I’d like to see something new under the sun, and I think the customers would react positively both to the merits of the game itself and because it would stand out in stark contrast from the crowd. Does anyone really want to play yet another tutorial level? ‘Nuff said.
Adrian Crook: Well the nice thing about console demos these days is that because of the decreased lead time for electronic distribution (i.e. Xbox Live) vs old school magazine disc distribution (i.e. OXM), you can usually wait until the code is locked for submission before generating the demo. Putting together a demo is relatively easy after you've submitted to first party, as you're mostly sitting around and waiting anyway. But putting together a demo for E3 or another trade show has to be scheduled.
Sometimes it's worth creating a separate code branch and small demo team specifically for the demo, other times the demo goals are aligned enough with the project goal that almost the entire team can focus solely on the demo. So I'd say for end-of-production demos, don't schedule them - do them during submission. But for middle-of-production demos you definitely need to carve out sufficient time/resources to complete something solid.
Re: whether or not demos are worth it, I think it depends on how confident you are in your product and how your product's buzz (or lack thereof) is trending. If your product is "flying under the radar" but you think it's strong, do a solid demo and surprise people. If Marketing/PR has done a killer job and has your product top-of-mind, but you have concerns about the level of polish you could implement in a demo, then don't do one. Pretty simple.
Peter O'Brien: Creating a demo is all about having a flexible development environment that allows a demo to be siphoned off the main project. The aim is always to reduce resource impact. Ultimately, a demo is a standalone product which goes through its own dev process and therefore has bugs. If a demo has to be come out before the full game it can become a focus for the team which benefits the rest of the project. As for the validity of demo’s.., I haven’t seen data to convince me they are a required part of marketing and selling your game. I always cite GTA as an example of a product which never has a demo and uses other marketing tools to deliver, what, a 30+ million selling product? Hmm …
Harvard Bonin: I've done both. At the end of the day making games is just plain hard. The demo will take time away from other efforts but they can be worth it. Schedule it in from the beginning. This will allow you to scope the project around it. Its essentially like finaling twice. That said, NEVER release a poor demo. The demo is a promotional tool and I've seen projects suffer by delivering rotten demo experiences.