Creating public-facing game demos (especially at expos and cons), comes with granular approach and human interactions. Learn about practical steps in developing your demo and providing the best experience for your gaming audience.
The art of building amazing demos
John Cooney - Director of Premium Publishing at Kongregate - @jmtb02
Hi I am John Cooney.
Director of Premium Games at Kongregate
(A cross-platform publisher and web games platform)
I am also an indie developer
• 100+ titles released with +1b plays worldwide
• Flash games veteran
I move quickly so I’ll post this deck at developers.kongregate.com
30 Minutes Ago
I abandoned helping
booth demos right now
at Indie Arena Booth…
to talk to you about
An amazing demo is a
sessionable, enjoyable, playable, and honest representation
of the full game experience
Much of building an amazing demo are
tiny (often game-external) tasks
that don’t take much time
Why create demos?
• Show off your game. Getting players in your game to
Gamescom and other amazing events
• To get feedback. Be able to collect feedback and see
players engage, whether online or in-person
• A marketing chip. A way of generating buzz about your
game, whether during Kickstarter or post-launch
• Test launch. Demos are also a demo for your launch
experience. Sometimes we call them “open betas”
WHERE do we demo as developers?
• Player-facing events. Expos like PAX,
• Business-facing events. Events like
Devcom, Casual Connect, GDC. For
publishers and investors.
• Online demos for marketing the game
(Steam demos, Kickstarters, etc)
Comfort starts external to your demo,
fostering a human relationship with
“Hi, I am the creator of this game, I hope you love it!”
• Identify that you are the creator! Be excited!
• Interact! Players LOVE being able to interact with the creator!
• Sometimes your interaction with the player is more powerful
than the actual game (no offense to your game)
• Be nice even though you’re probably exhausted and
Hand the controller to the player.
It’s one of the most cathartic experiences you can have as a
Don’t drop it on the table and point at it.
Handing the game controller to the player is important,
literally handing off your game is good practice for launch
Only offer the best control scheme you got.
• Keyboard + Mouse
• Mouse only
Hide everything else! Options are paralyzing, don’t offer options!
Don’t make these bad charts.
They’re fun to make but they
confuse the player. Memorizing
controls is not fun.
Instead. Show a simpliﬁed version
on a control card below the monitor.
Just the basic controls (move, jump,
Read player engagement and body language.
• Some players want to be left alone.
• Some want to constantly ask questions.
• Some are tired and fussy.
Engage with players the way they want to be
Remove screen-based distractions
• Disable OS notiﬁcations (seriously)
• Hide cursor for controller play
• Play in true fullscreen (no application bar)
• Thwart exiting the game (seriously people check their emails)
Make sure your demo space is accessible.
• Wheelchair accessibility
• Controller/keyboard adjustable
• Approachable monitor with removable seating
• Be helpful and accommodating!
Headphones are better for solo play.
• Expo noise is LOUD, headphones isolate sound
• Have an easy-to-reach volume knob if you can, set
to LOW and let the player adjust up
• Clean them!
• Remove the microphone (who are they talking to?)
Speakers are better for group play.
• Much easier for players to talk/interact
• Competes with ambient noise, its
going to be expensive for good sound
• Nothing to clean!
• Your player is now comfortable. EXCELLENT.
• Enjoyment is about providing an excellent,
memorable gameplay experience, fast
• This is accomplished by providing a
frictionless, seamless, correct length
• An Xbox controller has 19 discreet inputs, which
should you push ﬁrst? Start the demo with the
• Make sure your real buttons match the UI
• Offer y-axis flip from the pause menu, don’t bury it
Respect player’s time.
Their time with the demo is limited.
• Story is important but monopolizes time. Try to
set precedence but not tell a wildly long story
• Skippable cutscenes
• Checkpoint progress before difﬁcult portions/boss
• Limit incredibly repetitive actions
• Learning through experience, not 10-page tutorial
• Generally I recommend 5 to 10
minutes in-person, but potentially
longer (10 to 30 minutes) for
• Demo should be short enough to not
make people in line wait forever,
multiple computer/console setups
• End your demo after the peak of
enjoyment, don’t let the demo run
Understand the enjoyment curve then cut the
player off after peak
• Make a clear breakpoint in the demo Removing the
awkward moment of “Ok, please stop playing now”
• “Thanks for playing!” is a very happy, clear signal.
Players naturally will put down the controller with
• Remove false breakpoints from the game. End of
level screens and similar will cue the player to
leave the game. Simply head to the next level
automatically and don’t wait for player input to go
to the next screen.
By the end of the demo, your player should
know the following:
• Basic controls/feel
• Core loop
• Game difﬁculty and progression
• Art style and tone
• Sound direction and design
Your demo doesn’t have to actually show
these, but can allude to their existence
By the end of the demo, YOU should know
things as well:
• Is the difﬁculty right?
• Did the player perform as expected? What
• What was their emotions throughout the
• Was there bugs?
Compare and contrast all data points.
• Wipe the headsets before each play or get a
• “Is this comfortable?” Help the player get
acclimated to VR, many players have never
engaged with VR content before!
• Mirror the game to a screen for others to see.
• Consider setup time into demo length. VR
requires time to set up/take off/clean, lines
can take forever.
The demo is over.
This is a golden minute to captivate your players with
Players are excited. Your game is either out or
“Would you like to sign up for our newsletter?”
• Email newsletters are great for keeping
players engage. Lots of good apps for this
(iPad is good). Internet is often bad at large
events, so using an offline app is better.
SignUpAnywhere is great. So is pen-and-
“Here have a button!”
• Buttons are cheap, easy to make (or get
printed), and mean that the player will have a
physical connection to the game (and have a
visual representation of your game to wear
Should I sell a copy right there at the demo?
Maybe. Probably not.
• Tax implications of making in-person retail
sales are muddy.
• Having to make change, take credit card.
• Holding up waiting players while you make a
• It could make sense, just weight your options,
Good news. Your event demo will be pretty good for
downloadable demos as well. Just a few things to
How are demos different as downloadable?
• You are probably not in their house watching them play
• The internet is at their ﬁngertips!
• Anonymity = More critical and honest feedback
• Social media call-to-actions!
• Click a link to buy/preorder the game
• Broader range of hardware requirements, settings to support
• Players will want you to ﬁx bugs
• Download/install friction
When should I release an online demo? Depends.
• Kickstarter? Along side. Builds conﬁdence in
players that its a real game, influencers can get
involved early and promote the Kickstarter.
• Before release? Sometimes. Its a marketing
chip and can generate excitement for the game
before launch, but a bad demo experience could
jeopardize your launch. Read your hype.
• After release? Deﬁnitely. If you haven’t created
a demo and have a work day to create one.
Creates a round of buzz.
Recommend places for demos:
• Kongregate (webGL/HTML5)
You need to still get out there and
promote your demo, can’t set and
Feel free to use an expo-style demo for business
However, 2 major caveats:
“Would you like me to drive?”
When pitching to a publisher or
platform, let them know that you’re
willing to play the demo for them.
Sometimes you’ll be asked to
drive. Practice talking and playing,
its an important skill.
Laptops for demos.
• Low-power mode is AWFUL. Most
common error I see in demos. Plug
your computer in or disable.
• Charge your laptop, batteries go quick!
• Used wired controllers to skip trying to
pair/replace batteries in wireless
Optimize for player setting
One demo does not ﬁt all. Expos are different from business meetings
from online demos. Craft carefully.
Your demo should represent your game in the best light possible, and
Your goal is to show a ﬁnite, vertical slice of your game
that represents its true gameplay
Earn player action
Provide a demo that energizes your audience. They’ll want to look
forward to your release date, or be moved enough to purchase a copy.
Create actionable items for your players. Keep them excited!
John Cooney - Director of Premium Publishing at Kongregate - @jmtb02