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The Daunting Demo Dilemma


Two posts in two days? I have just reached a new personal best! I looked back at previous versions of Arena and got seriously frightened when I realized how bad it looked compared to the latest build. It looked… repelling. Not long after that came the second realization - the game has a demo version out there with that troubling old look. Re-releasing the demo has immediately become number one priority. But what demo is a good demo?

Daunting Demo Dilemma Conversation

To Restrict, or Not to Restrict: That is the Question

I have run to a friend for advice - he knows my game fairly well so I asked for his insight on what would make a good demo. The previous demo limits gun and mutator access, does not save progress, which cannot even be made since achievements are disabled as well. That is simply a bad idea - it does not represent the game well at all. In fact, a strong point of the game is its rich selection of guns and mutators, and the crazy matches you can make when combining those. The demo gives idea of the exact opposite - boring matches that always play out in the same uneventful way.

The opposite of this is giving full access to game content, but not the game itself. Put in a less cryptic way, a good example would be unskippable timers before or after matches, interrupting gameplay with an unfriendly screen that asks players to buy the game. I really don’t mind giving away full access for free, but the idea of combining it with an element that is annoying on purpose is an absolute deal-breaker for me.

Arena Unskippable Timer

Time trials are another solution, but I have practical and ethical problems with them. Practical is - even though I am doing my best to make Arena entertaining, I know it is rather far from a masterpiece, and that time limit will be just enough Arena for many people who will never want to play again. On the other hand, a lower time limit that completely locks the game too soon for many players just asks for trouble. This raises my ethical problem, securing the implementation - I don’t want to obfuscate the time trial mechanism, or hide the corresponding data in the registry, or anywhere else where it does not belong. I consider that a bloat, even if it is only a timestamp worth of 4 bytes.

Don’t get me wrong, my goal is not tricking players into making a purchase and have them end up with a game they don’t even like. I do want the demo to give an honest view on the game and even convince players not to spend money on Arena. But what demo is a good demo then?!

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I want the demo to show Arena fully without giving players everything. To tease players and create excitement without any frustrating elements. To make players experience the pure chaos the game can be - when the screen is fully covered in explosions, or when they dodge a deadly projectile in slow-motion and win the game with a beautiful skill-shot.

I have a solution that satisfies all those requirements - limiting players to the revolver. But wait, isn’t that boring? It’s only a dull pistol after all! I think not - with mutators, the revolver can shoot double bullets or shoot as fast as a machine gun, have projectiles that ricochet or with the best mutator there is, explode and send bots flying. Speaking of bots, they would still have access to all the guns, constantly showcasing them and making them very soared after. If players already enjoy the game even at this point, I believe making the purchase that unlocks all the other guns will cause no disappointments at all.

That leads to the end of my train of thought. I understand these are very subjective views, so I am going to get feedback on this idea, and if all goes well, I will be re-releasing the demo with this principle in mind. :)

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