Steam Next Fest 2021 Pt2: City of Beats / Neon Abyss

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jun 30, 2021

Filed under: Industry Events 62 comments

So my plan was to play a bunch of demos for this series. But then Steam Next Fest ended, and a bunch of demos were removed from Steam. That’s just crazy bananas. If you’ve got a demo and it’s still representative of the quality of the full product, then taking down a demo is hurting yourself for no benefit.

Weird.

(I know the claim is that demos supposedly lower sales. I have some serious concerns with the methodology behind that conclusion. Most importantly, I think it only applies to popular AAA titles in entrenched genres. I don’t need a demo for AssCreed or Tomb Raider, because I already know how those games work. This isn’t always true when dealing with a fresh genre blend from an unknown developer with an unknown property. I might actually enjoy your mashup of Cooking Mama with Batman Arkham combat and a dash of Tekken by way of Fruit Ninja. I don’t know. If you let me try a little of it, then it significantly lowers my risk. The study above claims that game demos hurt sales, but going by my personal buying habits that’s not the case. This study is basically saying, “Who are you going to believe, our statistics, or your own eyes?”)

Anyway. Like I said: I’d planned to review some demos, but they were taken down.

But! The Steam Summer Sale began just a few days after SNF ended, and basically my entire wishlist went on sale. So what I’m going to do is drop coverage of games that have pulled their demos and instead cover a few of these shiny new wishlist items I’ve picked up. And to be clear, I’m not trying to punish the games that pulled their demos. It’s just that, you know, I can’t cover them, because the demo is gone

Let’s start with one of the demos that’s still live:

City of Beats

Ah. The ancient technique used by the Old Masters in the 1990s. Hide all the scenery behind fog and hope nobody will notice. The Turok developers would be proud.
Ah. The ancient technique used by the Old Masters in the 1990s. Hide all the scenery behind fog and hope nobody will notice. The Turok developers would be proud.

This one is right up my alley. I dig twin stick shooters. I’m into electronic music. I like cyberpunk-y stuff. I like high-contrast scenes with saturated neon. I like roguelites with some sort of meta-progression. 

The idea is that you’re flying across this cyber-city in your hovercar. You stop at rooftops along the way to get out and fight drones / robots while electronic music plays. When you use your weapon, the projectiles come out at 1/16th note intervals and the laser sounds become part of the music. You’ve got a dash move to evade attacks, which usually land on the beat. Once you kill all the stuff, you pick up some sort of prize and then jump back in your car to continue the journey. 

Your journey has you navigating between these rooftop nodes as you move left-to-right across the city. Do you want to take the high route and have a normal encounter, or perhaps navigate to the lower route and face some elites? Or perhaps you’ll have to choose between a mystery encounter and a shop. Or maybe one way will give you currency you can use if you find a shop later, while the other way will yield some meta-currency you can use between runs.

Like I said, this is my jam. It feels like someone tried to make a game perfectly suited to my tastes. This cyberpunk+neon particle+twin stick+action shooter thing is pushing all the right buttons for me. 

My one problem with the demo is that I’m not sure what I’m missing? I was able to complete an entire run in about fifteen minutes. Is that just the first leg of a much longer journey, or is the whole game built around fifteen-minute runs? What is the full version going to give me that I don’t have already? Longer runs? More node variety? Same gameplay but more music?

What do you mean by 'too much bloom lighting'? There's no such thing!
What do you mean by 'too much bloom lighting'? There's no such thing!

Usually people making demos are really good at putting desired things just out of reach. “Ooh! You could have this powerup / fight this boss / proceed to the next level, if only you had the full version! By the way, here is a link to buy the full version!” The City of Beats dev forgot this step. Oopsie.

I’m buying it regardless, but I would like to know what I’m supposed to look forward to in the full version and what I’m supposedly missing now. 

This makes a nice comparison with the next item on my list, which is also a bullet-hell twin-stick roguelike with neon lights and an electronic soundtrack…

Release date: “This Winter”.

Neon Abyss

The gist of the game is that the Greek pantheon of Zeus, Ares, Athena, et al exist in this modern world and you want to kill them because reasons.
The gist of the game is that the Greek pantheon of Zeus, Ares, Athena, et al exist in this modern world and you want to kill them because reasons.

I got the full version of this game. If there was a demo of it during SNF, I missed it. But it’s been on my wishlist for months and I picked it up as soon as I saw it was discounted.

This game is… a lot. I still don’t really have a handle on the huge library of meta-unlocks. There are perks to buy, characters to unlock, pets to find, weapons to collect, powerups to acquire, and new rooms to add to the bar that acts as your home base between runs. 

Once you’ve found an item / weapon / pet / powerup, it gets added to the appropriate room in your base. You can even disable a few you don’t like. 

Like City of Beats, this is a twin stick shooter. Unlike City of Beats, this is also a side-scrolling platformer. 

If you told me you were going to combine reflective water effects with pixel art, I would have said that was probably a bad and unworkable idea. But here you go. This looks rad as hell.
If you told me you were going to combine reflective water effects with pixel art, I would have said that was probably a bad and unworkable idea. But here you go. This looks rad as hell.

I’ve said before that 2D platforming is not my thing. I’ve spent some time with the genre because I usually love the art, but I’m always wretched at it and I don’t seem to be improving with time. Moreover, I just don’t get any satisfaction from doing it. I actually find it vaguely irritating. I just want to go through that door over there and for some reason it feels weird that it should be possible to fail at “moving around the gameworld”. When I miss a jump by a couple of pixels and fall back down to ground level, I feel like the game is wasting my time on purpose. I feel like I’m playing a version of DOOM where you have to press a button once in a while to avoid dropping your gun on the ground in the middle of a fight. Why does this need to be hard? I’m not getting anything out of this.

I realize that 2d side-scrolling platformers are a perfectly valid genre and are enjoyed by millions. If anything, this is one of the most foundational genres in the entire hobby. I don’t know why I have this weird dislike of it. To make this even more inexplicable, I actually enjoy some 3D platformers like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time

Between runs you can go to the basement and look over the items you've discovered, which are displayed on the walls. This wall goes on for a long, long ways.
Between runs you can go to the basement and look over the items you've discovered, which are displayed on the walls. This wall goes on for a long, long ways.

So I dunno. We are all special unique human beings, and my special thing is that I am unable to enjoy this beloved genre. Whatever. 

So about half of this game (neon bullets and music) is my favorite thing and the other half of the game (platforming under pressure on a busy screen full of foes and bullets) is the sort of thing that really gets on my nerves. These two extremes don’t cancel each other out, and they don’t average out into some sort of middle-of-the-road experience either. Instead I’m delighted and irritated at the same time. It’s like eating chocolate ice cream while someone flicks my ear, and the only way to stop the flicking is to give up the ice cream. This is so weird.

During gameplay you’re balancing three different types of can openers. You’ve got gems to open doors, keys to open other doors and some chests, and bombs to open weak walls and stone chests. Sometimes you’ll see a chance to trade one can opener for another, like a cracked wall with a key behind it. 

This game is nice enough to include the classic three difficulty levels, which means it’s a little less obnoxious about skill level than a lot of titles in this genre. A lot of these roguelikes are by the hardcore, for the hardcore, and I really appreciate option of Easy Mode for us scrubs on the fringes of the genre.

The guy in the red ballcap is one of the unlockable characters. I think he's supposed to be a pokemon reference, but I don't know Pokemon so to me he looks like 8-bit Mark Rober.
The guy in the red ballcap is one of the unlockable characters. I think he's supposed to be a pokemon reference, but I don't know Pokemon so to me he looks like 8-bit Mark Rober.

Having said that, this game is still too much for me. Between the cannon fodder foes, my projectiles, the enemy projectiles, my pets, and my pet’s projectiles, the screen becomes a sea of particles and I can’t even find my character in the chaos, much less pull off all the precision jumping required to avoid damage. 

If I had to quibble with one thing, I guess it would be the visual clutter. You’re supposed to grow in power as the run goes, but often all of my bonuses transform into liabilities as the game gets more hectic. There’s an in-game tip that tells you to stay calm during boss fights, because all damage is theoretically avoidable. That’s true for most of the game, but by the last few stages it becomes completely unreasonable to avoid attacks because the screen is just so full of particles. My bullets are bouncing around the room, and dozens of enemy bullets are hiding in all of those flashing sprites. 

The biggest offenders are your pets. They add a ton of visual noise to the screen. In most runs, I’ll have anywhere from five to a dozen little animals trailing behind me, firing lasers, firing bullets, causing explosions, blocking incoming fire, and dropping coins. I’m sure they’re a help, but it’s hard to appreciate their help in the confusion. I have a hard enough time just keeping an eye on my character and avoiding damage. I don’t have the visual bandwidth to track my half-dozen pets and parse all the chaos they’re causing. “Oh, here are a bunch of coins on the ground. Did my pets do this, or did I mow down some foes with stray projectiles? I have no idea.”

Your pets fly behind you, creating a trail of tiny objects moving towards you at all times. If you're trying to keep track of incoming bullets, this is NOT HELPFUL.
Your pets fly behind you, creating a trail of tiny objects moving towards you at all times. If you're trying to keep track of incoming bullets, this is NOT HELPFUL.

So they probably help, but it’s not obvious when they help. At the same time, they add a lot of additional clutter to a screen that’s already too much for me. People with younger eyes may experience different results, but I’d love it if I could trade my pets for more powerups.After writing this, I discovered there’s an item that allows you to do exactly this. You get more powerups instead of pets. That’s nice, but you can’t CHOOSE to play that way. I just have to hope that item drops during the run. So it’s not really a solution.

(Yes, you could maybe avoid some pets by carefully hopping over the pickups. Although sometimes you open a chest and pet eggs will pop out, instantly adding them to your entourage. I don’t think the game intentionally makes pets a liability, because it doesn’t offer you any tools for avoiding them. You need to push a button to pick up a weapon, but pets are grabbed automatically. The UI is taking the rhetorical position that pets are like coins and health, and more is always better so there’s no reason to avoid grabbing them.)

Anyway.

This game is pretty good. I hate half of it and I still love it. I love when a run finally gets going and the music is pumping, I’ve got some jumping powerups to make the mid-fight platforming more forgiving, and I’ve got a gun that can fill the screen with bullets. It just feels so good. I’d never get very far with it under normal circumstances, so I’m grateful for the easy mode that allows me to enjoy these little fifteen-minute runs. And hard mode is always there if that’s more your style.

Release date: Out now.

 

Footnotes:

[1] After writing this, I discovered there’s an item that allows you to do exactly this. You get more powerups instead of pets. That’s nice, but you can’t CHOOSE to play that way. I just have to hope that item drops during the run. So it’s not really a solution.



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62 thoughts on “Steam Next Fest 2021 Pt2: City of Beats / Neon Abyss

  1. tmtvl says:

    The SSS made me realise that I have way too many games already, I should probably just remove everything from my wishlist.

    Also, WRT demos reducing sales, while I will admit that statistics are more reliable than anecdotal evidence, I do agree with you that they can also increase sales by letting people discover things they like where otherwise they may not even bother grabbing a game. Most games in my collection I only picked up after watching a Let’s Play and checking out not only reviews, but also the relevant pages on TV Tropes, GameFAQs, and (where possible) Wikipedia.

    1. Syal says:

      I only picked up after watching a Let’s Play

      That’s kind of the twist though; games don’t need demos because they have Lets Plays these days. I’ve bought two games after seeing their demos*, but I didn’t play the demo myself, I watched a Youtuber play it. I’ve bought several other games off Youtubers streaming them, and they didn’t have demos at all**. I think the only game I’ve bought off playing the demo was Phantom Brave, and I probably would have bought it anyway because it was described as scratching a very particular itch I had at the time***.

      *(Undertale and FF7 Remake. Never heard of Undertale before, and had no interest in a turn-based FF7 remake.)

      **(Nuclear Throne, FTL, Binding of Isaac, Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass, Bug Fables, the list goes on.)

      ***(“What if you made a tactics game with finite troops, but the troops each had a turn limit so you had to time when to bring them out? Oh wow, that’s existed for fifteen years!”)

      1. Thomas says:

        I hope demos result in sales, but so far I’m a bust. I’ve played 5 demos in the past year. 2 led to me to decide I didn’t want to buy games I’d been interested in, 1 of which I would probably have bought (I’m glad I avoided it now). 1 I wasn’t interested in, but I would never have been interested without the demo anyway. 1 game did get my interest (FFVII: Remake) but I got it on PS Plus before I had got round to buying it. 1 is on my wishlist but I haven’t bought it yet.

        I don’t think FFVII Remake would have sold so well without a demo. The demo turned a lot of caution into hype in the community.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        Let’s plays aren’t always enough to make a decision. Hardware requirements are still pretty sketchy sometimes, and you can’t know how the game systems, controls or other minor details _feel_ to play, unless you play it yourself or the streamer makes a point of describing those sufficiently.

        1. tmtvl says:

          This, plus not every game has been LP’ed by someone who’s A) competent, and B) charismatic. Having a game seem terrible by virtue of the player being a bit rubbish at either playing or presenting it obviously isn’t going to convince me to grab it.

          1. PowerGrout says:

            furthermore the tools available for finding said good LPs are limited at best
            The LP Archive and LP Beach(?) are better than nothing, true…
            but YouTube’s ‘algorithm™ powered’ help is worse than non existent, try searching for an LP of a game you might like and see if any of your favourite LPers make it to the search results above pages and pages of vainglorious squawking scream-lords or vapid lowest common denominator caterers churning out content designed solely to produce pleasing advertising metrics. While more than occasionally good at suggesting appropriate new and/or undiscovered music or bands YouTube’s recommendations and search results for LPs and the teams that produce them seems custom tuned to spite the user at every turn.

    2. Biggus Rickus says:

      I like to know details before I assume someone’s statistics prove what they claim. How many games had demos? Which games had demos? Were there games among that should have expected to sell more copies than they did? How many? Those are just a few questions I have. People misuse and misinterpret statistics even when they aren’t being self-serving. I am doubly suspicious in cases like this, where the conclusion favors deceptive practices.

      1. Dev+Null says:

        Seconded. Especially when you’re talking about statistics like this, that supposedly measure what would have happened. The only _real_ way to measure the effect of demos on sales would be to sell the same game twice – once with a demo and once without – and as a new, unknown game each time. Which is clearly impossible. Even if you sell it on multiple platforms simultaneously, with a demo only available on one, it could still be a game that better suits one platform over the other, or appeals more to the users of one platform. Keeping stats on games with demos vs games without just begs the question “was it the demo? or something else?” Maybe your games with demos were crap. Or good, but had crap demos. With large enough sample sizes you could say something about likelihood, but certainly nothing as concrete as “The numbers have spoken; your personal experience is invalid.”

    3. Jeff says:

      It should be obvious that demos attract otherwise insufficiently interested customers (just look at the free samples at Costco), so if demos hurt game sales then we can reasonably conclude that the difference is from dissatisfied customers who find the game undesirable but are unable (for whatever reason) to get a refund. To put it another way, the lack of a demo tricks customers into buying something they don’t actually want.

      Even with the ease of getting a refund on Steam (within 14 days of purchase, played for less than 2 hours), it’s still an effective trick . The almost non-existent hurdle of getting the refund will still result in a less than 100% claim rate from dissatisfied customer, which is the same reason why most companies prefer rebates to discounts.

      1. Thomas says:

        Demo’s can also be worse than the quality of the game itself.

        Shamus described wanting to play the demo of a game he was interested in, and then just buying it out right when the demo wasn’t available. But the game was half good and half terrible – imagine if the demo was available but mostly focused on the bit Shamus didn’t enjoy.

  2. John says:

    I know the claim is that demos supposedly lower sales. I have some serious concerns with the methodology behind that conclusion.

    Assuming that Kotaku’s description of the study is accurate, then, yes, that’s what we statisticians call “seriously fucked up”. Ideally, to determine whether or not a demo hurts sales, you’d want to do something like split gamers into two groups. One group would be allowed to play demos and the other one wouldn’t. Then you’d compare sales on a game-by-game basis across the two groups. Unfortunately, statisticians are seldom allowed to conduct large-scale social experiments like that for some reason. So the next-best thing would be to compare sales of games with demos to the sales of similar games without demos. Because AAA games never have demos (free weekends in Steam, which typically happen well after release, don’t count, in my view) they would be excluded from the study.

    As for Kotaku’s question “How many times have you purchased a game blind that you wouldn’t have purchased at all if you knew what you were getting into?”, the answer is: once. I learned my lesson after buying the barely-functional port of Guilty Gear X for GBA. Now I do my homework before shelling out my money. On the other hand, I can think of a good half-a-dozen games that I’ve purchased over the years because I liked their demos so much.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Yeah, this is pretty much my experience with non-demo games. Nowadays I try to always read reviews and get a feel for whether I agree more with the reasons that players on Steam dislike the game, or the reasons that enjoy it. I forgot my rule because Underrail was on sale for half off, and got burned by a game that’s both far too difficult (enemies always outnumber and out-damage you) and trivially easy (healing is free at home base). It’s also pretty grindy, especially walking as slow as molasses in every screen. Luckily I also picked up Pathologic 2, and am already enjoying that enough to make up for three other one. :)

    2. CrushU says:

      I agree that the ‘study’ looks like incomplete data interpreted in one way.
      There are too many ways to interpret the limited dataset to draw any usable conclusions from it…
      Games with just trailers sell more than games with trailers and demos? Is there a rating correlation? Marketing budget correlation? Does this effect extend to all publishers, or only established ones?

      There’s too many questions to draw broad conclusions like “Demos hurt game sales”

      1. Ander says:

        Steam at least must get something out of the limited demo times. They would have better numbers on demo to purchase conversion, too, so if it’s a statistical benefit to indies, they’d know better then us as individuals or Kotaku as an outside entity.

        1. Zekiel says:

          I imagine it’s the artificial scarcity thing – if you know it’s time limited, you’re more likely to try it NOW while you can, rather than waiting since you can try it any time, and then maybe never getting round to it at all.

          Also, not quite the same but I recently heard Tom Francis (Gunpoint developer) talking about a free beta of some game (pre release) and he pointed out it is smart to make such a thing time limited since otherwise you risk people having got what they want out of the game before you actually launch it.

  3. Mattias42 says:

    I think the whole demo thing can have a little going for it, though my evidence is rather anecdotal.

    Was really excited for Ghostrunner since I loved the esthetic, look and concept…

    And~ then I actually tried it, and even the first early game enemies are bullshit levels accurate with every attack. While you’re still learning the game. Die, repeat, die, repeat… And I just… went from utter hype, to ‘meh’ in a rate I haven’t in years.

    Still meaning to get around to giving that game another go, but… there’s just so many, so that’s probably going to take years, if ever.

    1. Joshua says:

      I was thinking that demos can probably hurt the sales of BAD games….

      1. The+Puzzler says:

        Even good games are often not good games for everyone. There are lots of well-reviewed games that I bought on impulse when they went on sale. It’s not unusual for me to play them a bit, get irritated over some aspect of it (like lack of interesting decisions to make while I’m stuck in the tutorial), rage-quit, and never play it again.

        If I’d played a demo, I’d never have bought it.

        And there are games that I’ve bought on impulse and never installed. There are some games where if there’d been a demo, I’d have decided not to buy it until I played the demo, then I’d never have got around to trying the demo.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          I’d like to see stats on how many purchases are by people who don’t care much about games, do it on impulse, or other similar reasons. I suspect that for broad-appeal games, those numbers are much higher; My anecdote of choice is my friend who bought a PS4 and Fallout 4 to play a few times a week after work. If he’s bought a couple more games like that, he’s probably set. On the other hand, people like me who put more time into the hobby, individually spend much more on games, because we’re buying a few mid-budget or indie games, in addition to a AAA game. :)

      2. Dues says:

        That’s my theory too. If you try it and you hate the game, isn’t that a win for consumers? But if you’re selling your game based on trickery and bullshots, then it’s no surprise that demos might lower sales. How many people would have bought Cyberpunk 2077 based on a demo instead of a preorder? But StarCraft shareware was so great I begged u parents to buy it for me as a kid.

    2. Asdasd says:

      Just a data point, but I can think of quite a few games whose demos were really good, so good in fact that I played them over and over to the point where I felt sated and never ended up buying the full game.

      I’ve also played demos which were bad and put me off of games outright, demos which were just ok and I didn’t feel the need to spring for a purchase after, and of course demos that were great and won a sale from me. Even demos that convinced me to buy a game that I discovered I didn’t really care for after all. The whole spectrum really.

  4. Xeorm says:

    Sounds like using statistics to lie more than anything. I like having demos available as they vastly lower the threshold for at least paying them some attention. So many games I’ve played have only happened because I played the demo. X-Com: Enemy Unknown would probably be my biggest game that I only grabbed because the demo was so good.

    I was actually pretty baffled at the decision to remove all the demos. Between work and a lack of hype I didn’t hear about the whole steam thing till too late and couldn’t try any of the demos. If you’ve already made it though, why take it down? Just keep it up. I’d encourage more indies to make a good demo too. Would certainly get me to buy more of the outside titles. Just make sure that it’s well made, and isn’t a super boring tutorial.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Having found an article referenced by Kotaku, closer to the original research, I think it’s just sparse data interpreted the wrong way, by people who don’t know how to do proper research. As predicted / pointed out above, there’s no control and study groups, and without the full research to review I can only go off the description. Sounds like they didn’t try to determine if people who buy the full game regret it, and sales of sequels or later games by the same company are lower, or anything like that. Also no mention of different genres, big budget vs small, niche audience or broad game catering to a saturated market, etc.

    2. MrPyro says:

      That has just reminded me of playing the demo for Terror From the Deep so… many… times back in the day (1995?), trying to scrape out a win; the demo scenario was quite difficult. It was a small-ish USO (I want to say Large Scout?) but filled with Tasoths which were a late game enemy with a lot of hit points and occasional mind control powers, and you started with a group of rookies with starting weapons.

      Did encourage me to buy UFO and TFTD later on though, so successful demo-ing achieved.

    3. John says:

      I don’t approve of making the demos temporary, but I do understand the impulse. A developer might well decide that they’ll probably get more publicity (and future sales) from a time-limited but Steam-promoted demo than they would from a boring old regular non-expiring demo released at some other time, the idea being that fear of missing out will drive people to play the demo when they ordinarily might not.

      I’ll just note, however, that some of the demos that get promoted in Steam Fests are in fact pre-existing and non-expiring demos. If there’s some particular game from the Fest that you’re interested in, the demo may still be available and it’s probably worth investigating. Even if the demo is no longer available on Steam it may still be available on another platform, like itch.io.

  5. Joshua says:

    Despite doing so much computer gaming in the 90s, I think I’ve only played ONE demo, that of Descent. It has the first seven levels along with the first boss, who’s “mildly challenging”.

    I did end up buying the full game.

  6. WarlockOfOz says:

    My six year old has discovered that Daddy will allow him to put demos on the switch even when Daddy has said no to buying a game.
    I haven’t done a double-blind study regarding the situation but I can say that the list of games he has made that he is hoping for for his 7th birthday is comprised entirely of games with demos that he has played.
    (Daddy more or less doesn’t buy games for himself any more, having an extensive collection through bundles. Cyberpunk was the last to come close, but Daddy was busy with a free RPG Maker game long enough for become aware of it’s launch issues.)

  7. Ander says:

    If AAA games got more sales for making demos before release (excluding post release demos, free weekends, what have you) they’d know and they’d do it. Indeed, they do on rare occasion.
    Steam has the data to know how demos may or may not help indie games. I imagine Steam benefits from limited time demos (otherwise they wouldn’t do it), and it’s at least possible they know that most indie devs do, too. What I can say for sure is our anecdotal data does not reflect Steam’s fuller knowledge at all, even if the idea that demos help more sales is correct.

    1. John says:

      If a AAA publishers don’t make demos, it’s because they think that making demos isn’t worth the investment. They aren’t necessarily right. They could be, I suppose, but people’s best guesses are often wrong. I’d like to believe that AAA developers and publishers are making the demo-or-not decision on the basis of evidence and experience, but there are so few AAA demos that none of them have any evidence or experience. Instead, I suspect that there are so few AAA demos because (1) things like public alphas and betas are perceived as demo-substitutes and especially (2) nobody ever got fired for not making a demo.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I’m actually willing to give it that AAA may have some bad experiences with demos. Sales of these games rely heavily on marketing campaigns that often have nothing to do with the gameplay, and when gameplay is presented it is generally choicepicked (if not staged), commonly woven into a more “cinematic experience”* and even outright doctored. On top of that we’ve seen a number of AAA games that released in a sorry state or at the very least staying in surprisingly deep development until the very last minute (or even past that with major day1 patches), releasing a demo requires having at least some section of the gameplay working to the player’s satisfaction (and within the declared minimum requirements).

        To be clear I’m not saying AAA promotion is necessarily all smoke and mirrors, but demos might be particularly incompatible with both their development cycle and marketing strategy.

        *2 seconds of gameplay where a character rushes towards the door cut off by a cutscene of the door being broken down and a fight breaking out, that kind of stuff.

        1. bobbert says:

          Demos also cost man-hours to make, which cost real money.

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            Which is true of both indie and AAA development. I think that if the development process was healthy AAA would actually find it more menageable with their bigger budgets and bigger teams. And yes, they also tend to be more complex enginewise but I think the larger factors are that they are made under extreme pressure and often in a way that makes them not really presentable until very late into the process.

  8. Andrew says:

    I suspect that Demos probably do actually hurt sales, although I’m in agreement that the study in no sense shows that, and I very much doubt it’s as big as 50% on average.

    It probably depends a bit on the game (obviously if the game is bad the demo is much more likely to hurt sales), and it definitely depends on the gamer. For myself, after playing a demo I most frequently do not buy the game, but in most cases I would never have bought the game if it had no demo either. I *have* bought games after playing a demo that I might otherwise not have bought.

  9. Dreadjaws says:

    (I know the claim is that demos supposedly lower sales. I have some serious concerns with the methodology behind that conclusion.

    Indeed. Leaving aside that the methodology has to be purely anecdotal (and it reeks of the “Female superhero movies don’t sell” sort of wrong correlation/causation idea that has plagued Hollywood for decades), if this claim was ever true, it’s now hopelessly outdated. First of all, it’s a tried-and-true method for developers to release the best parts of a game in demo form, so players get baited into buying the game with the promise of even better content only to realize way to late they already experienced the best part and it’s all downhill from there. From that perspective, I’m certain demos can and will increase sales. It’s more than a little insidious, but it can work. Hell, it worked for Cyberpunk. Granted, people were already excited for that game, but had they released a demo that showed how the actual game worked then yeah, it would have most certainly lowered sales. So it’s clear that releasing a demo alone isn’t the culprit; it’s how you handle that demo.

    More importantly, with the existence of YouTube it’s very easy to just whip up a review or LP of a game before making a purchase decision. This has in fact made demos almost obsolete from a “I want to see if I’ll like this game” perspective. But they’re still useful to ascertain if your PC will be able to properly run the game, which is why it annoys me so much that so few demos exist. No matter how powerful your PC is, there’s always some detail that might make a game run poorly, and I’d rather know that ahead of time.

    Also, I guarantee you that in the case of this event, I’ve put games on my wishlist (and I intend to buy at launch) that I would have probably never bothered with if it wasn’t for the existence of their demos. But I also had the problem that many of those demos expired before I got to try them, so I removed them from my games list and promptly forgot about them. Those games most likely lost a sale for the sole reason that they had no way to anchor themselves to my memory and now they’re going to be forever lost in the gigantic ocean that is the Steam store. If they now ever end up on my library, it’ll likely be because they were part of some cheap bundle.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I also had some demos vanish on me, before I got a chance to try them. For example, Road 96 is a game that sounds kind of cool in principle, but I wanted the demo to see if it would run on my computer, and to see how deep or meaningful the choices would be in the game. There’s enough “kind of cool, maybe I’ll check it out” games in Steam and even on my wishlist, that I’m not going to go out of my way for a game that doesn’t have a demo, or doesn’t already have reviews from other players. /shrug

  10. Shas'Ui says:

    The weirdest part about some of the time limited demos is that, now that they’ve expired, they point you towards buying the game, which makes sense, unless the game isn’t actually out yet. You really enjoyed Carrier Command 2, want to see if you can pre-order, hang onto the demo, acquire the soundtrack somehow? Tough luck, the game isn’t available for purchase yet, so we’ve replace the play button (Which would still work given the files are all still on your computer) with a “Purchase” button that just drops you at the store front-page.

    On the plus side, all the files are still on the computer, so if you did install it, you’ve still got it; and if you didn’t install it, then hopefully enough people did that there’s someone willing to share.

    1. Geebs says:

      Was the demo for Carrier Command 2 any good? The trailer looks rough. The frame rate looks like something out of the original Carrier Command.

      Interesting to see that we now have a Carrier Command made by (presumably, Geometa seem rather coy about who they actually are) people who had nothing to do with the original, published by a MicroProse that has nothing to do with the original MicroProse, where MicroProse wasn’t even the publisher of the original game. Nostalgia-baiting is a strange art.

      1. John says:

        Isn’t Bill Stealey involved in Neo Microprose somehow? He’s neither a game designer nor a programmer but he did co-found the original Microprose with Sid Meier and more or less ran the place until they got acquired by Spectrum Holobyte.

      2. Shas'Ui says:

        I’ve not played the original, so a lot wasn’t particularly obvious (Things like weapon usage, vehicle names/classes: there’s probably an in-game reference explaining them, but I was a bit busy at the time). Only played a single session with friends, and had a great time. I’ll have to look into how it plays solo: it felt like there was enough automation that it would be manageable, but it also managed to keep 4 people busy during engagements with different tasks.

        Music, atmosphere had me hooked. Walking the ship as we headed to the next island was great, even if there’s zero reason to, nothing to do outside of the control room other than turn on lights in those areas. Geometa are also the people behind Stormworks, and it’s a very similar art style; slightly blocky, pixely, but the lights are good, so it works.

        I’d like to give it some more time, look into how deep the strategy goes. There were a few technical/gameplay issues (AI had occasional difficulty embarking/landing), but graphically performed great on 3+ year old gaming laptop (Though I’m not great at noticing said issues).

  11. RamblePak64 says:

    Some demos turned games I have no interest in into games I’m super hyped to play. Other demos have completely killed my interest in a game. I’ll be seeing how I feel about Monster Hunter Stories 2 (which has the nice inclusion of carrying over save data, should I choose to purchase the full game) and Neo: The World Ends With You based on their demos.

    The thing is, I feel like a demo allows you to know if it’s a game you enjoy but aren’t in a hurry to buy, a game that’s not for you, or a game you didn’t realize you wanted more of but want to play again. Two out of three of those go against the desire to hype people up.

    Personally, I wish there were more demos available, and am instead leaning into the “wait for Game Pass” approach. I thought Necromunda: Hired Gun would be up my alley, but I ended up playing it an hour longer than I should have and couldn’t refund it on Steam. It’s not a bad game, but it’s… I dunno. I guess I’m just not as into shooters anymore or something. It’s so easy to be fooled by a Let’s Play or review or trailer into thinking a game looks good, but nothing makes a difference like trying for yourself.

    Also, that article is about 8 years old now, so it’s possible thoughts on demos could have changed since then. There’s plenty of developers that referenced demos as increasing their sales.

    As for Neon Abyss, in that last screenshot, it looks like enemy bullets are red or blue. Is the game consistent with this? Are enemy bullets always a different color from your own? I find most Bullet Hell games try to be consistent with what enemy weaponry looks like versus your own, thus making it easier to determine what it is you need to dodge and what you need to avoid. Well, most of the better Bullet Hell games, I suppose.

    1. Shamus says:

      I’m not sure about bullet color. I think the problem is that the PLAYER’S bullets can be any color. There are a lot of weapons, and they all shoot novelty bullets, and the colors / shapes / sizes are all over the place.

      Looking back, I THINK most bosses shoot red. (I think the fight in the screenshot is an odd one out.) But so do most non-bosses. And your pets.

      The player’s bullets get larger as they increase in power, to the point where they kinda fill the screen.

      I’m sort of working this out as I type this comment, but let me explain a fight to you to show what I’m talking about:

      There’s a fight with Ares in the game where you’re supposed to watch his body language to see when he’s about to lunge across the screen. The lunge is super-fast, so you need to look for his tell and then hop over him just before he moves. But he was effectively hidden behind my bullets. I couldn’t see this tell.

      Now, I could stop shooting and I’d be able to see him better. But then I’m standing around not shooting at him for long periods of time so that I’ll be able to see when he’s about to lunge. I can do that, but then the fight would take bloody ages. I can spend five minutes doing the wait-jump-shoot dance over and over and hoping I don’t make any mistakes, or I can just hold down the fire button and burn him down in eight seconds. I’ll tank a few hits, but the fight will be over SO much faster.

      I think I see what the dev is going for, but if they want to fight to be tense and careful then they should set up the classic “weak spot” thing where you can shoot him in the small vulnerable spot once per cycle. So when he’s exposed I need to act quickly and aim carefully, and the rest of the time I need to hold my fire so I can see what he’s doing and evade him. Instead he’s vulnerable all the time, which means the player is going to fire constantly, which means the screen is full of bullets and they can’t see what Ares is doing, so they can’t learn the “intended” way to fight him.

      This mess is not a system that encourages the player to pursue perfection and avoid all attacks. It’s a system that encourages continuous spammy panic-fire. (Part of the problem is that even if I hold my fire, my pets will keep doing whatever they’re doing, flying all over or shooting or whatever, so the fight doesn’t have the required clarity.)

      Like I said, this isn’t really my genre so I’m not sure if I’m properly reading the dev’s intent or diagnosing the problem. But this is what my guess as to where things are falling apart.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        This sounds like the game wasn’t tuned right, to keep a small enough amount of bullets on screen, so bosses, players, and everything else stay visible. For contrast, The Binding Of Isaac and Enter The Gungeon both have very manageable levels of bullets, until the player’s powerful enough to not care much about missing information. The bosses and pets specifically, don’t shoot as much as your describing in this game.

        1. Parkhorse says:

          An enormous number of bullets being on screen at once can be workable – I quite enjoy the Touhou games, and, well, more of the screen being bullet than not-bullet is entirely expected. I’m not sure Shamus would enjoy that, but I suspect there are more issues than just “number of bullets.” Those issues are almost certainly beyond my level of game design knowledge to properly identify and describe, unfortunately.

        2. Drathnoxis says:

          I disagree about Gungeon having a manageable amount of bullets. By the second level you have rooms with those iron maidens that fill the screen with bullets that reverse direction and home and also the room is also filled with traps and enemies.

          Issac is pretty reasonable, though.

      2. RamblePak64 says:

        Nah, if the pet’s fire is the same color as the enemy’s, then that’s part of the problem. I am not super familiar with arcadey bullet-hell shooters, so I decided to look up some footage. R-Type Final 2, released this year, seems to mostly keep enemy and player fire separate colors. Most player fire is blue, and most enemy fire is orange. There are some exceptions you can see, but this seems to be the general rule and thus allows you to parse enemy bullets. Similarly, Ikaruga is about 20 years old now but a great example of a bullet-hell where color is key to the design. I don’t recall if you need white bullets to shoot down white vessels and black bullets to shoot down black vessels, but synchronizing your color to the incoming bullet is how you prevent yourself from taking damage. You can see some examples here.

        Bullet-hell is a tough genre that’s about being able to decipher the noise on the screen, but that’s also why the design of things is so important. It sounds like this one revels in the chaos without finding the method in the madness of other games of a similar ilk.

  12. Paul Spooner says:

    Typo: unwokable
    Unless you’re going for the dated political jab.

    The first time I recall seeing the “reflective water effects with pixel art” style was in Kingdom.

    1. Asdasd says:

      Some dishes just won’t wo(r)k without a proper skillet.

  13. Jeff says:

    2D side-scrolling platformers are very different from 3D platformers.

    Consider a rhythm game, where the prompts scroll and you perform an action when a prompt reaches you (ex. hit the drum). 2D side-scrolling platformers are basically complex versions of those, where you control the scrolling much of the time (move left-right) and the actions required from prompts range from simple (ex. tap jump to get on a ledge) to complex (ex. a sequence of inputs that must be made at specific times).

    It’s like a distillation of DIAS gameplay, so it’s no surprise that Shamus isn’t a fan. The more complicated and difficult it is, the more specific the timing and actions required, the more DIAS it becomes. There’s a Japanese lady called Haruno Anno that can perfectly play through the original Mario blindfolded. It’s literally just mastering the required sequence.

    3D platformers on the other hand tend to be more relatable, less precise, and far more forgiving. Even if everything is just cubes, the idea of controlling a body to reach another location is very natural to most of us. It feels less like an arbitrary puzzle with restrictions and more intuitive in that we’re trying to get a body from point A to point B.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      I’m similar to Shamus in that I don’t really enjoy 2D side-view platformers but am fine with first-person 3D ones. For whatever reason, in 2D platformers (where I can see my character in their entirety) I am incredibly good at hitting the jump button the exact frame after my character has left terra firma and begun a downward plunge, whereas in first-person 3D platformers where I can’t see (or at least am not looking at) my feet I never seem to have this problem. It’s weird.

      1. Addie says:

        I have a theory about this, related to screen latency.

        All of your ‘classic’ 8/16-bit platformers would have been designed to be connected up to a CRT television, which on the down side were incredibly fuzzy, but on the plus side, had very little latency – the video hardware would interrupt the CPUs on those machines to output the display, and the CRT would display it instantly. At most, the lag between input and display would be about 1/60th of a second. Most 3D games would be on a 32-bit+ system, would implement frame buffering, and consoles (at least) would be limited to 30 fps – input lag would be about 3/30ths second at least, even assuming that there’s no additional lag from the TV, and flatscreens introduce their own delays. Modern platformers account for this by implementing “road runner time”, ie. still allowing you to jump even slightly after leaving a platform, but ‘classic 2D platformers’ running in an emulator do not, since there didn’t use to be any need. Similarly, modern action games (whether God of War, or Dark Souls) make an allowance for input lag as well.

        Or at least, that’s my theory. “Twitchy” 2D platformers running in an emulator (I’m thinking Sonic) seem much harder to me than they were back in the day, and “classic rhythm games” (eg. Parappa or Um Jammer Lammy) are nearly impossible. Either that, or I’m just getting old, and don’t have the reflexes that I did in the early 90’s. But let’s go with display latency.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          I too played those games in their day and have noticed that I can’t play things like ports of Mega Man on my Xbox + TV even though I can play the exact same games emulated on my computer with literally the same controller. So I think there is something to that.

  14. Dreadjaws says:

    I forgot to mention this in my previous comment.

    I have this weird, almost exact opposite problem with Neon Abyss’ gameplay. It’s been in my wishlist for quite a while because the art style and setting are attractive to me, but the reason I’ve resisted making a purchase is that I really enjoy side scrolling platformers but I’m not fond of twin stick shooters. I don’t hate them per sé, but I read the term and suddenly I feel like there are many other things I’d rather be playing. Once in a while, I get the notification that this game is on sale, I think “Oh, yeah. This looks nice, why haven’t I bought it?” then check the store page, read “twin stick shooter” and think “Mmmm… Nah, not now”

    It is very odd, because there are a couple of games in the genre I enjoy, like Beat Hazard. But it’s a genre I just can’t feel excited for.

  15. CloverMan-88 says:

    I think that the idea of taking demos off steam after SNF is more about making it a big event, getting people to play at the same time and talk about what they are playing. I love demos and am very sad that I didn’t manage to check out some games I’m interested in, but this trick DID make me play and talk about nothing but steam demos for a couple of days

  16. Coming Second says:

    The guy in the red ballcap is one of the unlockable characters. I think he’s supposed to be a pokemon reference, but I don’t know Pokemon so to me he looks like 8-bit Mark Rober.

    Pretty sure it’s supposed to be Ness, of Earthbound fame.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      Going by the game’s official artwork and description he definitely looks more like a pastiche of Ash/Red than Ness. What drives me crazy is that he reminds me of neither yet he still looks painfully familiar.

      1. Syal says:

        It’s obviously Fred Durst.

  17. Zekiel says:

    I remember endlessly playing the GTA timed demo (that’s the original top down GTA, not any of this modern 3D nonsense, get off my lawn). It was amazing. I bought the game too.

    Same story with Quake.

  18. Mersadeon says:

    > The study above claims that game demos hurt sales, but going by my personal buying habits that’s not the case. This study is basically saying, “Who are you going to believe, our statistics, or your own eyes?”

    Okay, so as much as I *personally* also appreciate demos, that’s just behaviour that happens all the time. If you just look at what people say about themselves, sure, a lot will be honest, but a lot will also be dishonest without noticing. Run a poll about how people like their chocolate and then put that next to sales data: people say they like bitterer chocolate *way* more than they actually end up eating, for example.

    Everyone is going to tell you they love demos and that it makes it more likely that they’ll buy the game, but I can totally believe that that’s just not how that works out in reality.

    1. Steve C says:

      Well that isn’t really a metric either. For example I love ice wine. Delicious nectar of the gods. I never buy it though. It is insanely expensive.

      There’s so many things like that. I’d love to visit New Zealand. I would rate it my personal top desired tourist destination. But that’s only if it wasn’t going to take an entire day of travel to get there. There’s zero chance of me going there unless that travel time is cut down to 1/10th.

      I remember one game demo I played ~20yrs ago when demos were popular. I thought it was pretty cool and wanted to get it. It was insane the hoops that had to be jumped through to get it. I started the process and quickly realized the developer was a crazy person.

      Point is that there’s a lot of reasons to pass on a full version of a demo you liked.

  19. Hal says:

    Hm. Did you ever play Enter the Gungeon? I know there were some feelings because it released at the same time as Good Robot, but I wasn’t sure if you ever tried it out.

    It was free on PS4 earlier this year, so I’ve been playing a lot of it these past few months. The bullet hell meets D&D element really makes it a lot of fun.

  20. Agammamon says:

    Demos hurt sales because all too often you try the demo and find out the game isn’t very good.

  21. Clareo Nex says:

    When I miss a jump by a couple of pixels and fall back down to ground level, I feel like the game is wasting my time on purpose.

    This is exactly how I feel as well.

    But hey dear reader, if that’s your jam, good on you.

    To make this even more inexplicable, I actually enjoy some 3D platformers like Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

    I enjoy mega man’s disappearing block puzzles as long as I can’t game over while trying to learn the pattern, meaning my favourites are all in Mega Man 1.

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