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What to do about large downloads

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Whenever I'm experimenting with new games, there are a couple things that really excite me or disgust me. I'm not always necessarily looking for these things, but they are the obvious that pop out. 1)If the game is easy to setup. There's nothing more that I hate than to download a game, do some long setup processes, register for who knows what, and then come to find out that 1) the game wasn't worth my time and 2) I still can't get something to work (like now it needs a credit card... fjuck that!) 2)Large downloads. Downloads are alright if the game is excellent, and I know I'm getting a good game, however, if the download is 1.84 GB (Dark age of Camelot, thank you very much) and they don't really announce that you need a credit card (I must have missed over it), I get fed up with the fact that I spent hours downloading this stupid thing and now I have to give them my information.... forget you! 3)Easy to play. I hate reading manuals, especially for a new game. What's worse is a mandatory tutorial section at the beginning of the game that makes you walk through it. I want to get in on the action, not sit around and figure out how to move.... that will come with time. Games should have a brief intro while it's loading, telling you some basic commands that you can read in a manageable time. There should be a reference to a manual if someone is interested or confused, not the other way around with the physical shoving down the new player's throat. So now the question is... how do you make a game work without having all that garbage? The setup and ease of playing won't be a bother for me, however, I am concerned with distributing it. When finished, I approximate my demo to be in the mid 500-600 MB range, if not more for the full game when available (a while). So what should I do? I'm an indie programmer, so I don't have my name out anywhere, and I certainly wouldn't have many people testing and trying my 500 MB game when they've never heard of me or my project. And CD's won't work because no one wants to wait for a CD to come in the mail, when you could just bypass the game and move on to something else. What should be done? Massive-war

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I guess you'll just have to make the demo smaller.

You're right that as it stands, I don't think many people will be downloading your demo if it is 500 Mb. Since I don't have a decent internet connection, I wouldn't think twice about downloading a demo that's under 10 Mb. If its 10-30 Mb, then I'll download it the game seems reasonable and I'd like to try it out. If its 30-100 Mb, then I'd have to really want to try the demo to download it. I'm very unlikely to download a game demo that's over 100 Mb.

What is it that's causing your demo to be so large? How many art assets do you need to include? If you are including movies, do you really need to include those?

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A little of everything. I guess I could really chop down the size. I just wanted to have the experience that represented the game to the fullest extent, with shorter/fewer levels. (rooms, etc.)

I could probably just cut out most of the main stuff and have it a lot smaller.

Massive-war

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You'll probably have to do that; I can't think of a method that would work in the marketplace with a 500 Mb demo size for an indie.

As you've said, the problem is that you currently don't have any market awareness of your product. The demo itself is the best way of getting people aware of your product, so you want as many people as possible to get their hands on it. I'm sure most people will start thinking twice about downloading a file that large.

As for alternate methods of distribution, you could give your demo to magazines to see if they'd put it on their cover CD/DVD, but as the file is so large that would mean much less room for anything else; it might work if your company was famous, but not if you're unknown.

Distributing CD demos most likely won't work. It's very unlikely people will pay to get your demo posted to them, so you'd probably have to cover the costs yourself. Given fairly unrealistic estimates of $1 cost per CD (for the media, copying and postage it's probably more), and a sell conversion rate of 5 percent (which I think is quite high for indies), you'd be spending $20 per sale, which is too expensive to really justify it.

So I'm afraid I think reducing the demo size is the only thing you can do. I'm sure there must be something that you can do to whittle down the demo size to under 50 Mb. Remember that you aren't trying to provide a good game with a demo; what you are doing is showing the promise of a good game if the player buys the full version. If your demo is too good, people won't feel the need to pay for the rest of the game.

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Quote:

So I'm afraid I think reducing the demo size is the only thing you can do. I'm sure there must be something that you can do to whittle down the demo size to under 50 Mb. Remember that you aren't trying to provide a good game with a demo; what you are doing is showing the promise of a good game if the player buys the full version. If your demo is too good, people won't feel the need to pay for the rest of the game.


Good Point

Massive-war

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Posting a breakdown of what you've got and how much space it's taking in one of the tech forums may help you - it's possible that you're missing something obvious (e.g. using an uncompressed format for textures) and if people see that you've got 100 512x512 RGBA textures which are taking 100mb, they'll ask you to re-examine the compression you're using (which could drop that to under a quarter the size).

Other than that, you may want to look into streaming and background web installs. If your demo is quite long to play through, and initially the player only encounters a small subset of the assets, then you can reduce the download by only including those assets that are strictly required for the initial section, and then downloading the rest from your web server while the player is playing through that initial section. It takes some work to get a nice user experience - some users will want to get the whole thing down, and others will want to control how much gets prefetched, and you have to neatly handle situations where you need assets that haven't finished downloading yet, etc - but means that users can get 'into the game' that much faster.

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1.
Think about using generated materials in your games.
Couldn’t you write some setup program that is going to generate maybe 100MB of your textures in just 100KB of code?

2.
Can’t you make the demo download the second level while the user is playing the first level?
Or just download better textures more models or maybe more guns, more maps, ...; the longer the user is going to play your demo the more features will become available! I think that is going to motivate some user to play the demo for a longer time(I would do it!).

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Quote:
Original post by massive-war
3)Easy to play. I hate reading manuals, especially for a new game. What's worse is a mandatory tutorial section at the beginning of the game that makes you walk through it. I want to get in on the action, not sit around and figure out how to move.... that will come with time. Games should have a brief intro while it's loading, telling you some basic commands that you can read in a manageable time. There should be a reference to a manual if someone is interested or confused, not the other way around with the physical shoving down the new player's throat.

This is one thing I find difficult as a developer. One the one hand players want an original game, but on the other hand your controls must somehow be exactly what they expect. Surely the reason that FPS/RTS/driving games are easy to play without the manual is that they're all very similar - if you want innovative games then you might expect new control methods. Some games are inherently complex (like simulation type games) and so a new control method might require you to actually look at the documentation - at least before complaining you can't figure it out!

And yes I think you must shrink your resources.
  • Reduce music bitrate

  • Reduce video resolution/bitrate

  • Make sure you use compressed texture formats

  • Make sure you don't store all your data in bloaty text/xml format

  • Make sure you don't have multiple copies of the same resource

  • Make sure you don't have original .bmp versions of textures still lurking around after you made the game use .dds (something I have to keep fixing!)

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    Quote:
    Original post by massive-war
    That kkrieger game sucked. I don't know how you could play a game like that

    It's 96kb, and it's not meant to be a brilliant gameplay experience, but rather to show off. That said, I'm not exactly sure why it was mentioned here, you probably don't want to go to those extremes with a proper product.

    I just wanted to say, with things like reducing music bitrate, be careful that you don't excessively compromise the quality of the track. If you don't know about a particular asset for yourself, find out what sort of compression levels and settings are generally considered acceptable for that type of asset; in some cases, it may be better to cut out a piece of music altogether rather than reducing the bitrate too far and having customers think your game isn't up-to-scratch.

    By all means look for ways to reduce to size of the assets you do include, but also make sure you look for anything that can be cut out completely as well:
    - Do you have a splash-screen? As an indie developer, do you really need it rather than just displaying your logo on the menu screen somewhere?
    - Are there any unused assets left in the demo? If the demo doesn't use it, cut it out and have the full version install it. If it isn't used in the full version either, it shouldn't be there anymore.
    - Is there any content that only a small minority of players will actually see? If so, can you alter the design somewhat to remove it? Extra details are nice, but if they aren't somewhere highly visible you might be able to do without.
    - Is there anything that could be produced proceedurally rather than stored in a file? If you have the time and inclination this can sometimes be a great way to cut down on filesize (although it can increase loading times, which is also an annoyance you must consider).

    Some other considerations:
    - Are you using appropriate compression and formats for the resources you're including?
    - Is it feasible to stream in content during play?
    - Are you including anything you might not need to? (You could have an online manual rather than including it for example, assuming your controls are intuitive enough that it shouldn't hassle most players.)

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    I'm with superpig; you probably want to try and reduce the initial download size so that there's enough for the person to start playing and then make it so that anything outside of your "expected duration" is downloaded in the background when it's about to be used. You're probably best telling your users that you intend to do this of course, there will be nothing worse than a firewall kicking in and alerting the player that your game is a 'trojan'.

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    Also, on ultra-compressed resources, remember: It's just a demo version.

    Put this on your start up screen


    ::DEMO VERSION::

    Graphics and sound of this demo are impaired.

    Buy the full version
    for graphics like these!
    << High quality screen shots >>

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    Thanks everyone.

    that all makes sense too, however, I would have to decline on the in-game play download issue. I think my problem with krieg-whatever was that it wasn't coming in fast enough, and I was lagging like crazy.

    But ya, cutting things like music bitrate (to a reasonable extent), getting rid of my movie beginning... stuff like that, would significantly help.


    I guess I just wanted the ultimate experience that would excite you into getting the full version. However, a demo is a demo, and I have to remember that.

    Thanks again,

    Massive-war

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    Quote:
    Original post by massive-war
    I think my problem with krieg-whatever was that it wasn't coming in fast enough, and I was lagging like crazy.

    kkrieger doesn't use the method of streaming in content in the background, that 96kb is it. They use a lot of compression and proceedural generation tricks. It'd be your hardware chugging along generating and decompressing all the content that would be the problem with it.

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    How is it possible to make a game with 96 kb? I can't even imagine it doing something like that.

    Maybe it was a problem with the download... I have a 3 ghz, 1.5 megs of Ram, 256 MB video card

    something had to have messed up

    Massive-war

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    Packing that much contents into that small a filesize has a cost. The requirements are very high to get it to run decently, plus being in beta it's still somewhat buggy. A very impressive demo indeed, but the techniques used aren't really applicable to your situation, so it's really only a novelty, I'm not entirely sure why it was originally mentioned. You can find a bit of information from the authors here if you're interested though.

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    Quote:
    Original post by massive-war
    How is it possible to make a game with 96 kb? I can't even imagine it doing something like that.


    My earliest exposure to the micro-demos was with Assembly 94's 4k demos.

    The entire demo needed to be under 4K. Many included pseudo 3D engines and sound. Considering they were run on DOS, that was an incredible thing. Today's windows demos are a bit less impressive because of all the D3D com interfaces, but still pretty interesting.

    The thing that most impressed me about them were the comments like "Since I still have all this space, greets to {{list of everybody the met at the conference}}"

    The 4K intros are always impressive to me. The 64K entries are fun too, but it's more amazing to see what can be done with 4096 bytes. Some of them require 200+ MB of ram to run.

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    I just said this elsewhere, but consider NOT having a demo.

    I disagree that a demo is a primary way to get a game of this type out to the market. Marketing work will be a key way, regardless of the path you select, but having a demo that does not accurately reflect the detail and quality of the final version can do little other than make the user CERTAIN they don't want it, as opposed to unsure.

    Uncertainty of want can lead to sales, especially with a good "return" policy.

    If you can't adequately represent your game in a reasonable demo, don't make one. You're better off making trailers, teasers, and focusing your time and efforts on PR than investing it in demo design.

    Sincerely,

    Joe Lieberman
    Owner, VGSmart Marketing
    www.vgsmart.com
    Independent Game Marketing Book

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    If you have your main intro movie in the demo I would certainly remove it. For one thing it must be HUGE, right? And secondly, when they buy the full version they won't want to sit through it again - so I'd remove that and also severely shorten story-related videos - maybe leave just a bit in to add to the sense that you product is complete.

    Is this 96Kb think similar to the 64Kb "the product" thing from a few years back?

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    Quote:
    Original post by d000hg
    Is this 96Kb think similar to the 64Kb "the product" thing from a few years back?

    You could say that. Actually, it is "the product" thing. [wink]

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    You could save a significant amount of money in terms of bandwidth cost by going with BitTorrent. I've seen a number of sites do this for patches and demos, and it's not hard to set up a BT tracker on your average webserver. I would wager that most people willing to download a 600MB demo already know what BitTorrent is, and can use it.

    There's also something to be said for just making the demo smaller; I am sure you can use lower-fidelity assets than the full version, use procedural content generation here and there and just not include things (like voiceover files, etc) that suck up a lot of space and are largely optional.

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    Take a look at WildTangent's Fate (http://www.fatethegame.com/).

    It's a full-fledged RPG that is doing interesting things to break the mold of what a Casual Game is. The main download is 128 MB, but they also offer a 28MB light version (presumably with voice-overs, movies, etc stripped out). Offer a torrent for the tech-savy; you'll make your money on the registration anyways, so you don't care.

    One of the biggest bloaters (ex cutscene stuff), is music and textures.

    Music and SFX should always be OGG/MP3 formats; even for things like SFX. If you want, you can uncache them as part of the first loading session. Look at MOD type soundtracks (MO3, for example) for music; much smaller.

    Textures; 8bit is much smaller than 32bit. Very often you can get away with using 8bit for a lot of textures, and it saves space. Also look at using JPG for large images without Alpha. One thing to look at is to check if the size on screen maps to the size on disk; it's trivial to write a coverage shader, where it takes the texture size (WxH) and divides it by the pixel coverage, and solid-colors the entire vertex-set (faded blue for <1:1, ramping up to blood red for places where a huge texture was used on a tiny polygon). Artists do the strangest things, and sometimes you have to check that they're not screwing up :)

    Best of luck,

    Allan

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