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Gameplay How early is too early (if that is even a thing) to release a playable tech demo

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Is it worthwhile to release a playable tech demo that is in a really early / rough state? By tech demo I mean that I just have a few core mechanics implemented at a basic level that gives me something I could call "playable" (using that term very loosely). for example, in my current top down 2D RPG alone the line of Zelda currently has:

  • basic game loop (start menu with button -> button loads game -> you die -> start menu)

  • 2 world sections built with ability to transition between them

  • basic player controller with movement and combat (melee and ranged support)

  • enemy spawning with basic AI for wandering, following, and attacking a few different ways (melee, ranged, charge attack)

  • inventory system with enemies able to drop randomized loot

  • basic crafting system

  • very basic animation for different states (as in rotating sprites and color animation to show different states)

  • basic music and sound effects

Some of what I hear is that releasing a tech demo too early really is not going to give any good feedback because there might not be enough to give feedback on but I heard other opinions where you should get people to play your game even if it is just cubes moving around (and even as I play test this, things are coming to mind a lot quicker than just trying to think of them).

What are peoples opinion (and maybe more importantly experience) with releasing tech demos for public consumption when it is in a really rough and basic state?

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Posted (edited)

That is a good question.

I can only speak for myself and the games that were in early access that i have played, i had my share of these games before they went into release. If others react in a similar way, it might be best to not disclose a game to the public prematurely. When it's done one far day, it might already be out of style ...

An opinion.

Edited by Green_Baron

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12 minutes ago, Green_Baron said:

I can only speak for myself and the games that were in early access that i have played

I am not talking about releasing into early access or anything like that, I am talking about putting up a free tech demo that is playable in a WebGL release of some sorts.

14 minutes ago, Green_Baron said:

When it's done one far day, it might already be out of style ...

Not really sure what you mean by this.

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Ok,  i misunderstood. I thought you meant early access.

I meant, people who play early access might be tired of the game when it will be released.

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It depends. What is your goal on releasing this demo? To showcase your game for the release? To get people to test the game loop? To see if the combat is interesting? To create an early audience? To get feedback on bugs? How much you can do with the current assets (enemies, environments, puzzles) ? What's your estimated date of release? Do you plan to release to everyone (ex: a zip file of this alpha version) or only to some people (friends, people here on gamedev.net)?

For example: to get feedback on the combat, you obviously need it working, but the crafting don't need to be ready. Create small arenas, spawn some enemies and let the weapons on the floor (or already in the inventory), allowing the player to choose from many options. But, for a general audience or game events (like some indie festivals), a vertical slice generally works better: almost everything is in place, the art and gameplay is almost finished, no more weapons to be added, but you have only a very limited section of the game (a small dungeon, in a zelda-like game).

From your description, I think you're in an early stage, so I would not recommend releasing for the general public. Many things are not in place, and it will be hard to get people interested in an really incomplete game. Also, your release date might be too far way in this stage, and the interest you get now might fade over time. Right now, if you did a release, it would be better to use it to get feedback on gameplay. Try to get it from (sincere) friends and peers.

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Imagine them saying bluntly "We're not impressed" about your tech demo. If getting an early reject would make you feel that you weren't given a fair chance because you haven't implemented the core hook of the game yet, then it's too early. If your list of excuses for things not working yet gets too long, aim for minimalism and complete what you started. Bugs pile up when projects get larger with more people, so if the small tech demo has bugs, everyone can imagine how buggy the first release will be when the critics are rating for the first and only time.

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If this is a business, it depends entirely on your marketing plans and overall business strategy. There are strategies for early releases and previews, there are strategies for late previews, and there are many business risks taken by each.

If this is for your hobby project, do it whenever you feel you want to share details about your hobby.

 

The general guideline I hear from business folks is that the development team should feel a little embarrassed about the incomplete state, but it should be mature enough that the marketing folks can spin any issues to being 'work in progress' while still showing off the parts they can take to the bank. The exact line is difficult to know.  If it is TOO incomplete it will detract from the showcase.  For commercial projects, too early can enable knock-offs and lookalikes either to beat you to the market or to get an early start on cloning your work.  But too late and there won't be sufficient hype for the product and marketing will be more difficult. 

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