Ah, E3, you triple lettered seductress of a trade show, with your hot booth babes and their free t shirt giveaways, and even hotter booth mini theaters with poor air circulation, full of hot, sweaty gamers, anticipating the sweet taste of that which they’ve only seen grainy scans off the intrawebs.
So, hey, going to E3 this year? Is your demo done yet? What do you mean, you haven’t started? E3 is only a couple weeks away!
Here are some things to think about as you work on your demo. Not exactly rocket science, I know. Also, I’m mostly referring to theater-style presentations, and not hands on or one-on-one demos. (I just have more experience with these kind). The best demos speak for themselves. They don’t require meticulous, minute by minute gabbing. Your audience isn’t there to listen to you talk or see a slideshow of concept art/screenshots. They want to see the game in action.
First, do not narrate the action on the screen. This is the most egregious error I see often. I don’t need to know you just equipped your weapon and killed someone – I just watched you do it! If you hear yourself saying, “As you can see…” STOP THAT. You are there to provide context. Explain the backstory (briefly!). Explain what an icon means or how the controls work. Talk about who you are, and about the development team working on the game. Talk about features and release dates. How long you’ve been working on the game and any interesting tidbits about the game’s development.
Practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter how smooth and polished you think you are, you need to run through the demo. Not only are you looking to improve the presentation of the demo, you also need to find the bugs and issues. Finding what to avoid is just as important as what to show.
If you can, have two people for the demo. One person to do the talking, the other does the actual playing. The person playing the game can focus on *playing* – they can adjust on the fly for any unexpected game wackiness (which should be expected) or focus on not dying during the climactic battle that every demo inevitably ends with. It is hard to think on your feet and talk while trying to play a demo that is going haywire on you.
Even better, have a backup machine with the demo ready. Shit happens. Computers over heat. Dev kits die. It happens. If you want to truly do it the *right way* – have a backup kit with the game running and have a 3rd developer shadow playing along with the demo. If a *bad* thing happens like the game crashing, flip the screen over to the backup kit which should be at the same place in the demo as the one that crashed. Overkill? Maybe. You only get one shot at presenting your game.
Keep your talking points short. Don’t give us a 5 minute lore bomb of the history of your game world. Reduce it to 2 sentences. Most journalists watching your presentation are jotting down notes. Give them short, snappy phrases to write down, not long rambling narration. What do you want your Joystiq headline to say about your game? Repeat that phrase a lot. Practicing will help – keep running through it repeatedly and tightening it up. Make sure other developers and testers run through it every day, as well.
Keep the demo short. 30 minutes tops. Demos (and games in general) only get better the more you take out. Also, E3 demos are typically scheduled on the hour. It’ll take 5-10 minutes to get the old audience out and the new one in, plus another 5 minutes waiting for late stragglers and waiting for everyone to settle in (ie, everybody shut up!). That leaves you around 40 minutes – plenty of time to do your demo and give yourself a short break between demos to take a bathroom break. Make sure you have a break scheduled in between demos!
Don’t forget sound and music. Make sure your audio guys give it a thorough, gold plated polish.
These aren’t hard rules. If you’re rocking a 60 minute demo, then go with it.
One more thing: Have a 5 minute version of your demo. Seriously. It always happens – an important buyer or E3 judge will be running late and need to see your game but only has a few minutes. Your sales and marketing team will thank you for having the short and sweet version in your back pocket. Trust me.