Ideally, what do you look for in a first time demo?

Hello,

This question seemed a bit too broad for just a poll, but I’m curious what everyone thinks is an ideal demo that’s posted for the first time. Both authors and readers.

As a reader, I’m not completely picky. Correct spelling and punctuation is a must however. If you’re writing throughout the demo is rife with spelling errors, I’m immediately turned off. It looks unprofessional and gives the impression the author was too lazy to spell check their own work.

Neatly spaced paragraphs is another high priority must. It’s very hard to read writing that’s all cramped together. Especially when it’s on smaller devices.

Coding wise? I don’t mind if I run into bugs. That’s just part of the writing process.

As an author, my expectations for my own demos are similar to my expectations as a reader. Correct spelling, punctuation, grammar, and spacing between paragraphs is a must. It’s not only nice when I read it as a demo, but when I’m tinkering with the code in CSIDE it’s easier to work with.

But I am a perfectionist when it comes to bugs. I don’t like it when my code bugs out and I would prefer to not have it bug out at all, but I know that’s pie in sky.

As for length wise? I’d like to offer my readers a decent chunk to enjoy. So maybe the first three or four chapters for a first time demo. I’m okay with having readers being able to access pathways that are just bare bones (read: coding structure is there but narrative isn’t) since I typically put the coding in first and then come in and add the narrative later.

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I like to see the story. Normally, I’d check out the blurb first but there has to be a story going on in the demo. Even just the ‘main’ storyline because chances are, the main text will probably change and improve over time. A couple of grammatical mistakes and spelling errors are fine, but too much of anything can be exhausting so I have my limits. A simple word check using any type of application will go a long way.

I agree with this. It puts me off when there’s a wall of text or there’s not enough space between paragraphs.

Coding wise, I don’t mind the bugs honestly. No matter how much times they may run a test, some pesky bugs still go out. It’s understandable that not all writers are coders.

One of the things I don’t like to see is when the demo is literally just a character creation and/or an incredibly short prologue. I know how it feels to want to share your work to others and see how people will react, but don’t be too eager. Be patient and finish a couple of chapters first. Even though you have an amazing premise (and sometimes too idealistic), it won’t matter if after three months or so, the WIP is already dead because you decided that you don’t like it. Make sure that your WIP is something you’re really passionate about (even if you’re writing for fun or relaxation), that you have some storyline figured out and that you actually feel like it has a chance of finishing someday.

I can’t pinpoint an exact number of chapter a demo has to have because a chapter can easily be 100k words long (See: Breach: Chicago Warfare) and a 10k word chapter may already have lots of story, but I’d say the perfect sweet spot may be 20k words for a first demo. But more is always better.

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Really? Here I was thinking that the longest playthrough for a whole CoG book could be around 80-90K

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I’m kind of nit picky, so spelling errors just show the overall story might be sloppy. Something as simple as copying and pasting into a word or google doc then running a spell check should be done. If it isn’t? Eh.

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I don¨’t care about spelling and grammar as long as it’s legible, and the plot is hard to judge that early. But what is necessary for me is that the author has a language and a style, a grasp of dialog and how to write interesting scenes.

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I definitely agree with what’s already been said, regarding spelling/grammar and also demo length. Too many spelling errors make it seem like the author doesn’t care enough to proofread, and a short demo doesn’t give sufficient time to build interest. I’d suggest a 10,000 word minimum, which shouldn’t be daunting if you’re committed to writing a 200,000+ word story.

That’s another thing I’m looking for: a sense of commitment. I don’t want to get invested in a story that’s doomed to die after a couple of chapters. If the post opens with something like ‘I’m just gauging interest/typing up an idea I had last night’, that doesn’t inspire confidence. If, on the other hand, there’s an eloquent summary, lists of features and characters, a header image - if the author has clearly spent time giving things polish - then I’m much more likely to get on board.

As for the actual content, I’d like to be shown why this MC’s story is worth following. What challenges are they facing? What cool stuff can be foreshadowed? I don’t want to stare into a mirror and then spend seven pages customising eye colours and hair styles, I want to get thrown into a battle and decide if my MC has powers to freeze time or make blood boil.

People are social creatures, and the sooner you can introduce important cast members and let the player form opinions/bonds, the better. After all, one of the most common questions on a new game is ‘who are the ROs?’.

If you’re using a very common premise, like ‘MC’s normal life just got turned upside down by discovering supernatural stuff exists’, then I think you also have to work harder, to stand out from the crowd and make your story memorable.

Hopefully when/if I get around to posting a WIP myself, I’ll be able to follow all of my own advice, haha…

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Early choices that are not just cliche character creation.

A first choice that hits me, makes me want to play on.

Not filling the demo with reams of prose interspersed with plot-meaningless choices: low ratio of *page_breaks to *choice.

Not saying that it is going to be the first of 3/4/5 books.

Evidence of commitment to making an interesting demo before posting.

Nice style of writing a plus.

As far as spelling mistakes go there is a difference between good command of prose with spelling mistakes and bad writing with that is also filled with spelling mistakes. I think the former is fine, the latter is painful.

Substance to the demo itself, rather than a long forums post about the 20 odd ROs you have in your head.

A stats screen that doesn’t immediately tell the reader that you have set yourself an impossible project - I find that the stats screen is a very good indicator of whether a project will be abandoned in a few weeks/months: the greater the number of opposed pair stats compared to length of demo, the more likely it is to be abandoned early.

Evidence that the project is feasible to produce. Do I, as someone who has written a big ol’ complicated game and have a pretty good grasp of choicescript coding quail at the thought of having to do the task which the demo poster has set.themselves.

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@whitebear

I agree. It’s hard to neatly say how much substance an ideal demo should have based on a certain number. I think a good cutting off length would be after you’ve hooked the reader into your story, beyond just the summary, because then when you come back and post an update they’ll come back to read more.

@Elysian

I agree. I don’t mind having a character creation at the start since it’s nearly the formula of almost every other story, but when I have to slog through pages and pages worth? Eh. I’m kinda bummed I didn’t get to play the interesting story the summary sold me on.

@Alice-chan

Agreed. I don’t typically look for ROs when I read a story and I don’t even read the RO lists on the author’s forum post. I’d much rather interact with the RO instead of reading about them out of context.

Interesting observation. I hadn’t really paid attention to that correlation but it does make sense. Working with stats/variables is probably one of the biggest road blocks a new author has to overcome in order to commit to writing an IF.

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I feel like there’s kind of two sides to this, so I’ll split it up accordingly for my thoughts.

What I want to find out…

-Mood/tone. Does the mood work for me? Does it match what I expected from the plot synopsis? Is it a mood that I’m willing to engage with? This one’s obviously super subjective and can change depending on how I’m feeling - I was just telling someone recently that I used to like dark stuff, but in the year of our COVID I need me some fluff - but I do think that the matching mood to expectation bit is important.

-Relatability (though not necessarily realism). Do the characters’ actions make sense to me? Do their beliefs make sense to me? Can I relate to them at all? Do I want to learn more about them, or about the world they inhabit? This one has some amount of subjectivity to it too, but I think there’s definitely an art to making characters and settings interesting and … I don’t know, inviting? Something like that?

-Speaking of characters, do I think they’re interesting and likable? If I don’t, do I feel like the narrative allows me to dislike them (not necessarily offering choices to be a jerk, just … well, see below I guess)?

What I don’t want to see…

-Counter to the last point above, if a story’s narration asserts that I definitely like a character, it’s a pretty big con for me. If a story asserts that I definitely ~like~ a character, I’m done. Just because I was nice to Liara a character a couple times doesn’t mean I’m ready to jump their bones, you know?

-Weighted choices/narrative, where one playstyle, stat build, etc. feels favored over others. Related to that, stories that feel as though they’re judging me for playing a certain way. This isn’t often a huge problem in WIPs since they haven’t developed far enough for it, but I think I would say something about it if I felt like that was starting to form, but otherwise enjoyed the work.

-I’m generally forgiving of spelling and grammar errors, but there is definitely a point where they become too much trouble for me to feel like trying to decipher to enjoy a story. I’m not sure if I can think of a WIP that I really liked but gave up on for that reason, though.

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  1. In the description, before clicking on the link, do I have a good idea of what I am supposed to appreciate from the game? If not, is it because the description is just lacking, or does it seem like the author doesn’t really know either (also, if the only thing appears to be romance, not even clicking)?
  2. Is there a stats screen? If so, are there actual abilities or just sliders?
  3. In the story, is the writing quality okay? For more “sim-like” games I can be lenient here.
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One thing; a good cliffhanger

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  1. The first couple choices must draw me in. It’s fine if there’s character creation after that, but you’ve got to get me invested first. And if you’ve got a slow build-up, save the character creation for a little later - the MC’s personality and circumstances are more important, and breaking it up with character creation can demolish any sense of good pacing. This is probably the number #1 reason I leave fledgling WIPS.

  2. Grammar and spelling must be good. I give more lenience to non-native English speakers here, though. In that case, I simply look for effort at improving these things in the demo.

  3. Does the story has unique aspects to it? Style/setting/etc. It doesn’t have to be a totally unique premise, but I look for demos where the author’s “touch” is very clear.

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For me, I need that nonbinary-inclusive player option. I just can’t get into a story without it, even if the grammar, plot, pacing, etc are impeccable. (Although all those things are important too…)

Secondly, I also look to the other characters, those besides the player. Not only do I love well fleshed-out characters, who feel real and perhaps even have chapters dedicated to them just as much as the player character, but if they’re too shallow I sometimes can’t play the game either. Even if the player and plot are really well done too, of the characters can’t be sold to me, I’m usually out of there. (So I guess basically, if I HAD to choose, characters > plot)

And this isn’t a necessary option, but I also love more cryptic or monstrous readers. Like playing as a vampire, ghost, or anything else that goes bump-in-the-night. So long as they retain some relationship to humanity (so not a straight up animal,) then I’m immediately intrigued.

An immediate turn off (regardless of if the grammar is good or not, though in these cases it usually isn’t), is when there’s too much…word play? I don’t know if there’s a word for it, but essentially like, “and then WHAM, the glass breaks, and WHOOO man what a craaaazy wild ride that was!!! You feel the glass cut you and OUUUCH does that sucker hurt!!” Basically stuff like that. Can’t stand it.

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This is my list of Yes’s and No’s

Yes:

  • Clear, defined characters that play off the MC. I notice a lot of characters in IF often exist to tick off an arbitrary RO box. Write characters, not ROs. Then make these characters into ROs. My favorite characters in any books on this site have often been non-romancable for some reason.

  • A reason to keep reading. If a demo is strictly a worldbuilding summary and character customization, it’s gonna put early readers off. Remember, you can only make a first impression one time. Don’t rush your project out or it may suffer. I’d recommend writing a decent portion of it first to see if you even want to write that story. I originally wrote 23k words of a different story before I decided it was conceptually not as good as I imagined.

  • An interesting concept. Yeah, this is vague as hell, but a flair of uniqueness or coolness will go a long way. If you got a cool concept, write about it for a little bit and let it develop. Each author has their own unique lived experiences and personal style. Personal experiences / fields you’ve studied in are always a place to draw cool concepts from.

No’s:

  • I admit fully this is a random pet peeve of mine, but a weird number of books in general open with the main character waking up and going through their routine. Often, the opening line is the alarm going off, sometimes expressed through onomatopoeia. (side tangent, but I’m not a big fan of onomatopoeias in general; they seem too unprofessional to me) Now, this isn’t that big of a deal, but I just see it weirdly often and think it’s worth pointing out.

  • World building introduced through an essay-like infodump. I personally enjoy it way more if exposition is natural, expressed through dialogue and monologue rather than given in some sort of codex entry.

  • I again, 100% admit this is my personal opinion, but any romance story that starts with you engaged / married to someone nearly instantly loses my attention. I can’t stand romance stories where you cheat on someone. Again, personal opinion, but keep in mind forcing the MC into a preexisting romantic relationship may isolate readers.

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Ideally I like when there’s enough of it written that I get a feel for the story and characters. I also do like character customization so I like to see a bit of that as well but not badly enough that for me to have it just plunked in with no reason or if it’s gonna interrupt the story. While spelling and grammar mistakes are okay, too many of them will instantly stop me from reading, at least until I know they’ve been fixed.

I also agree with the person who said mood/tone, I think that’s important but it is something a bit harder to get right for every person who may come across your work.

Lastly It’s also nice to see that the writer is committed to their project so I don’t get invested on a project that won’t be finished.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s better to have a few chapters out for your demo as well before publishing for most of these reasons.

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Honestly, the bulk of the content is important for me. If it dives more into the story, the better. Some wip are really catching stories that readers don’t forget them even if they have played them a long time ago. Grammar and bugs are the least of my concern.

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I think this is a very reasonable stance — we have to keep in mind that WIPs are not the same as released works, they are there for us to provide feedback on. If we expect to play a full story with a high quality level, we should look to released works rather than WIPs.

That’s something this thread has made me think about (apologies if it’s a bit off-topic): since so many of us have a clear standard of what we want and what we don’t want to see in demos, shouldn’t we go ahead and tell the authors in the WIP thread? Of course, no one should be obligated to playtest a game they have no interest in, but if something in the demo threw you off or caused a bad first impression of the work, I’m sure it’s the sort of thing an author would appreciate knowing (since, if it’s not changed, people who play the demo for the released game might feel the same way and not purchase it).

I don’t mean to say people aren’t doing this already, it’s just that most of the time I see things such as bugs, and occasionally grammar being mentioned. I do think people are more likely to give feedback on something like the MC feeling too railroaded, but I haven’t heard comments like “perhaps this story should start in a more dynamic way” or “this is about where the demo for the published game would end, shouldn’t you plan on having a cliffhanger in this chapter?” too often.

I also don’t mean to point fingers at anyone, since I myself I’m guilty of just skimming through demos that don’t meet my standards and then leaving no feedback. I will not stick around for a story that has almost no choices, that only tells and never shows, or that has enormous walls of text without any punctuation, for instance. Those games do not meet my personal standard, and yet, I see tons of positive feedback in their threads from people who did not find those things to be obstacles in becoming immersed in the story.

In those cases, I’m more likely to think that, since so many others can enjoy the story regardless, maybe it’s simply not for me, and move on without commenting. However, since we have such a unique opportunity of making our voices heard and influence the development of WIPs here, I think I, and other people who might feel like I do, should make more of an effort to give an honest opinion for any demo we play. We don’t need to keep testing beyond that point if we don’t want to, and obviously, if the author rejects our feedback they’re well within their rights, but I think it’s at least good for them to know that someone feels that way about their demo.

Sorry for writing such a long post. :sweat_smile: I feel like I’m expressing myself very awkwardly here (I know users like @Eiwynn have made more elocuent points on what the WIP section really is for in the past, but I couldn’t find any post to quote), but hopefully you got my point.

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One thing about the “character creation” intro/demo which I have talked about before is it is easy to do - hence why I assume it comes up so often. Its essentially a mechanical problem and serves as a good intro to learning how to code with choice-script if you have no experience at all. The text practically writes itself because the choices are already laid out for you: you have a pre-existing framework/trope which you are coding. This ease and lack of need for difficult creative/imaginative labor makes it a good choicescript exercise for getting to know the basics of coding but serves as a poor demo.

There are some really interesting points already in this thread. I think its a lot easier for people to give general critical feedback in a thread like this, avoiding singling anyone out than to post under someone’s hard work that they have obviously put a lot of effort into - especially if what I’m thinking as I read is “Your demo seems poorly thought out with regards to X Y and X, lacking a compelling introduction to the setting and characters, plus it seems too ambitious. Your characters feel one-dimensional, especially A and B, I think this is because you are treating them as sex options and not as people”. I’m never going to post something like that to a stranger even if I might be thinking it as I play because if that is what I would have posted then really the most important thing for that person to improve in their writing is to keep writing and write lots and write often. Also to read their own work critically and read literature widely as well. Practice practice practice. Politeness, not wanting to discourage people from carrying on and not wanting to belittle the work they have done, which for them might have been both difficult and frustrating.

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Well, if people put more critical realistic feedback the only reason demos and wips are posted in first place more games would end with better ratings and more polished. If the testers don’t say anything else than political fakes the only thing author receives is a depression later when public put real reviews and rating plummet.
Wips are done to help authors to achieve a grade of polish deemed enough to successfully publish Not to be the moral support of the author, as that only will be harmful in the long run.

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But 95% of all WIPs posted have a zero chance of making it as far as being published. They will just be abandoned, regardless of any feedback they receive in thread . I’m not going to provide publishing polish feedback on something that only contains the first 5% of a game where the most important thing is that the writer needs to improve their overall writing skill holistically.

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