Free prologues on Steam can be a good marketing tool to promote the game before release. Gaming expert Simon Carless analyzed their impact on sales and adding to vishlists, describing successful and failed cases.

Summer In Mara

Before proceeding to Carless’s material, it is worth briefly describing what is usually understood by “prologue”.

At first glance, it has a lot in common with the demo. This is a small free piece of the game, giving an idea of its basic mechanics and designed to motivate the user to buy the full version.

However, there are several important differences between them:

  • for the prologue, a separate page is always created on Steam, on which there is always a link to the full version;
  • unlike the demo, the prologue is designed in the store as an independent application (with a description, screenshots, etc.), and users can rate it and write reviews;
  • demos are released on or shortly before the release date, and game prologues usually appear a few months before the expected release date.

In his article, Carless notes that the trend for prologues on Steam appeared in April-May last year. Then four of the eight games in the “Popular New Items” tab were free prologues at once.

At that time, some independent developers saw the prospects of this mechanism for promoting their projects. The authors of the game Fly Punch Boom! a week after the release of the prologue, “20 thousand unique players, 100+ positive reviews, thousands of additions to the vishlist” were reported.

Fly Punch Boom!

At the same time, not all cases were so successful. For example, the prologue of the game First Impact had 445 very positive reviews, and the full version collected only 62 reviews. This means that at that time the developers managed to sell only about 2-3 thousand copies (according to Carless’ calculations, for an approximate understanding of the number of copies sold, you need to multiply the number of reviews by an average of 20-60 *).

*it is important to clarify that such an approach to counting copies by the number of reviews does not take into account many factors, such as the difference between audiences of different genres.

For a detailed study of the issue, Simon compiled a table of games that already have both a prologue and a full version. He compared the number of reviews from prologues and release versions, and at the same time studied the content offered by the developers.

Here are the conclusions he came to:

  • it doesn’t make sense to release a prologue after the release of the game. There are several examples of such projects in the table (Fantasy General II and Rising Hell), and the trial versions had almost no effect on the number of new reviews or additions to the vishlist;
  • developers who carefully think through the content offered in the prologue get the greatest boost after the release. Too short and simple demos, as in the case of Summer in Mara (1002 reviews for the prologue versus 629 for the full version), do not increase the interest of players in the full version;
  • a negative difference in reviews is also observed in games whose prologues are too long. After seeing too much content, users may lose interest in the game. A good example is the Dreamscaper with a 4-6—hour prologue – 1982 reviews for the prologue and 695 for the full version.

Carless is sure that the impact of the number of downloads of the prologue on adding to the vishlist will in any case be less than the effect of the attention of streamers to the game.

He also notes that it is impossible to fully assess the impact of prologues on sales. To do this, you need to conduct A / B testing of the same game with and without a prologue, and for obvious reasons it is impossible to do this.

Simon comes to the conclusion that the best option for developers who want to release a prologue is to make it small and polished, as well as available for a limited time at Steam festivals.

Another way to draw attention to a future game is to make a thematic demo. So did the developers of Rubber Bandits, presenting a Christmas prologue. It was a set of unique holiday levels, weapons and skins that were available for a limited time.

The growth in the number of Rubber Bandits vishlist after the release of the thematic prologue

As a result, the number of vishlist increased several times, and popular streamers paid attention to the game. This is an example of proper and successful marketing. However, this does not make it universal — it all depends on the genre and gameplay features of a particular game.