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  • Michal Napora

POOLS: The case for having the demo up post release

Sometimes going against the trend can work out in your favour. Sometimes.

Hello fellow student of the dark art of video games marketing,

Recently I had the pleasure to work on a gem of a game - the liminal spaces psychological horror POOLS. The game came out a few weeks ago, and since its release, it gathered a healthy 1,500 Steam User Reviews with an even healthier 94% User rating. Not bad of a result!

A few weeks back, POOLS became the horror game of the moment, with millions of views on TikTok (IGNs TikTok got us just under 2 million views alone), YouTube, and great user reviews. So what was the secret to its success? Well, it wasn’t so much as one magical ingredient, but rather a sauce of successful initiatives. Organising IGN exclusives helped. Same with influencer coverage. The right release date was a key move too (same day as Manor Lords, meaning, nearly every influencer was ‘taken” bar the horror ones, and they needed something new to play - enter POOLS. Likewise with horror fanatical players). And of course, the game itself is pretty damn special and unique. However, there was one thing that we did a bit differently in this campaign, and that was how we handled the demo.

Creating marketing chaos. Kinda.

The old adage among the Steam marketers (including myself) is to take down your demo before your game comes out. After all, why let them sample your game and satisfy their itch while they can buy it and hopefully not return it before the 2-hour return mark lapses. And I was ready to apply this theory to action on POOLS too, until the devs made a good point.

You see, POOLS is not a usual game. Gameplay-wise, it's very minimal. There is no story per se, no monsters, no NPCs. The thing that scares you is your own psyche. As you might tell, it's not everyone's cup of tea. Having this demo up became a filter for those who would complain. Instead of buying, refunding, and leaving a negative review, they got a taste of the game and were able to decide if it was for them or not, without impacting the review score of the game itself. And for those that tried it, well, they most likely liked it and it reflected in the user scores too. We were on the New and Trending chart for nearly a week, and throughout this time we hovered around the 95% Overwhelmingly Positive rating. And when you see a new game with over a thousand reviews with an Overwhelmingly Positive rating, you take notice - be it a player, a content creator, or a journalist.

So, if you are working on a non-traditional game, having a demo up after release could be a good way to filter out those negative nancies. After all, digital clout/user review rating can at times make or break your game. Should you do it? It’s up to you to decide. But for me, I will definitely think twice about taking the demo down. As they say, not everything in marketing is 100% applicable to every game (no one actually says this, but you know, I was kinda hoping to have a more impactful ending there).

One more bonus tip from POOLS!

I worked on a few horror games before (The Medium, The Sinking City, Bramble: The Mountain King, Dying Light), so we made sure that in our first exclusive IGN trailer, there was a scene or two in there that resonated with this crowd. Here’s one scene that worked well.

IGN is certainly a reach magnet and a taste maker. A well-timed and placed exclusive with them can work a treat.

The whole trailer shows no enemies/monsters, but at the 1:22 mark, you can see a silhouette pop up from one of the pillars. It looks like someone is watching you/hiding, but in fact, it's a giant rubber ducky floating - you will see that later on when you play the game. We wanted to leave that unrevealed so that audiences/viewers will keep guessing that that is (“They said no enemies/monsters, but wtf is that?!?!?!”). And it seemed to have worked. If you watch that video and hover over the timeline, that moment is the most replayed part of the trailer. It was nice seeing that people resonated with that.

So on that semi-scary note, enjoy the rest of the weekend and dominate that upcoming work week like crazy. And on a personal note, I have something new brewing which I cannot wait to share with you all. It’s been a while since I was that giddy about something. I’ll let you know real soon.

Until next time, take care, and may your Wishlists be plenty and of good quality.



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