It’s a strange experience to watch a trailer and read about a game, only for all of its promotional material to warn you away from playing it. In a meta way though, several successful works, even outside of games, have tapped into this sort of reverse psychology in their advertising and framing. I still remember the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events books quite fondly for that. But Do Not Buy This Game from developer Kingblade Games feels like one of the more sincere versions of this trope, particularly in its execution. Between protests against learning more about this title, Do Not Buy This Game is described as a “comedy walk-sim where the game is being built while you play,” and has even been compared to titles such as The Stanley Parable, one of the first games that I actually purchased and played on Steam. So if it’s anything like that masterpiece, how could I say no to giving Do Not Buy This Game’s demo a shot during Steam Next Fest?
Do Not Buy This Game’s demo plays very simply, as is usual for walk-sims. You take on a first-person view and can do little more than look and walk around. But to be honest, it took me a while to realise that the demo had actually started, as all I could see was a dark screen with ambient noises playing in the background. I waited for the game to load, starting to swing my mouse around in boredom. Then, a ray of red light swooped past me and I found I was already in the demo, controlling the camera. Smirking at the cheeky opening, I began to pace around, only to hear the narrator asking if I was walking around. Acting as Do Not Buy’s stressed-out creator, the narrator told me a couple of times to just walk away from the game as I made my way down a red hallway surrounded by an inky darkness. I was worried that this was all the demo would be, just walking around an empty space, hearing someone all but beg me to stop playing, as though I were intruding on some embarrassing, unfinished product.
But then I turned the corner and saw the game’s title written out in bold lettering across an array of police tape on the walls of another hallway. This time, there was a red button ahead and the creator-narrator made it quite clear that I was not to touch it. The first time I stopped, he heaved a sigh of relief and thanked me, but I hadn’t been expecting the sudden shift and was only pausing for a moment, so he was soon right back to telling me this was none of my business. We struggled for a bit, him turning the space into something of an impromptu infinite hallway through the use of a limited number of teleports and me continuing to press on. But even as I made it in the room, the demo still had more for me, keeping the button at bay by shrinking me down so low I could now see a set of emergency stairs ascending up the button’s pedestal. I mean, it’s a strange place to put emergency stairs, but I suppose we should all try to be prepared for as many emergencies as we can, right?
As I ascended up the pedestal step-by-step, I thoroughly enjoyed the exceedingly stressed character of the narrator, with a fantastic performance from voice actor Mike Regan. Throughout the rest of the demo, he would run the gamut of frustrated gripes like someone actually at the end of their rope, offering obviously fake blusters and bluffs, eventually shifting into a more tender and hopeful character as he gets to know the player.
Soon, I entered three different rooms, with one on each floor of the pedestal as I rose higher and higher. Ostensibly, each room would contain a button to push in the hopes that the creator could satisfy my button-pushing lust without going for the big, bad button at the end of my quest. In the first room, I got lost in the dark, feeling not unlike I had at the start of the demo. After frustratedly moving around aimlessly for a while, I came upon the first room’s button. This one promised one dollar into my bank account for every time I pressed it. Not terribly interested at the prospect, I gave it a spin, pressing the button once, resulting in a satisfying ‘ding’ ringing out. The creator encouraged me to keep going, with no further response after I held off for a little longer. Assuming that I did actually have to press the button to keep going, I gave it a few more good clicks until it was revealed to both me and the creator that the money I was receiving came directly from his account, which held less than 400 dollars. Feeling somewhat bad, I only continued to press the button enough times for the door continuing upwards to open, at which point, I could almost feel the creator’s relief at not losing any more money.
The second button room held a simple game, where each button press would fire a bullet from one white square at the bottom of a screen towards the top of said screen. Moving back and forth at the top of that screen were several other white squares, with the goal being to shoot and destroy them. After breezing through the first two provided levels, the third proved impossible, as several of the squares never came into firing range. After insulting me for a bit for being bad at his little game, the creator opened the next door forward, saying that quitting was a victory in its own way too. I wondered if staying would allow me to see the remaining squares slowly reach the middle of the screen, but thought better of it and moved on.
The last of the three button rooms promised to reveal many of the world’s deepest and darkest secrets. But instead of that, the button displayed the creator’s insecurities in regards to feelings of self-worth and worries about people not liking the things he creates. Lashing out at the potential of my laughing at him, the creator tried to reveal one of my secrets, prompting me to share one of six depressing statements. I don’t know if they would all move the demo forward in the same way, but I answered honestly. Either way, that sobered the creator up and we began to come to terms with each other and start over. I was ready to hit the big button, though I still didn’t know what it would do or if I even wanted to try it. The game’s somber, gentle music from musician Aviv Yeyni calmed my nerves and helped me move forward from that honest place. The creator was letting me push the button now and I assumed that would be an important step in helping him move forward.
As I went up the last flight of stairs, I noticed that they were falling down to the ground as I passed them by. I waited for a moment, wondering if the area I was standing on would fall next, but it seemed like only forward movement would cause any collapses. Eventually, the now-large red button was in front of me. I was told this was the last time I could decide not to press the button. But hey, it’s not like I came all this way for nothing. I pushed the button...and was immediately bombarded with sirens and a voice shouting at me to wishlist the game on Steam in the hopes of buying it soon. Not long after, the creator promised that he would be getting to work on the game as everything faded into another in-your-face Call to Action asking me to wishlist Do Not Buy This Game and directing me to the title’s social media pages.
So did I wishlist it? Yes, of course. The demo was fun, engaging, and a lot shorter than it felt, clocking in at under 20 minutes, showing that I’d had such an engaging experience in quite a short time without even realising it. At this point, I’m invested and I cannot wait to see what comes next.