Objection! Do We Still Need Game Demos?

Welcome to Objection! This is where we take the time to go on-depth on current gaming issues, and let you guys continue the discussion in the comments section. This week we’re discussing game demos - do we still need them? Are they still relevant?

Joining us today is Michael Pincott - Pixel Hunt's E-Zine Editor, and a regular contributor to Hyper. Pixel Hunt's latest E-zine, issue 13, is now available - and free! Head here to check it out.

MARK: So Michael, game demos - do they influence what you buy and don't buy? And are they still relevant in today's market?

MICHAEL: I believe that there is still a role for demos to play, but I think that role has greatly diminished. Demos are simply less prevalent than they once were. There are plenty of developers who choose to get rid of them entirely. This might be because the type of game is unsuitable – you’ll never see demos for open-world titles like Fallout or Grand Theft Auto, for example. Or it might be because the publisher deems them unnecessary. We didn’t see a demo for Call of Duty: Black Ops or Halo: Reach because, let’s face it, they were always going to sell in the squillions whether there was a demo or not.

There is also the simple question of resources – I’m no game developer, but I’m pretty sure that creating a demo isn't as simple as cutting and pasting a section out of the final game. A demo has its own rules and restrictions and these need to be implemented, giving the player access to weapons or abilities they wouldn’t have in that part of the final game in order to give them a broader experience. Would you prefer that a developer invest time and energy into a demo or into polishing the actual game?

To answer the first part of your question Mark, I would have to say no, at least in the case of retail titles. I don’t often play demos anymore, even if it’s a game I’m looking forward to. I bought Dead Space 2 the day it came out and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I didn’t touch the demo.

One reason is that demos seem to be released so close to the full game’s release that it isn’t really worthwhile. But mainly, I find the idea of playing a detached segment of a game, removed from its context, to be a rather unappealing way to experience the game first-hand. Perhaps I’m being silly but I like a certain purity to my video game experiences. I want my first time to be special.

MARK: You used the example of Dead Space 2 - here is a game that is somehow managing to outsell its predecessor two to one. When I first read those figures it struck me that a huge number of gamers were happily purchasing a sequel when they hadn’t even touched the original. That usually never happens – sequels are generally bought by those that played the first game.

I asked the Marketing Director of one of the major Australian Games Retailers why he thought the sequel was completely outselling the original - he told me he attributed Dead Space 2’s success at retail squarely to the fact the sequel had a successful demo.

You didn’t play the demo – and neither did I. Like you, I didn’t want my experience spoiled, but the fact is that a solid, entertaining demo can make or break a new IP or, in this case, a sequel that struggled to meet expectations. Another example is Bioshock – that game was a difficult sell for mainstream audiences and I’m convinced that much of that game’s commercial success was the direct result of an incredible demo.

MICHAEL: You make a fair point, Mark. I, like yourself and many others, played the BioShock demo and was blown away. As I said, I do think demos still have a role to play, and acclimatising an audience to a new IP is certainly a part of that role – the Bulletstorm demo being a recent example.

But since you mentioned BioShock, what do we make of the fact that there was no demo for BioShock 2? I guess you could place it in the same category as Halo Reach and Black Ops mentioned earlier - the first game was so well received and became so well known that BioShock 2 didn’t need a demo to convince gamers that it would be worth playing – most people had a sufficient idea of what to expect from playing the first BioShock. It almost emerges as a sign of the publisher’s confidence in a property, or lack thereof.

I do think there are still a lot of positives for demos. I would never suggest, for example, that XBLA should do away with demos for Arcade titles. Going back to the idea of the demo for the purposes of pushing a new IP, I think it’s crucial that the likes of Limbo and Super Meat Boy have that opportunity to spruik their wares to the player. I think the fact that providing a demo is compulsory for every game has been helpful to the success of XBLA.

Perhaps the decline of the demo is reflective of the success of the industry – it’s no longer as frequent a fixture in the cycle of announcement, hype and release because it doesn’t need to be. I feel as though there’s a level of understanding between consumers and publishers as to what we expect from their titles. They generally have an understanding of what we know we like, what we dislike and what we’re not sure about. They tailor their marketing strategy, and whether or not a demo is a part of their strategy, to that understanding.

MARK: Agreed. Ultimately the demo is simply a marketing tool like any other marketing tool, and it suits some games more than others. It makes sense for Helen Mirren to spruik Wii Fit+, but I can’t imagine Microsoft would have her wielding a chainsaw lancer in a Gears of War 3 ad campaign.

In that respect I would say that developers just have a more refined idea of what concepts work best with demos and which don’t.

hjMICHAEL: I think that the sight of Helen Mirren chainsawing her way through the Locust horde would definitely shift units, but you’re right, I’m not sure Microsoft would agree. Cliff Bleszinski on the other hand...

You’re certainly on the money about developers knowing best about whether or not a demo is suitable for their game. I only just now read a quote from Hidetaka Miyazaki, the director of Dark Souls, saying that the game would not have a demo because it would be impossible to convey the game’s appeal in the short window of gameplay a demo offers.

What stood out to me recently as an innovative way to present a demo was what Capcom did with Dead Rising 2 and Case Zero. For those unaware, Case Zero was essentially a DLC prologue to Dead Rising 2. It did everything a good demo should do – it was a reasonable length and gave the player a strong feel for the gameplay and style of the game. But it was also its own discrete game, with a location and a story you wouldn’t get with Dead Rising 2 itself. Instead, it gave you a head start. You could start levelling up and give your Gamerscore a small boost along the way.

No, it wasn’t free, but it was pretty cheap, and it turned out to be the fastest selling game on XBLA. I’d really like to see this format used more often. I’d much rather shell out a few bucks for a ‘demo’ with substance and incentive like Case Zero than play a short sequence pulled from the first third of a game for free.

Nobody else has done it yet, but I’d hope that somewhere out there publishers and developers looked at how well Case Zero worked and stroked their chins thoughtfully. I think demos will always be a part of the gaming landscape, but I’d like to see the way in which we sample games before release evolve. The games industry is constantly marching forward. I guess we’ll see if the demo gets left behind.

What's your view? Do you still use demos as part of your purchase decisions? Are they still relevant? Let us know in the comments below.


Comments

    Hell yes... and Nintendo should do more of them.

    Demos for sure.

    Games like BO, GT5, FF clearly don't need demos. Anything that has a marketing budget of a bazillion dollars probably don't need a demo.
    I got sucked into the MW2 campaigning when it was going on without demos (first COD game for me).

    On the other hand, I decided against buying Killzone 3, Just Cause, Valkryia Chronicles thanks to the demos.

    Actually, if I think about it, I've never bought a game I've demoed. The fact that I have to demo it, means I'm iffy and doubtful that it's good enough for my money in the first place.

    I swear, I started out positive about these demo things...

    I think there is one set of gamers you haven't mentioned and that's those that don't have the money to necessarily buy all the games they want. I personally don't really fit into this category but I do have friends that do.

    They don't think about the purity of their game experience being ruined by playing a demo first, because they would much rather know if the game is worth it before making the purchase. To people like this demo's are very useful.

    This would also impact on the idea of a DLC style demo that is seperate to a game. I could imagine a lot of gamers avoiding it just because they don't want to spend the money, even if it is only $5 or $10. After all there are a lot of great arcade games for that price that people simply refuse to buy.

    I've downloaded 2 demos this past week. I think they're pretty important myself :) It'd be good though if they were released a bit earlier than they are though, but I understand that it would probably be too much of a risk for publishers because if the demo didn't leave a good impression it could hurt sales.

    I like demos which are sperate from the game (as I believe one of the hitman games did).

    That way, if you actually go out and buy the game, you don't replay anything...

    As to whether there should be more, I'm not convinced. If game developers can't commit to a good demo, then perhaps making a demo is not the best option.

    For someone like me with a limited budget for games, Demos are pretty much essential for finding something good to buy. I don't usually 'risk' buying something that I'm not familiar with.

    The best example I can give is I would have never bothered to buy Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3 if not for the demo. Now it's one of my favourite games.

      This. Games cost $100 on release. You can get an entire console for the price of 4 new games. Unless you're Richy Rich, it's a lot of money to potentially waste. Demos are a fantastic way to save money, or discover games you'd never have thought of buying had you not played the demo.

      Ditto for Just Cause 2.. I would never have bought it if not for the demo showing me how awesome it wa

    /Cynical hat:

    In this day and age of sequelitis, no, I don't need demos on my home consoles. Dead Space 1 is the demo for Dead Space 2. Gears of War 2 is the demo for Gears of War 3. PES2011 is the demo for PES2012 etc etc...

    /end Cynical hat

    However, on iTunes I demand 'lite' versions, and very rarely buy $1.19-$13 games without first trying a lite version (Carcassone and Football Manager be the exceptions).

    Finally, I would add that both XBL and Steam are doing it 'right'. For all my other criticisms of the service, one simply cannot fault the availability of demos on XBL.

    Yes, it's a bizarre old world we live in right now.

    I think demos are a quite useful marketing tool - if demos aren't available, someone will just pirate it to "try it out".

    Once someone has pirated a game, it's very unlikely they'll ever purchase the game.

    Demoes are of crucial important for new IP's. For example: I desperately wanted a Bulletstorm demo for PC, but now have zero interest in the game since they chose to not release one.

    Another example, I bought Bayonetta based solely on the demo. I played the demo, put my controller down, drove to my local retailer, and preordered immediately the full version with additional swag.

    Like some people above have said, it's crucial on iPhone, too. There's so much crap on the App Store that you need a Lite version to guarantee quality rather than squander money and then be soured with the entire experience of iOS gaming.

    I understand that they're expensive and painful... I'd much rather developers forgo something like E3 blowouts which tear holes in production schedules than a playable demo released two or three months prior to release.

    Definitely.

    Hell as a kid, it was demos and shareware that got me into gaming in the first place. Then once I had the expendable income for games, I stopped playing many demos. Now after a number of years of being burnt buying games that ended up falling way below my expectations (don't even get me started on pre-ordering!), I'm all for them again, only now they are far less prolific than they once were.

    I've been an avid PC gamer since I was a kid, and I don't believe Demo's play that much of an important role in the average life of an Australian Gamer.

    For one thing, if we want to get a demo, we mostly need to download a couple of gigs of game data, which isn't exactly reasonable to the average australian gamer. For all those like me with incredibly bad internet subscriptions, paying high prices for relatively low bandwidth might agree.

    For the second, there aren't as many cool games out there as there was 10 years ago. I'm not saying that games aren't better now, they are by miles... but there was such a greater diversity of games back then, and you used demo's in the same way that someone might try a packet of assorted biscuits - to find what you like and then to buy a full pack.

    AAA Titles probably don't require demos as a rule.
    However there are many games that I have been very interested in with "decent" reviews that I have not purchased - a demo that I enjoyed definately would have swayed my buying.
    Games I had no intention of buying but on release did purchase after playing a demo include Just Cause 2, Batman AA, Enslaved, Dead Space, Mirror's Edge, SC:Conviction and Far Cry 2.
    Games I had an intention of buying on release but didn't due to a lack of a demo to sway me include Metro 2033, Dragon Age Origins, AC:Brotherhood, Fable 3, Bioshock 2, Alan Wake, F1 2010 and The Saboteur.
    Generally if there is no demo to justify my decision to purchase at release price I wait a few months until I can pick it up cheap.
    On the other hand - a demo for Halo Reach would have stopped me from buying it and trading it back a week later for NBA 2K11...

    Like the bunch on top of this comment, I agree that demos do still have an important place in the gaming industry.

    For completely new IP, a well-made demo could make one fall in love with the gameplay or story. And for kids, well, it just sets them up for a gaming frenzy when they get old enough to buy games.

    That's how it was for me. When I was really young (and didn't have the cash to buy all the titles), the demo really made me yearn for the game so that either one of two things happened: I bugged my parents to buy me the game for xmas/birthday or when I got old enough I bought the game (even if it was really old) or bought the newest spin-off/sequel.

    Actually, recently, I was unsure to buy Mass Effect 2. ME1 was great, but didn't compel me to continue. The demo tipped me over to want to re-enter the ME universe.

    Demos forever. <3

    Hells yes we need demos. I do. If I'm buying a game which I've had no prior experience with any of its prequels/predecessors, I want to know what I'm getting into. Games aren't cheap, and trading in games isn't something I do very often. The Killzone 2 demo helped my decision in buying KZ2 - and I'm glad I did. The KZ3 MP demo has changed my opinion of me getting it from a Day one purchase to probably waiting a month or two. The bulletstorm demo makes me want the game when it hits about the $20 price point in the UK, as opposed to me getting the Epic edition for the Gears 3 Beta. After I played the iloMilo demo, I purchased it pretty much instantaneously. Reviews seemed to have declined in quality and focus more and more. I'm not saying all reviews are useless, but I trust my own opinion and judge if I'll like it, not someone elses opinion. Which why demos are great.

    Love them.

    Even if they make me think good games are bad or bad games are good sometimes.

    I remember one incident quite recently where I was left thinking 'if only there'd been a demo'. It was during one of steam's infamous sales and I was eyeing up Divinity II. It had some pretty screenshots and a flashy trailer, but the price was still above my impulse buy threshold. Digging deeper into the information about the game I still found I didn't have a clear picture of how this game was played, and what it was all about. So, as intriguing as it was, I ended up giving it a miss. Had there been a demo to answer those questions I may well have bought it.

    I remember when my brother and I weekly bought PC Games Addicts magazines and with them had heaps and great demos, heaps of game during 2003-2005 I tried demos for them and eventually bought them. I played the Splinter Cell Choas Theory demo A LOT, then when I finally bought it, I was desperetly wanting to see what was after the first level.

    Games I'm iffy about are the only time I bother with demos these days. Seeing as I'm already unsure most of the time the demo will prove my doubts and I'll give it a miss.

    Sometimes though I'll be pleasantly surprised by a demo. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was a game I would have never put money down for without playing the demo.

    I think demo's are important because at the end of the day, the opinion you trust most is your own, and no amount of reviews, blogs, videos, forum posts or metascores is going to change that. There's plenty of games I regret buying, and there's at least one game I research the shit out of a month, and 90% of the time don't purchase because I can't get my teeth into it without the risk of buyer remorse.

    "You used the example of Dead Space 2 – here is a game that is somehow managing to outsell its predecessor two to one. When I first read those figures it struck me that a huge number of gamers were happily purchasing a sequel when they hadn’t even touched the original."

    Not true! The reason it's selling twice as many copies is because the game had an incredibly robust second-hand market. Dead Space 2 is outselling the first one 2:1 because for every copy of the original sold, something like three times as many have played the game. In fact I remember some of the developers talking about this a few years ago - if you want a citation, I'll track it down later - but it was the reason why they added multiplayer to DS2.

    Saints Row 1 had a demo, theres your open world title. You were restricted to what area you could roam around in, certainly gave you a good taste of what the game had to offer.

    I personally never play demos. At the moment, I'm only getting to games from 2 years ago, so I already know if a game is good. I remember playing a demo for Burnout 4 and thought it was good. Got the retail game and absolutely hated it. It was like they threw the best parts into a demo and purposefully hid the interface to these "good bits". In that sense, great marketing - suck people into buying the game that wouldn't necessarily have got it.

    On the other hand - I love picking up a trial XBLA game, if I like it, its 20 seconds and the full game is mine. More games should be like this.

    Fable II started "episodic" games on 360, and it died right there. I certainly think there is a market for these also. Take Mass Effect 1 as an example. Give people a taste of Eden Prime and the Citadel to whet their appetite for free. Once you have your ship, this is where the cost comes into it. One charge for each of the 3 main story worlds, purchasing all 3 gives you the finale free. Another charge to explore all the sidequest planets. 4 paid parts + 1 free, nicely broken up into specific areas.

    There are so many games that would work well for this style of play.

    Absolutly they're improtant.

    I was going to buy Crysis2 until I played the demo, and I was going to rent Bulletstorm.
    Now, the order has been reversed.

      "You took the words right out of my mouth, it must have been while you were..."

      AHEM. Yeah, poor song choice...:P

      TOTALLY AGREE. Crysis 2 had potential, but it's far too derivative of CoD and nowhere near as slick (well, the demo was like that anyway). Put me off the game.

      Bulletstorm piqued my interest a while back, but after playing the demo I'm a total fan of "Kill with Skill," must have played it about 9-10 times through now and I still find new awesome combos!!

      So, personally, I always try and get the demo if I like the concept/idea of a particular game, if only to see if it's fun and executed well. Keep making them, devs!

    Demos definitely do have a place, probably more so than before now that we can download them to consoles.

    I used to get loads of demos with the magazines for the Saturn and Dreamcast, leading me to get games and discover new franchises (Virtual On for instance). Got a few for the Xbox. But now, with me being able to download them for the 360 it's especially good. I came across Amped 3 in a sale. Downloaded the demo and really enjoyed it. Bought it the next day.

    Just Cause 2. Best demo I ever played, and I'd never have bought the game without it. And it's open world too!

    Hell yes we do. One of the best things about the Xbox 360 is that most games (sadly not all) have demos available from the time the game launches. Smart games have the demo available before launch day. Unless it's a sequel I simply "must have" then I won't buy a game I haven't played a demo of.

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