Resident Evil’s Time-Limited Demos Are The Dumbest Shit Ever

Resident Evil’s Time-Limited Demos Are The Dumbest Shit Ever
Image: Capcom

It absolutely rules that a contingent of Resident Evil fans woke up today bummed that they missed the chance to try the latest game in the series because they have lives and families. I love that I just had to type that sentence. This is definitely not the dumbest, most pointlessly confusing shit in the world.

For the blessed many who haven’t been following along, Resident Evil Village — aka Resident Evil 8 — is getting a series of demos. “Neat!” you might say, given that the modern era of big-budget video games is characterised by a dearth of no-strings-attached try-before-you-buy options. And believe me, I understand. As a child of the demo disc era, I miss being able to size up a game without downsizing the contents of my wallet. But this is not a return to those more straightforward times. It is instead as though the collective energies of people like you and me, hypothetical demo likers, went out into the universe, and then a finger curled on a monkey’s paw the size of a planet.

Resident Evil Village has a series of different demos, the first of which has already come and gone, that contain different sections of the game, with a final demo that thankfully mashes them together. Right now I’m looking at a schedule. It is not for a game’s release day rollout, or even a series of “beta” tests that are just glorified preorder bonuses. It is for demos. My brain is cracking open trying to make heads or tails of this, but the short version is that there are three different demos, two of which last 30 minutes and one of which lasts 60 minutes, that will be available on different dates over the next few weeks, but only for eight hours at a time — except for the last one, which will not mysteriously vanish and completely negate its own usefulness until the day the game comes out. Oh, and the first two demos are PlayStation-exclusive, because console wars have become so tired, pointless, and financially unviable for third-party publishers that we’re doing exclusive demos now.

I hate this. It’s clearly a ploy to drum up hype through artificial scarcity — to pressure fans into making time for the grand event that is playing a piecemeal portion of a game they could have just played any time in previous decades of demos. This reeks of meticulously calculated PR spin. The goal of any modern marketing campaign is to keep your product relentlessly buzzing in people’s minds; if they forget, even for a single, solitary second, you’ve failed.

But the problem is, when you’re min/maxing people’s attention spans, you’re not designing something for the purpose of human convenience anymore — or even really for human beings at all. You are instead trying to game a system, and the optimal way to do it is by preying on people’s worst impulses. So you make them feel like they’re missing out, like everyone else in their community is having a great time without them, like they’re woefully ill-equipped to participate in discussions and memes. You dangle a slab of red meat in front of them, and then if they pick friends or family or chores or work over your thing, you yank it away. You make them feel like shit.

Sure, it’s just a game demo. And yes, this is a model that has, to an extent, been pioneered by time-limited “exclusive” preorder bonus betas and other, similar marketing tools. Don’t get me wrong: Those things also suck! But I find Resident Evil’s demo situation especially irritating because, by introducing artificial limits that border on laughable (eight hours!), it lays bare just how nefarious the psychology underlying these things can be.

On top of that, Capcom has made it more convoluted than almost anything that’s come before, and it could have been so simple. Materially speaking, there is nothing stopping the company from simply releasing the final, 60-minute demo first and then never deleting it. Nothing beyond ill-advised exclusivity deals and the increasingly outdated notion that the most crucial period for any game is its launch window, anyway. I know it’s a wild idea, but a huge company like Capcom could just…let people try its game without being pressured into it. Then those people could decide for themselves whether or not they want to buy it. It could give people this option forever — before and after launch. Heck, at the barest minimum, it could adopt a system more similar to the one Steam uses for its seasonal Game Festival events, which are confusing and overwhelming in a different way, but at least individual demos are available for long enough that most people can reasonably find time to play a couple.

The hyper-capitalist mentality that it’s bad, actually, when people can make informed decisions about how to spend their money is how we arrive at this funhouse mirror version of a demo, where even a tool designed for the express purpose of helping people make informed decisions can be warped into something manipulative and inaccessible. In my case, at least, it’s all had the opposite of its intended impact; I was already interested in Resident Evil Village. It’s inspired by Resident Evil 4, my favourite game in the series! It has a tall lady who, contrary to bad-faith Twitter belief, this website is not militantly opposed to! But this whole demo fiasco leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It makes me less interested in Resident Evil Village, not more.

I just hope that other publishers are not taking notes. But if they are, I hope their notepads contain just a single word, written in unmissable 100-point font: “Don’t.”

Comments

  • In a weird way I think they learned this from PT. The only way to experience PT right now is word of mouth and it’s damn effective. It’s not gated by the press it’s purely in the hands of people who love it enough to talk about it. Thanks to that people who never even saw the demo will tell you it’s the greatest horror game of all time. In PT’s case there’s no point to that mythical status but you can see why Capcom would think being able to gain a small part of that status would be helpful.

    In this case we’ve got a Resident Evil demo that’s so hard to play that only dedicated fans are going to jump through those hoops. If they enjoyed it they’re going to tell you to buy Resident Evil VIII and if they didn’t they’re going to be too distracted rehashing the points made in this article to talk about what they didn’t like about the game itself. The stuff that would actually talk someone out of buying it gets buried.

    It’s an awful way of doing things and I think next time they’ll go too far and it’ll blow up in their faces, but for now it’s hard to imagine Capcom are unhappy with the results they’re getting.

    • We should also probably talk about how this is sort of what modern gamers have been begging for. They want experiences. They want memories. They want uniqueness. They get bored of things going smoothly and think back to great times like lines for Warcraft servers. Pokemon Go being a mess is the best part. Flappy Bird is a crap game but more importantly you can point at your phone and say ‘yep, I was there, I’ve got that’.
      Being able to talk about what people did with their time rather than having everyone on the same page. Looking at YouTube videos of all the stuff you missed. Finding an Easter egg you can tell someone about. It’s still a terrible way to go about it and I hope Capcom never do it again, but at the same time it’s hard to deny that on a meta level it ticks a ton of boxes.

      I guarantee that there are people who are younger than us who will consider this a high point in gaming. They’ll talk about it 5-10 years from now like it was a god tier demo. They’ll lament that it’s so boring now, when you can use whatever Game Pass style system they have to try a game out, it’s not like when they were kids and companies put effort into crazy ideas. You couldn’t play RE8 until late at night so it was super scary! Everyone was talking about it the next day. You had to be there.
      The same way we get nostalgic about having to buy a shitty, overpriced magazine to get 2 minutes of gameplay. I had to buy magazines to get ads, and if they were really good magazines I’d get a playable ad. That’s an objectively awful system and we love it because we were dumb kids with nothing better to do. Same thing will probably happen here.

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