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.”