• To Demo or Not to Demo, That is the Question

    "Do we release a demo of our latest offering, or not?"

    That is increasingly the question faced by many developers and publishers.

    My aruba vacation-demoarticlesliderimage-png
    As a gamer, I always err on the side of "Release a demo." Because very few things piss me off more than realizing I've either wasted money on a crap product, or been tricked into wasting my money on a crap product. My money is important to me. It does not come easily. It is procured solely through time and effort. Therefore I do not want to waste my money, as that is then a waste of my time and effort. It seems that now developers and publishers, those in the industry we love and care about, are being a bit more forthcoming about their own thoughts on "to demo or not to demo."

    In a presentation at DICE 2013, Jesse Schell, the CEO of Schell Games and a Game Designer at Carnegie Mellon University, delivered a speech where this topic found center stage. I found the speech enjoyable, his delivery interesting enough to maintain my attention, and the topic (Games) was, of course, easy to be motivated about. While the speech focused on changing and emerging trends in the gaming world, human consumption patterns, and the shifting focus of the 21st Century's economy, there was a portion of the speech I took issue with. So, too, did a contributor at PCGamesN.com, which is where I saw the article and viewed a video of the keynote speech.

    Jesse Schell: Releasing a demo harms your game sales | PCGamesN

    Schell spends some time talking about various things such as the "Hype Curve" seen here:

    My aruba vacation-hype-png
    He highlights this curve mechanic through a pointed remark at Zynga, or more specifically, their stock valuations. Hype = huge value. Trough of Disillusionment = tanking value. Followed, hopefully, by some measured gain based on familiarity, understanding and confidence.

    My aruba vacation-zynga-png
    In the segment of the video that this article addresses (about 10 minutes in), Schell talks about what it takes to garner good sales and why demos, counter-intuitively perhaps, hurt sales.

    To illustrate his point, which by the way I don't doubt the accuracy of his figures, he provides the following slide:

    My aruba vacation-eedar-png
    It's obvious, from looking at the slide, that only releasing hype-curve-inducing trailers is a surefire way to increase sales for the short-term betterment of the publisher/developer. And if you happen to be a bean-counter or a "marketing-puke" at one of the aforementioned publisher/developer houses, then this slide is like throwing red meat to the lions. It is exactly what you'd want to see. It is, in fact, proof positive that your practices have a positive impact on quarterly balance sheets.

    Kudos.

    However one must ask: What is missing from this talk? What key element is notably absent from the above concept espoused by Mr. Schell (and I presume hundreds of others in the industry)? Where are the opinions and needs of the persons ultimately funding this venture, and all others, in the first place?

    Why, as a consumer, are demos and the ability to "try before you buy" such an important factor? A keystone if you will. It is for the simple fact that not all games, systems, applications, interfaces, developers or publishers are equal. Meaning, to wit, that while some games are, without question, amazing and crowd pleasers and the "bestest thing since sliced bread" others (and I would argue that the majority fall into varying shades of this category) are decidedly less so.

    Issues ranging all the way from from a simple "Eh, I didn't care for it," to the atrocious "This game fails to even launch properly."

    The fact that many games are now released in unfinished states is even more reason, for a consumer, to want some verifiable (as tangible as a digital product can offer) proof of quality and general salable state. When we, as consumers, enter into any other type of commerce (clothes, movies, food) satisfaction with the product controls all. In terms of clothing, we have the ability to "try before we buy." Sounds an awful lot like a demo to me. If we don't like it, we don't buy it. And even if we do buy it, if we're unsatisfied with it or change our minds post-purchase we still have the ability (in many places) to return that item for a complete refund. When it comes to film, if a movie is terrible, we have the ability to get up, leave, and ask for a refund of the ticket price. Food is slightly different, in that many places do not offer samples, but again if we're dissatisfied with the meal we can request the price be removed from the tab, even if we've already begun eating it. This same type of "customer care or satisfaction" mechanism is in place throughout most forms of public commerce. Why then is software design, and specifically game design, held in a totally separate class?

    For a developer or publisher to "cry foul" when customers realize their product is utter tripe before shelling out hard earned cash would be laughable if it weren't so seriously screwed up. Yet this is precisely the case, and they have learned this well and so do not provide demos in many instances. Shame on them.

    I'll tell you what 'game designers and publishers of the world,' make your compelling products original and fun (and above all COMPLETE) and we'll pay you. Consider it meeting us halfway.


    Graph images courtesy of The Secret Mechanisms - DICE 2013
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. SovietDooM's Avatar
      SovietDooM -
      And to you sir, I present A:CM. Where the Demo pwnt the Game.
      Check and king me.



      The fact that many games are now released in unfinished states is even more reason, for a consumer, to want some verifiable (as tangible as a digital product can offer) proof of quality and general salable state.
      Science, how sad is it that this is a FACT.... we gamers are like cult members, letting DEVs get away with this.
    1. Cojiro's Avatar
      Cojiro -
      A;CM was some sort of magical oddity.
    1. Tenrou's Avatar
      Tenrou -
      The demo in alien colonial marines was never playable. Thus it does not fall into the demo realm. It for all intensive purposes was a trailer for the game. They were told to make it look cool so that's what they did. So even though was in game footage no one actually got to play it.
    1. Alundil's Avatar
      Alundil -
      Intents and purposes



      Sent via highly charged bolt of electricity.
    1. jakt's Avatar
      jakt -
      I believe the recent MoH demo ruined sales for the game. It's the reason why I didn't buy it.

      Oh...you can return console games (within a certain time limit), if you hate it.
    1. Alundil's Avatar
      Alundil -
      Quote Originally Posted by jakt View Post
      I believe the recent MoH demo ruined sales for the game. It's the reason why I didn't buy it.

      Oh...you can return console games (within a certain time limit), if you hate it.
      So the demo saved you money and headache and buyer's remorse. Working to your advantage it would seem.

      Devs releasing crap games shouldn't be able to shaft people out of money (see ACM and the newest Sims game as examples).

      The no demo trend + over hyped trailer is their concerted and intentional attempt to trick people into buying shit.

      Sent via highly charged bolt of electricity.