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Do Game Demos Have an Adverse Effect On Sales? 178

Posted by Soulskill
from the why-buy-the-cow dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Unigamesity has an analysis of the effects game demos and beta tests have on the full release of video games. Quoting: 'If we think about LittleBigPlanet, Age of Conan or Mirror's Edge, we notice they have two things in common: very successful and well received demo versions (or beta stages) and very poor, lower than anticipated game sales. And since these are not the only titles in which a demo (or the lack of it) appears to be connected with their commercial success, I believe we should analyze the influence demos have in the game world and debate: are game demos game killers?'"
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Do Game Demos Have an Adverse Effect On Sales?

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  • by binarylarry (1338699) on Friday January 16, 2009 @11:21PM (#26493441)

    Maybe its more like... if your big draw relies on a gimmick that may wear thin during the demo, you may want to rethink your release strategy.

  • Well... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by narcberry (1328009) on Friday January 16, 2009 @11:23PM (#26493453) Journal

    I have never purchased a game after playing the demo.

    But I'm an impulse buyer, typically I play a demo after I own the game, so figure out where I fit in your slashmarket research.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday January 16, 2009 @11:52PM (#26493675)

    Actually, it's not anywhere close to this in games. And that's exactly why demos are (for most games) not really good for sales.

    Let's be honest here. Most games today are prone to repetition. You do, essentially, the same thing over and over and over. Take the average FPS game. What's the difference between the first and the last level, usually? Different/more weapons and harder enemies. Where "harder" usually means "more" or "takes more shots or harder hitting guns to kill them". Add different map design and maybe different texture, and you're done with the differences.

    If that game should have some distinct feature (like, say, a portal gun), you WILL see this feature in the demo. Simply because you have to show it (and there your comparison to the "good parts" of the movie is right). So you have seen that distinct feature that sets it apart from the rest of the crowd in the demo. Why bother with the full version?

    OTOH, if you do not show that distinct feature, the player will just say "meh, another vanilla shooter game" and toss it immediately.

    A good demo should show you something neat, should show you why you want to play this game, but should also make you want to see more of it. Maybe hint that there is more to be seen if you get the full version.

    Instead, you usually get to see the first few levels of the game, you are allowed to play the tutorial or the first map. That's like showing the opener of the movie. Be honest. How many movies would you have wanted to see after seeing, say, the first 5 minutes?

  • Conan (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kamokazi (1080091) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @12:00AM (#26493725)

    Age of Conan is a bad example. It sold 800k copies, which is pretty good for many PC games. The number of subscribers retained is miniscule though.

    What they did was made the first 20 levels of the game awesome. The remainder....to be very kind....not so awesome.

    Basically, if your game is good, demo it with a hardcore cliffhanger ending. If your game is bad, don't demo it at all and show pretty screenshots and generate false hype.

  • by Werthless5 (1116649) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @12:57AM (#26494127)

    "LittleBigPlanet, Age of Conan or Mirror's Edge, we notice they have two things in common: very successful and well received demo versions (or beta stages) and very poor, lower than anticipated game sales."

    LittleBigPlanet = great demo! Similarly, great first hour or two of game! The rest of the game is boring and monotonous. In other words, the demo is actually more fun than the real game.

    Age of Conan = WOW clone but not as good, people always praise WOW clones but prefer to play the original

    Mirror's Edge = Great concept, except the rest of the game is the same thing over and over. Again, this means the demo is great, but the rest of the game is basically the demo over and over again.

    What do all three of these games have in common? THEY SUCK!

    Warhammer 40k had a well-received demo and it sold very well, enough to warrant 3 expansions and a soon to be released sequel that some claim will be Starcraft 2's main competition.

    Speaking of Starcraft, it's one of the best selling games of all time and it had a well-received demo.

    WOW has a demo and it has the highest subscription rate out of any MMO in the country.

    Sorry, idea was initially interesting but fails on a many levels.

  • LBP - what failure? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tbird20d (600059) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @12:57AM (#26494131)

    very poor, lower than anticipated game sales

    LittleBigPlanet is closing in on 2 million sales after 10 weeks. See vgchartz. [vgchartz.com]

    It started off a little slow, but picked up steam through the holidays. This game doesn't support the hypothesis.

  • Re:first? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by p0tat03 (985078) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:02AM (#26494169)

    Neither of those demos fit the bill: both Mirror's Edge and LittleBigPlanet did not give out so much content in the demos as to make the full game irrelevant.

    Rather, we should look at Mirror's Edge specifically (it's the only one of the 3 named that I have played):

    - Demo had incredible smooth-flowing motion, and awesome sense of immersion, is easy to pick up (but had hidden depth), and combat that added some spice without becoming overbearing.
    - Full version had the same smooth-flowing motion and immersion, but now has levels where puzzles are difficult and sometimes downright obtuse. Combat becomes a huge part of the game, and honestly is simply not that well done. Level design broke up the "flow" of levels, which is what players were wanting to begin with. Add poor technical features such as clipping issues and you've got yourself a frustrating game to play.

    Don't blame the demo. ME was a fine game, but the other 90% of the game that *wasn't* the demo was a sore disappointment compared to the polish demonstrated by the first level (i.e. the demo).

  • Re:LittleBigPlanet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by M1rth (790840) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:13AM (#26494263)

    The question was: "Do Game Demos Have An Adverse Effect On Sales?"

    The answer is: "Only if the game in question sucks, is mediocre, or is a one-joke wonder."

    A better question would be: "If they don't think their gameplay holds up, why won't they release a demo?"

    Compare Doom, for example. Doom, on the face of it, rocked for its time. Giving away an entire 1/3 of the game, far from "having an adverse effect on sales", helped make it a sales king. Even when id software released Doom2, they had a demo out, and the demo still kicked ass and drove sales.

    Now think of a lot of games with a demo that "hurt" sales. What games are these? They're mediocre titles. They're titles that just plain aren't worth $50-60 to buy in.

    They're the titles that the companies have to trick you into buying. A flashy set of screenshots on the box (that may or may not be representative of the game at all, or may be images of the pre-rendered cutscenes masquerading as "gameplay footage"), a paid-for (or threatened-for) review in a few magazines to garner an award or catchy phrase on the box (how many "best XXX of XXX - XXX magazine" blurbs do we see every year?), "managed review scores" that embargo any site giving below X% so as to trick the early-comers into thinking the game is hot (watch how many games drop from 90% to below 70% aggregate within a month or two of release, when the REAL gamers have their say) and so on.

    Kick out a demo of a stinker, and the demo will still be a stinker. Kick out a demo of a mediocre title, and you'll probably turn off those who don't have money (or time) to burn on mediocre titles. Kick out a demo of something that kicks ass, and you'll draw sales.

    Examples: I bought Doom on the strength of the "demo." I bought Descent on the strength of the demo. I bought Portal for the 360 on the strength of the demo. I bought the first episode of the Penny Arcade games on the strength of the demo (ok, so I bought episode 2 on the strength of episode 1).

    I dropped Rocky & Bullwinkle, N+, and Marathon:Durandal after deciding the demo proved they weren't for me. I might have bought Guitar Hero: World Tour but it's almost exactly the same as Rock Band, and I already burned two months' gaming budget buying Rock Band songs. I don't need to burn another two months' budget on the same exact songs (even if I just use the RB controllers) for GH:WT just to play an almost identical game.

    Video games may be "fairly inexpensive as far as luxuries go", but I still budget myself. $120 a month = 2 games, now. I think that's pretty extravagant. Plus working full-time and spending time out with friends (you know, enjoying natural light, social contact, girls, the real world and all), I don't have the time to buy 6 games/month and play them all anyways. I have to pick and choose. If there are demos, it helps me pick out the good ones. If a game doesn't have a demo, then my rent-before-buy policy will serve the same purpose.

    Lesson to the game purveyors: you're competing for $120 of my budget and 40 hours of my time each month. If you can't bring a demo to the table, then you've got one strike against you, because I know you don't think your gameplay will grip me enough to buy the game.

  • Goes both ways (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JimboFBX (1097277) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:34AM (#26494401)
    Kinda a silly article since it probably goes both ways.

    Games I bought because of the demo:
    Klick and Play
    Dark Reign 2
    World of Goo
    Braid
    Battlefield 2
    Defcon
    Shadowgrounds
    The Ship (free weekend)
    Red Orchestra (free weekend)
    Day of Defeat: Source (free weekend)
    Sam and Max: Episode 1 (and later both seasons)

    Games I didn't buy because of the demo:
    Left 4 Dead (fast zombies didn't appeal to me)
    Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People
    a few I can't remember

    Games I bought because of beta:
    Red Alert 3

    Overall, for me at least, the ones I've bought are ones where I didn't have trust that it was good quality beforehand or was unsure I would enjoy it. The ones that turned me away are the ones I was hyped up to think it was good beforehand either by good reviews or marketing. I probably would have bought them had it not for the demo.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17, 2009 @01:55AM (#26494537)

    If a game doesn't have demo, I don't buy it. I have been burned WAY TOO MANY times. I can't stand spending $50+ for a game that I end up not playing at all. There have also been many times where I play the demo, and find that the game is crap so I don't buy it.

  • by philspear (1142299) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @03:08AM (#26494849)

    Dear videogame industry,

    Why do you spend so much time and effort coming up with excuses and reasons why you failed on X game but not Y game? Make good games, offer them at a reasonable price, and don't mess up our computers/consoles to run it, and we will give you MONEY for it. Seriously. The other factors like "do demos hurt or help" are trivial at best, you still haven't learned the most important lesson that quality products = sales.

    There are plenty of examples of this, it boggles the mind that you consistently look for alternative explanations. "Generic minigame collection 5 didn't sell too well. Maybe it was because people don't like games that have 5s or a multiple of 5 in the title!" No, it was because generic minigames 5 was crap and no one wanted to own it (as opposed to generic minigame collection 4.) THAT'S why you don't have as much money as you wanted.

    If you find yourself not having as much money after making a game as you expected, don't immediately jump to blaming things like weather patterns in florida, first determine if it was a good game. Then ask yourself if your expectations were at all reasonable. AFTER that you can ask yourself what went wrong.

  • by quadrox (1174915) on Saturday January 17, 2009 @04:05AM (#26495095)
    Oh my fucking god - it's people in the game industry thinking like you that get us these generic fucking bullshit games.

    Several games have already proven that it can indeed be different. The best example I can think of right now is the old half-life, though there are others as well. I enjoyed half-life as much as I did, because it was so varied. There was a lot of variance in the enemies to fight, and the marines were really great to fight against. Sometimes you were mostly "exploring" this awesome and big scientific complex, with all sorts of odd machinery and stuff. And sometimes you had to solve neat puzzles that were not too contrived but still got you thinking (a bit). The weapons also were very varied and generally extremely "satisfying" to use.

    Yes, there is the better weapon/harder enemies progression as well, but that is absolutely fucking not the only thing you can do to make a game fun. I enjoyed every single minute of the original half-life because it got me so immersed as there was always something new and fresh to it. The developers really did everything they could to keep the players interest focused.

    It's possible, the developers just need to be aware of the fact that there ARE ways to keep the players interest, instead of stringing one section of bland hallway after another (I'm looking at you, F.E.A.R.)

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?

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