Game demos were great, right? We got to try games out (at least a part of them) for free before they released and got a good idea of what the game would be like before we decided to take the plunge and buy the full game. So what’s the deal? Where did all the demos go? We know a lot of people are particularly excited about the demos on the Digit DVDs too. We know we used to be. What happened? We happened.
We’re to blame
We don’t mean we as in we at Digit. We mean us, the consumer. We’re the reason that we no longer see game demos. The same way that we’re the reason a cardinal sin like pre-ordering still exists. We’ve disincentivised game demos for developers to the point where it doesn’t make any sense for them to make them anymore.
First things first, what exactly is a game demo?
Now when we say game demo, we’re talking about the good old game demo which just gave us a taste of an already complete game. The kind where you could just play a level or two, or were limited to half an hour of the games’ content. Early Access or games in Beta or Alpha don’t count here as they’re still in development. Demos weren’t expected to be bug-ridden or incomplete.
Now back to why they’re not around anymore. Let us try to give you a better idea of what we’re talking about. Now from a developer’s perspective, there’s only so many possible outcomes you can get from releasing a game demo before the full game. We’re going to go through these outcomes.
Terrible game, terrible demo:
The results, in this case, are self-explanatory. It’s pretty obvious that sales for this game are going to tank.
Terrible game, OK demo:
Now here the demo has intrigued people, but not enough to consider buying the game. They will now wait for post-release word of mouth. But the game is terrible and so again, sales tank.
Terrible game, amazing demo:
Now, this is next to impossible and almost never happens. It’s pretty hard to convince people that utter rubbish is good. But if someone manages to pull it off, they will have increased sales for their game.
OK game, terrible demo:
This one is again, quite self-explanatory. You’ve killed sales for your game which might have done decently (at least for a while) if you hadn’t released a rubbish demo for it.
OK game, OK demo:
Here, since both the demo and the game as so-so, the demo isn’t convincing anyone to purchase the game.
OK game, amazing demo:
You’ve got sales! But, (yes there’s a but) people are going to realise that your demo oversold the game and they’re going to be mad about it.
Amazing game, terrible demo:
It happens. It’s unfortunate. But yeah that pretty much killed sales for what could have been a possible “greatest of all time” game.
Amazing game, OK demo:
This situation is interesting. Those who get the game will realise it’s great but the demo isn’t helping sales for the game. Those who want to buy only the best and greatest games will shy away after playing an average demo.
Amazing game, amazing demo:
Funnily enough, games in this category almost always come from developers and publishers of repute who will give you quality content regardless. These games are usually AAA titles that are already popular through word of mouth, hype etc. Demos in these cases have shown to have a minimal impact on the actual sales of the game.
Of the nine outcomes we’ve discussed, only three show demos netting developers any profits. Ask yourself how many times a demo has convinced you to buy a game.
Additionally, game demos costs devs extra time and money, which they could invest directly into the development of the game itself.
But wait, there’s more! The rise of the abomination that is pre-orders might also have something to do with the lack of game demos. Pre-orders rely on people paying money for a game that isn’t completed/out yet. So you don’t know if the product you’re buying will be good or not. A demo for the game might give you an idea. But the game isn’t even complete yet. They don’t have any demos ready. They don’t want to put out a demo because it could affect pre-orders, which in turn would affect sales. Hey, but that’s just us speculating.
Another factor is, of course, the changing of times. Back in the early 2000s, not everyone had a proper internet connection. Storage mediums were far more expensive as well. There wasn’t really too many options for developers to put themselves out there to get exposure for their games. Due to this limited bandwidth problem, putting demos on shareware DVDs was one of their only options. Nowadays we don’t really have either of those problems. You can easily just pop onto YouTube and watch the latest trailers or gameplay for a game you are thinking of buying.
Bye bye game demos
It’s very unlikely that we’ll be seeing game demos in the future. That is unless we as consumers change drastically. A consumer’s need to know something before buying it has always been there, especially when it’s something you’re dishing out well over a thousand rupees for. But we’re a bright lot, there are ways for us to circumvent this problem, some of which have already been in practice for a while now. We’re talking things like free-to-play games with microtransactions, free games that make you watch an ad, a ‘pay as you go’ model, where you can buy levels as you progress, episodic games etc.
So yeah, RIP demos.
Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.