Where did the Demos go?!

by on December 11, 2014

Demos seem like a forgotten concept
from a gaming era that left its mark on the industry through high quality
titles and not the number of sales.
The video games industry is a business
and like any other business its main goal is to make a profit. Looking at this
from a consumer perspective, it feels so shallow and wrong, but video games
cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to make and sometimes even more to
advertise. Like any other fundamental process of our society that involves
human labor in any way, this industry cannot exist without the revenue it
generates and nothing is ever enough. Money produces more money and video games
that sell well spawn more video games. It is a fair enough trade that can keep
an industry running until the end of time and for those that want a continuous
flow of games this might be the perfect deal.
                But why
do I peel at the economic crust of this industry in an article about video
games demos? The answer is as simple as it is complex, demos don’t sell games
anymore, but rather lower the sales value.
                The
industry goes into an era of digitalization, with digital copies selling
exponentially more than boxed games, this is the next step in the continuous
evolution of the market. The evolution was made possible because of the
increasing demand. The money spent today to make and advertise video games is
several times bigger than it was ten years ago and even bigger than it was
twenty years ago and it continues to grow. Much of the money is spent on
advertisement (EA spend a couple hundred millions more on marketing than
development in 2013) and while everyone might say that “All publicity is good publicity”,
this is not entirely true.
Demos started as an altruistic
concept, to give the gamers the chance to test if they enjoy the game and if it
is working well on their gaming rig. But this was a good opportunity for much
more and so demos became a marketing tool used to better sale a game.
While a demo should be a small cut from the full game, most
of the time taken from the beta stages, with the growing realization of what
demos could do some developers started to make them look better than the final
product. False advertising one would say, but there is no law to support that
in this industry (…). So slowly, but surely the good idea turned into a tool to
support the greed of publishers and financiers.
                But
gamers aren’t fools, despite the fact that some publishers treat them like they
are (hello Ubisoft!) and gamers used their tool against them. Demos were used
as benchmarks and as comparison scales between how the game really plays
compared to what was seen in the trailers and screenshots. This saved everyone
a lot of money, spent on games that were trying more to cover their weaknesses
than actually providing the wanted experience.
The big publishers started to abandon the concept that backfired
on them and only those small, mostly indie, developers that have nothing to
hide use this nowadays, with some exceptions.
                Many
demos can be found on the dusty shelves full with old games, but rarely any AAA
games publishers provide this to their products and even if they do it is way
after the release of the game.
                If you
ask me, it seems like publishers and developers are putting more effort into
hiding the problems and trying to trick customers instead of showing why their titles
are worth buying. This seems to be a productive way of marketing, because many
franchises still sell quite well despite being the same reheated soup every
year with only the addition of new problems.

Ironically, with their plans, publishers pushed the gamers
to piracy (talk about backfire!). By abandoning the demo’s idea, the publishers
forced many potential customers to pirate the games in order to check them out before purchasing or even in
protest for this entire problem. 
“The thing is, with no demo, you’ve gotta buy it if you want
to try it.”
– Jesse Schell
                So if you
wonder why demos have disappeared or even worse, you never knew they existed
(might be too soon for the second to happen), demos went away when they became
an impediment to the sales. Video gaming is a growing industry, worth billions
of dollars and if something can be done to increase these numbers, it will be
done, even if is in the detriment of the customer. Some say “The customer is always
right”, but this expression means nothing if you are not buying anything.
                But
don’t panic, this doesn’t mean someone has to blindly buy new games. It is the
era of digital distribution but also the era of video streaming. There are many
good channels on twitch.tv or youtube.com to provide enough details to make an
informed purchase, even if it doesn’t tell anyone if a game works properly on
their machine, at least there’s something. There were many cases of false
marketing and trickery in the last couple of years. So nobody should rush to
pre-purchase until being 100% sure that it is worth doing so and if not, wait
(!), the games aren’t going anywhere, but once spent, the money is gone (still
waiting on a return policy law).

The amount of games on Steam …
… Less than 25% have demos.
Nodrim