The advent of consoles with hard drives coupled with widespread broadband Internet access has raised the profile of game demos. What was once limited to PC gaming and the occasional promotion has become a major feature in the game industry and in gaming culture. It seems like many of today's games have two release dates: one when the demo drops and second when the final game hits stores. It is an interesting phenomenon, and I would like to find what effect, if any, it has had on sales. But that is a topic for another day.
I recently logged on to PlayStation Store and engaged in a downloading spree, sifting through demos new and old, from all genres. Hopping from game to game is fun, especially given that all the demos are priced at a very reasonable free-ninety-nine. Unfortunately, I have come to a conclusion that is disappointing to me and probably disheartening for game developers: After completing many games' demos, I feel little compulsion to play through the full versions.
Like Tycho of Penny Arcade, I enjoy deciphering a game's thesis. Whether it be simple or profound, every game has something to communicate to the player. Usually, I am also fairly disciplined about fallowing that thesis to its conclusion, i.e., the end of the game. Oftentimes I will see a game to the end simply to analyze how closely it sticks with its original claims. While this habit has led me suffer through some train-wrecks, I enjoy the historiography of gaming so much that it is worth it. Additionally, on some level I feel I owe it to the developer to experience their complete work.
Unfortunately, many demos seem to blunt my desire to play games that, had I started the full versions without playing the demos, I would have completed. F.E.A.R. 2, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and The Last Guy, have all fallen into the doldrums; my interest in them has been satiated by a demo. The tragic thing is, if I had the entire games sitting in my house, I probably would be playing and writing about them this very moment.
Is this a problem? And if it is, what is the solution? Clearly, developers have a difficult task when constructing a demo: how much content to include and how long an experience to provide are tricky questions. From players' perspectives, having a demo that is honest in terms of content and presentation can greatly influence a purchasing decision. Perhaps a happy medium can be reached with "teaser" demos that are more limited than the status quo?
The point is, I am not sure how to rectify my demo dilemma, so I will throw it to you, kind readers:
-Players: How actively to you play game demos? Do they convince you to play more games in their entirety? Do you worry about spoilers when playing them (and remember spoilers do not necessarily have to be plot points, they can begameplay styles).
-Developers: How do you decide what to put in a demo? Do you worry about the kinds of assumptions people make when playing an unfinished version of your game? How would you change the current practices concerning game demos?
My recent experiences with demos has been a study in short term gain leading to long term loss. I jumped on the demos of games like Mirror's Edge, Dead Space, and Resident Evil 5, and enjoyed playing them. However, the demos seem to have been too effective in providing a satisfying experience, as I feel like I know enough about those games to be comfortable in leaving them on the back burner, all the while intending to return to them sometime in the nebulous "future" when I "have the time."
I fear that time and that future may never materialize.