Study: Releasing Demos HURTS Game Sales

Article HERE.

I have to say, this is extremely counter-intuitive, and definitely goes against the grain for most people here on GWJ (I'd reckon).

Still, it makes a twisted kind of sense if you examine the benefit to DEVELOPERS/RETAILERS and NOT the gamers themselves. As many a movie executive knows, even the crappiest of films can be cut into a kick-ass trailer which may pack the seats opening weekend, but surely won't do them any favors once the sad reality kicks in. I suppose that for many "big sellers" reviews, trailers, and word of mouth are enough... still, this definitely seems like it may result in fewer and fewer demos... not a great move from the consumer's point of view.

If the game (or the demo) is bad, then of course it will. A good demo of a good game, however, can only help sales.

Makes total sense to me. I've played a number of demos that completely turned me off to the game. Conflict:Denied Ops comes to mind as a recent example.

Also, demos sometimes have trouble conveying what the game is about. I really didn't like the Test Drive Unlimited demo but I really like the actual game.

Unfortunately, what does work? I'm pretty jaded to trailers as well. I kept thinking Lost Odyssey looked pretty but they never showed the actual game.

I usually have a mental black-mark against a developer/publisher if they don't put out demos. While they can be misleading in both directions, usually they are the best gauge for a game available short of playing the full version.

So in other words: "Gamers avoid disappointment from early warning"

There are several different ways this spins to make total sense. In fact, I've said before that the days of game demos are coming to an end precisely because of the damage a less than stellar demo can do. Not only is it expensive to invest the resources into a demo, but even good games can have bad demos and vice versa. The latest Burnout, for example, had an excellent demo but turned out to be a stale game in many respects.

I am not really surprised by this "study".

I think it should have said... Releasing a bad demo hurts game sales! I'm looking at you... who ever made the new Turok game.


With that said, I can name at least 10 titles that I bought because I got to try a demo... one of which, being one of my favorite games of 2007, Crackdown. I, personally, didn't care much for the game but that changed with in sec of playing the demo. Bioshock would be another, I loved System Shock 2... wasn't really interested in BioShock, demo = +1 sold copy.

I can also name few games that I skipped because there was no demo.

Yay! One more way the video game industry is becoming like Hollywood: create sub-par dreck, but market the heck out of it so you can maximize revenues before everyone catches on that you really put out a big steaming pile.

Gee, here I was thinking that making sucky, and buggy games, were the thing that hurt sales...

No wait, I know who to blame, "pirates", yeah it's all their fault our game don't sale. For now on we must put highly restrictive and damaging DRM in all our games. Perhaps we can then use our DRM to block any IPDC (Intellectual Property Damaging Content) from reaching our consumers.

What I would really like to see is the ratio between sales gained and lost due to BioShock demo.

Am I wrong, or is that study just finding a correlation between games without demos and high sales, rather than a causative link?

There are a lot of outside variables that I don't see being taken into account in that story:

Are established IPs less likely to have a demo because they don't need one to boost sales, thus skewing the sales figures in favor of games without demos?

Are bigger budget titles with more people crunching for each bit of content less likely to take the time out of the development cycle to make demos than low-budget games that generate less hype?

Does the Halo 3 Beta count as a demo?

I find it way more likely that games that sell well for reasons that are not related to putting out a demo are less likely to make a demo, thus the findings. For a new IP from an unknown without a gigantic marketing push behind it, I definitely want a demo. For a well known brand from a studio I like, I probably don't need one to convince me to buy the game, but I highly doubt that what this study indicates is that it will actually hurt sales.

Elysium: I think you actually got it backwards about Burnout Paradise: The demo was extremely unpopular because it was so limited that it did not give a fair impression of the full game's gameplay. I'm not a big fan of the game, but I also have to disagree with you about it being "stale." Criterion worked very hard to rework the series, and I think they did. Stale isn't the right word, but it still wasn't a particularly good game.

As for demos, there are many games that I wouldn't have played had there not been a demo. But there are also many games that I might have at least rented until I played their crappy demos. So for a publisher, I would say they need to selectively release demos based on the type of game and where it fits into the marketplace. Bioshock, for instance, probably benefitted greatly from its demo because it was not a known quantity, it was not part of an established franchise, and it was a hard game to even describe. Giving people the chance to see it in action must have helped sales.

The golden rule of demos has to be: If your game sucks, don't release a demo. Hour of Victory, anyone?

Switchbreak wrote:

is that study just finding a correlation between games without demos and high sales, rather than a causative link?


Ultimately, I think this study is pretty worthless, but... I was curious to see if we cold make anything out of it.

As has been said, the games that usually sell the best are franchise games which certainly don't need a demo to sell themselves.

I fail to see how releasing me from the cage hurts game sales.

Demosthenes wrote:

I fail to see how releasing me from the cage hurts game sales.

Shut up and back in the cage!

This makes some sense. When the Crackdown demo came out, I tried it out and didn't care for it. I think I stopped playing and deleted it within about five minutes. Later I heard Major Nelson interviewing the developer on his podcast, and they spent a lot of time talking about what the game is about and how it changes as you play through it. I realized I had totally missed the point, and I downloaded the demo again. This time I liked it and bought the game. It was certainly one of my favorite games from last year -- I still pop it in occassionally because I love the gameplay so much.

Similarly, I found the Bioshock demo to be horrible -- I played through as much as I could stand and then deleted it. I ended up receiving the game for Christmas, though, so I decided to play it (not expecting much). A lot of what I didn't like about it the first time was still there (for the record, I am not a fan of ghouls jumping out at me from the dark, especially when they are muttering insane things), but I found a lot to like in the game. Overall, it won me over despite the things I didn't like.

In both cases, with just a demo to go on I would have chosen not to buy the game.

Game developers probably love to hear this information. When I worked at Gearbox I know that much hand wringing resulted from demo deadlines.

I loved the old share ware version of Doom and DN3D those got me to buy the games, but these days, I don't even play demos. I much prefer getting on and watching a quick 5 minute video. If I like what I see i'll get the game. I don't really need a demo these days. So many of these engines are interchangeable now. If you've played one Unreal engine game you've played them all.

infinitelyloopy wrote:

In both cases, with just a demo to go on I would have chosen not to buy the game.

But no more than a rental, or borrowing it from a friend. In your case you just didn't give the games enough time. It didn't really have anything to do with the demo format.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:

Shut up and back in the cage!

Almost word-for-word what I was going to write!

There are a lot of bad games out there. There are a lot of stupid naive gamers out there who buy into hype and purchase games on release day. Give these guys a chance to play a demo and some of them will realize that maybe the game isn't the second coming after all. So I can't say that this would surprise me if true. The demo of Supreme Commander, for instance, killed my interest in the game. Prior to that it was in my must-buy category.

You mean demos of crappy games lead to people avoiding them? Shock.

For me though, without demos I'll end up buying far fewer games than I do now. Sure they help me avoid some stinkers, but they've sold me on games just as many times as turned me off from one.

Switchbreak is right. Assuming that the graphs in the article accurately describe the study, then the conclusions are nonsense. Essentially the trouble is that there's no control group. They're comparing sales of Game A, which put out a demo, with sales of Game B, which didn't have a demo. The appropriate comparison is between sales of Game A with demo, to sales of Game A without a demo. There's all sorts of different characteristics between Game A and Game B that aren't being held constant (eg. established IP, marketing budget, development budget, developer track-record) and thus invalidate the comparison. Obviously, you can't know what Game A would have sold if it hadn't released a demo. However, there's all manner of statistical wizardry that one can do to produce an estimate. Maybe that's what the study does, but that's not what the article seems to indicate.

Switchbreak wrote:

Does the Halo 3 Beta count as a demo?

I think if you released the exact same thing and called it a "demo" to one group and a "beta" to another, then the beta group would probably have a more positive take on the experience due to the perception that goes along with betas. To me, a beta implies that the developer is actively engaging the public and looking for feedback and such on their product, whereas a demo seems to be more of a locked experience. As such, the folks who played the "beta" would have a more positive take on the game versus those who played the "demo".

I have absolutely no proof or data to back this up other than my own personal opinion, but if you look at the games that have had "multiplayer betas", weren't they really just extended demo's with the bonus of getting to collect tons of data on what works and what doesn't?


IMO going without a demo is still bad. Yes a demo can turn me off buying a game but without the demo, I never try it and therefore I will *never* buy it.

This is my biggest beef with PSN.

Why does this remind me of the Monty Hall '3 doors' scenario, but with no demo, a bad demo, and a good demo behind the doors? Statstically aren't they more likely to illicit either a negative or ambivalent response than a positive one? Or have I fallen for the same trick?

I do think that demos have a large likelihood of hurting sales.
1) If your demo is less than stellar, it's obviously going to hurt.
2) Building the demo is out of development time and thus hurting your game. Which is probably a large part of the reason so many demos are released after the game these days.
3) Gamers might be interested in your game but feel like playing the demo is enough. I'm one of those: I'm usually only interested in whatever new thing a game is doing and often the demo is enough to see what it is. (I also often only play a full game for a single night.)

Then again, some games you can't get a feel for without playing it, in which case a demo might be required. For instance, most small releases benefit from a demo, I think. If all you have is a great gameplay idea, you need to be able to demonstrate that. Of recent games, Trials 2 comes to mind.

I can only think of one real case where a demo hurt a quality game. Quake Wars. The game's feel has changed a lot between betas and release.

This is where I always had a conflict: As a gamer, I appreciate it when a company provides a sample of their work for you to try out first, yet when I was doing marketing for game developers I strongly encouraged them to not release a demo.

Demosthenes wrote:

I fail to see how releasing me from the cage hurts game sales.

It keeps quiet or it gets the hose again!

I don't find this surprising at all. The only game I ever bought off of the strength of the demo was Bioshock, which I would have bought anyway. Demos almost always convince me to *not* buy something.

I might have played a demo once or twice.
They are not really needed I think. In the end, they
cannot give always give you the right impression. I am
sure it depends on the type of game as well.

So, where to go when there are no demos?

The one route that a lot of music listeners take is :
download it illegally, when you like it, buy it.
Same can be said for software. Although it is illegal
of course and I am not saying it is a good think.

The better option is to read previews/previews and forums.
Like GWJ and there are other sources of course.

I am fine with demos being gone.

Doesn't surprise me. I was looking forward to Burnout: Paradise until I played the demo. Then I decided not to buy.

Of course, I played the Uncharted demo, then went and bought the game, but I was already planning on getting it.

Put out a poor demo for a good game and you get burned. Put out a demo for what is just a bad game, and you get burned if the press about it seems enthusiastic.

The "try before you buy" philosophy is a road that has its risks. When you get as expensive as games are, and allow that to happen, it's not surprising that sales suffer. It's not like buying a sandwich at a restaurant and finding out you don't like the sandwich, unless the sandwich was $60. Reviewers and gamers don't agree sometimes, too. I'm not sure how well Kane & Lynch did after the fiasco, but I'll bet some people still saw the reviews and bought the game. Some of them probably even liked it. When demos are this easy to get and play, though, developers shouldn't be surprised that they hurt sales.