Buggy Demos - How To Anti-Market A Game

Experienced demo trouble lately? Patch required? You're probably not the only one. Read on for a brief look at quick publishers, the concept of second-class consumers, local releases and why they are a disservice to both sides.Demo bugs aren't something we haven't seen before. However, Ubi Soft seems to be on a hot streak lately, having released three demos in the past weeks which either required a patch, are crash-heavy or look somewhat unfinished.  In one case they complained about the early availability, in two other cases functional "US demos" were promised. First of all, a demo release depends on what the publisher demands. The developers aren't too keen on releasing early trials as they are only snapshots of what still is unfinished code and since they also have to dedicate resources for the production of them. It seems that Ubi's PR department believes in what actually seem to be rather questionable concepts.

Local release: The Beyond Good & Evil demo apparently made its way onto the internet from the CD featured in the French mag Joystick. Magazine demos leaking into the web is something that happens so frequently the marketing sections had to be aware of it. Now there's quite a number of players who have trouble getting the trial running without crashes. Which brings up the questions why such a poor representation of a product would be released ANYWHERE in the first place. Joystick is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) mags in France. Even under the illusionary premise that the demo is not going to be made available for download on the internet, there would still be quite a few subscribers who would experience the aforementioned problems. It's definitely a shame this happened with Beyond Good & Evil since the PS2 version I got to play at the Games Convention was very entertaining.

In the case of Lock On: Modern Air Combat it appears that the marketing department also needs to get some information on the release date of certain media outlets. Ubi Soft producer Matt "Wags" Wagner on the demo release.

I have no idea why it was released before ECFS. The plan was to release CD versions atECFS on 05 Oct and online on 06 Oct with mirrors. I hope to know more on Monday after I talk with Paris. However, it sounds like Gamestar jumped the gun and released it before they were told to do so. There's nothing more I can say at this time, but I hope you enjoy this early taste.
I'm quite sure Gamestar wouldn't have put the demo on their CD without the approval of the publisher. The monthly mag ships to stores on the first Wednesday of each month. Which clearly was October 1st this month. And subscribers naturally receive their issues on the weekend before that. Well-known fact since we're talking about a magazine here which has a reader base of several hundred thousand people.

Euro twits: Now in two cases the publisher was quick to point out that there will be functional US demos available soon. Now the nature of the internet - which seems to be new to Ubi - makes information and data basically accessible to everyone and everywhere. Which means that US gamers are likely to download the Euro versions as well instead of waiting for the 'proper' release to show up. There's something else that makes one wonder: under the assumption that Euro demos will not run in NA (look forward to the 'enjoyable miracles' Digital Rights Management might provide), why would releasing a buggy demo in Europe look like a clever idea? The EU PC games market is on par with the NA market, not to mention the growing ones in Eastern Europe. Quite a number of PC titles - especially certain genres or products developed in Eastern European countries) sell a lot better here. For instance, in the case of Vietcong or Ubi Soft's very own IL-2 Sturmovik by factor 4-5. Using your home market as testing ground might not be a brilliant strategy in the long run. Which brings us to the next concept.

Tolerant users: Some publishers seem to be under the impression that the player is willing to make every effort to get a demo running. That might be the case with highly anticipated titles but if one doesn't know the game and was just curious, chances are the trial will be deleted unseen and never downloaded again. I haven't majored in economics or marketing but you'd think it will take quite an ad campaign and a number of good reviews to lower the damage done by such a demo. Sure, there are many players willing to give the final product a chance but those who got frustrated while trying the demo probably won't unless the game receives rave reviews across all mags and websites.

Also, if a demo generates negative feedback the promises that these issues will be fixed in the full game aren't a very efficient way to handle damage control. Matt Wagner on the Lock On: Modern Air Combat demo:

Please note that this demo is based on code from Beta 5. We are now on Beta 10.
Don't get me wrong, the LO-MAC demo isn't a disaster, I'm just using it as example. The above statement certainly is true and result of the fact that the demo was produced way earlier and then delayed by Ubi Soft. It's likely that a number of issues will be taken care of in the final release. The question is, how many people are willing to believe that? Not only do they lack knowledge about the state of the code in the demo, they've probably also seen a number of trial versions and previews of other games which pointed out problems. Problems that were said to be addressed in the full games. But aren't.

A demo is being considered representative of what the full game will offer to the average gamer. Not as representative of what it could offer under certain circumstances such as the full moon rising and Venus and Mars being in a certain constellation. If he/she doesn't like the demo, the player will probably skip the game which will hurt the publisher in the end. That makes me really wonder why some of them appear to insist on early trial versions. It's not something the developers are eager to produce for the reasons mentioned above and it's not likely to convince consumers. An effective demo of an entertaining game will sell more copies than an ad campaign can. Just think about the Battlefield 1942 multiplayer demo. It became so popular that it was even patched before the full game came out (however, it didn't require that patch to run on most PCs in the first place.) I tried to understand the reasons for the release of rather 'flawed' demos, but short term gains such as marketing deals or market timing are usually clearly outweighed by the overall consequences. Am I missing something?

- Spunior


What I'm wondering is how did you manage to go backwards in time to post this

It was posted before the other article. However, it was up in the EditBox, so Certis could take a final look at it before it goes live.