Study: Releasing Demos HURTS Game Sales

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

Funny, this was the exact game I was thinking of when I clicked on the thread. I'll never actually know if the game is any good, because it took me so freaking long to actually start driving that I gave up and deleted it out of frustration.

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

Funny, this was the exact game I was thinking of when I clicked on the thread.

It sounds like I am the only person who had the polar opposite result with this game/demo. I hadn't played a Burnout game before, so I didn't have much of a preconception, other than it sounded like a Need For Speed also-ran. I tried the demo, and despite the talk-talk-talk before you get to drive, I loved it. The feeling of speed, the openness of the city and the on-line integration were just what I wanted, so I bought it.

I'm a pretty big fan of demos, they have resulted in a significant number of game purchases for me. Off the top of my head I know the multiplayer demo for Aliens vs. Predator sold me and 4 other people on the game purchase. I would never have played any Battlefield games if not for the 1942 Wake Island demo. I'm pretty sure Age of Mythology had a demo that sold me on the game, and based on the demo for Crackdown (just discovered thanks to this forum) I want to get that game. Basically, I only bother trying demos for games that marginally interest me, with a fairly good 50% buy/never bother again ratio, and I have yet to regret buying a game that I loved the demo for, and so far, I can't think of any regrets for not buying a game that I was less than interested in after the demo.

Another instance of the demo not selling me on the game: BF2142. It was only because the GWJ community moved to it (although grudgingly) that I made the switch from BF2.

When I think to the games over the past couple of years that had pre-launch demos and those that did not, there is a large discrepancy in quality. Ubisoft has a blanket policy against it. Gears of War and Halo 3 did not. Heavenly Sword, Lair, of dubious quality. Rockband and Guitar Hero were not demoed. Orange box did not have a demo. Bioshock did not have a demo.

Generally good games have not had previous demo versions. And comparing some of the lesser games with demos to the great games that went without is just idiotic. For all we can figure, Heavenly Sword would have sold half as many copies if people had not gotten their hands on a demo.

Demo philosophy is something that developers have debated on since the beginning of offering them. When I interviewed Blair Fraser, he basically spelled out that people who are already excited for and want to buy your game are more likely to be turned off by a demo. And the people who are on the fence and need to be persuaded to buy should get a representative demo of the FINAL version of the game to help sway them.

I keep changing my mind about this, but currently I'm in favor of post-release demos. They idea is that cycles aren't being stolen from release development, and the demo will be representative of the final product. (patches notwithstanding)

I would find it interesting to see how demos affect the piracy rate for any given game, since publishers like to tout these outrageous numbers of "sales lost due to piracy," and pirates often claim that they want to "try before they buy."

So yeah, back to the original topic, the comparison is a bit shaky because they compared different games, which may have sold very differently based on any number of factors (like the actual quality of the product?).

- Alan

If there isn't a demo available for a game I'm on the fence about, I rent it first. If it's crap, I don't buy it. And if I can't rent it, I assume that it's crap and ignore it.

There have been bad games with bad demos and good games with good demos. I would never have discovered the true joy of Unreal Tournament 2004 if it weren't for a demo, as I rarely care for online first-person shooter wank-fests set half-past boshank sci-fi clusterfudgery, but this demo became my best friend when it was released and I bought the game on release day and had a grand old time being force-fed a steady diet of rockets and misspelled assaults on my sexuality. Without that demo, I never would have discovered the joy of downloading a recreation of the Bomb-Omb Battlefield level from Super Mario 64, complete with authentic music ripped from the game. Nothing makes me smile quite like the happy opening sugary-sweetness of classic Super Mario music followed by the guttural omnipresent man voice yelling, "Headshot!"

KingGorilla wrote:

When I think to the games over the past couple of years that had pre-launch demos and those that did not, there is a large discrepancy in quality. Ubisoft has a blanket policy against it. Gears of War and Halo 3 did not. Heavenly Sword, Lair, of dubious quality. Rockband and Guitar Hero were not demoed. Orange box did not have a demo. Bioshock did not have a demo.

Halo 3 had a "beta," and BioShock did have a prerelease demo.

For Halo 3, it probably would have done just as well without the beta, but I think it was brilliant marketing, keeping the game on people's minds for most of the year before release. For an unestablished name like BioShock, I'd be willing to bet that the demo was absolutely integral to the great sales it got.

I would agree with this, although it would be a shame if developers stopped releasing demos. I have saved a significant amount of money on MMOs by weaseling my way into the betas. Crysis was another game that I did not buy based on the demo, even though I loved Far Cry.

On the PC side if they did not release a demo, people are probably more likely to pirate the game. On the console side, it may increase rentals.

Seems to me a demo will simply exaggerate the performance of a title. If a title were going to do poorly, a demo will cause it do even worse. If a title were going to succeed, a demo will cause it to do even better.

Problem is, the distribution of quality across all titles is heavily weighted towards the poor end -- in other words most games are crap. In fact, only one out of ten games are worth the cost of the disc they're printed on. So for any random game, sure, a demo will hurt sales because the game is bad.

Here's the thing: that game deserves lower sales. The industry as a whole is healthier with 10% less total sales so long as the remaining 90% is directed towards games that people genuinely enjoy. Every dollar is a little vote for the market to continue pumping out the product that it is spent on. A dollar spent on crap is a vote for crap, so a dollar withheld due to a higher consumer awareness is a good thing.