The Demo is Dead!

Many years ago, when we first started making games, the perceived wisdom of the age was to follow an apparently successful formula, and strike it rich. Or at least, make a living. Games sold for an average of $20 or so. This is in the dim, dark depths of history, in 2003.

This formula was: offer a demo, and convert demo players into customers by having amazing demos (and, as a secondary, offer a money back guarantee just in case a customer mysteriously wasn’t satisfied). All you need is a large enough influx of traffic downloading a large enough number of demos and a large enough conversion rate. Simple! And this we have done, for the last 10 years.

To cut a long story short, it doesn’t work for us.

Today, none of our games have a demo, and they probably never will have again, either. The Demo is dead.

Long Live Video!

Why have we done this? How can we possibly gain from no longer hosting demos? Well, the times have changed. I have come to realise that I’ve not bought a single game from playing a demo in the last 5 years, maybe longer. Why am I buying games? Or rather, why am I buying the games I am buying as opposed to other games?

Mostly because they’re recommended to me by friends, and sometimes reviews. That generally isn’t enough though; I also want to look at the game before I buy one. And this is where video comes in! Just about every game I’ve bought for the last 5 years has been on the basis of watching a video of the game – either a review along the lines of Total Biscuit, or a trailer in Steam, or on the developers’ websites, or shared on Facebook or Twitter. Usually I don’t even need a recommendation from a friend if I watch a trailer for a game that I think looks interesting.

But there is another thing at play.

Almost none of the games I’ve bought have even had demos. They’re full versions only, accessible only via Steam, and/or usually… rather cheap. And with a bit of investigation we’ve noticed that 99.9% of all the games we’ve sold on Steam have been bought “blind”, without anyone ever sampling a demo.

This got me to wondering why we are bothering with demos any more.

What Does a Demo Do?

I’ll tell you: it has three primary functions:

  1. To assure the end user that the product actually installs and runs ok on their machine
  2. It gives the potential customer a good long demonstration of the game with no up-front investment on their part
  3. The shocker: it then gives them 99 excuses not to buy the game.

Video manages to sidestep 2 and 3 nicely. Video still gives the customer a demonstration of the game, albeit non-interactive; but it does have the potential to cram all the interesting bits into a very short space of time – rather like a movie trailer does. But, barring a total disdain for the style or genre of game, it doesn’t give the customer any reasons not to buy the game. Not a single one. You have to actually pay to form an opinion on how it plays.

The first function is trickier. Why do people buy something if they don’t know if it’ll even run or not? It turns out it’s required a little bit of technical wizardy to solve, which we’ll be releasing the source to in due course as it’s GPL, but basically – take a look at Revenge of the Titans now, if you’re unregistered, and you’ll see that the title screen has in fact been replaced by the video trailer which is now rendered inside the game. So we know at this point that the game is going to run fine on your machine, and more importantly, so do you. We’re slowly converting the other three games into video title screens as well.

In-App Purchase

Of course, once a potential customer has installed the game, fired it up, and been presented with the trailer video instead of an ordinary title screen, that’s not quite the whole story. Customer clicks “PLAY”… and is transported straight to an in-app purchase screen which you can use to unlock the game there and then. Unfortunately this IAP screen can only take credit and debit cards (no PayPal or other dubious payment systems). However… it is working, and working nicely.

Now all our games have a built-in IAP system (and a cunningly built-in one-click buy mechanism too), we’ll be able to collect some stats on how things look without demos, and I’ll be following up in a few months about the end result.

56 thoughts on 'The Demo is Dead!'

  1. Good read!

    I have also found myself buying most games without playing the demos except to find out if the game will run on my weak laptop. One thing that most videos lack though is information about controls and in-game options. Does anyone aside from TB take the time to really go into those?

    I hope your “video demos” allow people to tinker with at least the graphics options, and have a running framerate during the video.

    Out of curiosity, how do the “in-app” purchases work with Steam? I thought Valve frowned on this practice, leading to their feud with EA.

    1. The options UI etc are all still enabled.

      This is for Puppygames versions of the games, not Steam. Steam games can only be bought via Steam, of course.

  2. The cruel trick of a demo is that it’s advertised as 1% of the game – the first of a hundred levels. But once played, it feels like you’ve been given 99% of a game – all that’s missing are some game assets, and you can’t tease that without giving it away anyway.

    I’m all for this – which I guess means never having a Ouya game. Oh well!

    1. That wasn’t really the case in the past. Can’t remember that feeling playing quake 1 demo in ’90 or Braid demo in 2009 .. If developers placed all good stuff in demo or have nothing more to show in full version then either they have crappy game design with no features at all or crappy demo content design. Bottom line is that developers are afraid of demos cause most of nowadays games are shallow and graphics driven with exaggerated budgets.

      1. I think you’ll find almost all games are shallow and graphics driven. Developers are not “afraid” of anything. Developers are just looking at the bottom line, because, you know, we have to earn a living making games, it’s not just for shits and giggles. And the bottom line tells us that over 90% of games are bought without a demo, at “discount” prices, which is exactly where the market has been heading for the last 10 years. There’s no “blame”, there’s no individual group to complain about, there’s no “fear” – it’s just the way the numbers are working.

  3. All I can say is that I personally love demos and when you say “Almost none of the games I’ve bought have even had demos.” you of course mean PC games. However since almost all triple A games are released on all 3 platforms and the console market is still leading AND every console release, well I think every, has a demo on PSN/XBLA – its kinda untrue what you say, but I get it if you mean the PC market.

    Economically I would really love to see other statistics. Would be kinda sad if this is generally true – but yeah I can see that it might be.

    1. Good comment. When demos are easy to install and introduce me to new games, as they are on the Xbox, there’s a better chance that they’d lead me to buy a game. On the PC there are so many sales that the process isn’t “look for a game to play” but “try to whittle down the list of potential buys” and that’s why demos are used to find a reason not to buy rather than the other way round.

    2. Console market is most certainly NOT leading, and far from all console games have demos.

  4. Holy hell that’s a frightening concept. I mean, from a business perspective I understand – people can play demos and realize they don’t like the game, whereas if you don’t let them try the game they have to give you money before figuring out if you deserve to be given money. It really seems like you’re approaching this from the angle of ‘I want people to pay me’ rather than the angle you should be: ‘I want people to play my game and enjoy it’. You’re not EA, you shouldn’t be thinking like that. Being paid is good and you need the money, yes. Taking steps to deliberately obfuscate the product you are selling is just terrible.

    I have been saying for a a while now that every game – EVERY GAME – should have a demo. Why? Because bandwidth is cheap and I don’t want to shell out 5-50 dollars to play a game for about 10 minutes and say “oh wait… this is no fun…”
    This is highly exacerbated by the fact that game trailers tend to show little to no actual gameplay (and what it does is usually cut up and jumbled and hard to decipher) and therefore you don’t _really_ have a good idea how the game plays. You get basic concepts and (more and more) cut scenes and story and are expected to use that to make a decision. I honestly rely more on the TEXT description on Steam to determine if I want to buy something than on the videos – unless there’s a video of the game actually being played.
    Not giving a demo for a game is like describing a painting to someone. Yes they kind of get the idea, but it’s a toss-up whether or not they’ll actually enjoy it looking at it.

    Really though, the lack of demos has just obligated me to pirate everything I think I might want to play. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve saved by stealing the thing first, trying it, and figuring out it wasn’t for me. If it’s good enough, I pay the company. If it isn’t, it is summarily deleted and forgotten. In the olden days I could rent the thing and make my determination. Now I have to steal or guess.

    I threw away a lot of money on game videos. I have basically stopped paying attention to them. They are mildly helpful, but also a veil to the actual game. A demo tells me whether I’m shooting myself in the foot financially.

    1. You might want to read some reviews and listen to friends opinions of games too. Video is not the only tool in our chest.

  5. A quick check of Steam’s advanced search suggests an encouragingly high demo rate: 510 demos out of 2015 games ( http://store.steampowered.com/search ).

    I like demos to determine if a game is fun, but I can usually get a good idea for that from videos, reviews, and friends’ reports.

    I’m more interested in demos in order to test software quality. If there’s no demo I look at the steam forums (and/or the developer’s or publisher’s forums) to see if there are a bunch of user complaints.

    Are there many reports of crashes or poor performance? Does it have both a fullscreen and windowed mode? Does it behave nicely with alt+tab? Can the user bind their own keys?

  6. Yeah, don’t publish demos. Just don’t be surprised if you see people pirating your stuff. I don’t say that “not having demo” is main reason why people pirate (it is still rather “too expensive” thing), but that’s not the point.

    And believe me, from video you can’t really tell much about game. Even review can’t show everything because it is often 5-10 minutes long, maximum 20. Also on review you can’t really see if you like gameplay. You can see visuals, you can hear sounds, but you, in fact, DON’T KNOW anything about game.

    For example if it contain bugs.

    Let me put it this way: If we would have demo of Colonial Marines, we wouldn’t waste our money. If we had demo of WarZ, those idiots wouldn’t see a dime for that crap.

    If we had a demo of so-called SimCity…

    1. At the same time; if you had checked _any_ review of Colonial Marines you’d have saved both time and money.

  7. Mixed feelings on this. On one hand I played the demo of Titan Assault and while I enjoyed the game never bought it. On the other hand I doubt making the older games demos will increase your sales. Smart marketing and new games people want are probably the more reliable ways to make money.

    Keep making good games and I will continue to be a fan of your work.

    P.S. Gross simplification of the “joys” of being in a small business with low profit margins.

  8. Heh. Something wrong with my memory, I could have sworn that Revenge of the Titans demo actually sold me on registering – and direct through the site instead of Steam taking a cut. :) (But I think I got a steam key anyway? Man my memory’s bad.)

    It’s a shame, though. I really miss the 90s era of demo CDs on magazine covers. As a kid, I played the HELL out of those demos, and used it to let me know which of the dozens of games was worth buying with my precious little lawn-mowing money.

    But by that token, I was swept away by the big name demos, like Wolf3D, Doom, Quake, Diablo, Command and Conquer, etc… From the perspective of the developers whose games I played the demo of then didn’t buy (until maybe 15-20yrs later when I had more money than time and needed a nostalgia fix), it didn’t work at all. Granted, I wouldn’t have bought the games anyway if I didn’t know about them aside from a box on the shelf, but that doesnt take as much work as a demo. I never bought anything sight unseen – I just couldn’t afford the risk.

    Strange how different our experiences can be. In the recent past, demos of Orcs Must Die and Gunpoint very convincingly sold me games I was otherwise on the fence about from video, not to mention the edge that F2P games have. But you’ve got the numbers. Best of luck.

  9. The thing about a demo is that no one feels ripped off if they don’t enjoy it. Lacking a demo might not affect the conversion rate but repeat business could be adversely affected.

    1. The thing about a book is that no one feels ripped off it they don’t enjoy it.
      The thing about a film is that no one feels ripped off it they don’t enjoy it.
      The thing about an album is that no one feels ripped off it they don’t enjoy it.

      How did it come to pass that games somehow ended up begging for loose change? We pay for the privilege of experiencing content and forming our own opinions in every other form of media. Games aren’t any different. Despite the raft of complaint and small shitstorm this has kicked up (as if anyone has anything to lose!), the statistics say I’m absolutely dead right. There are a few outliers popping up with posts along the lines of “I bought xxxx because of the demo” but these people fail to grasp that they are in a minority. A tiny minority. Not 1%. We’re talking 0.01% of our sales are via demos. Now do you get me?

      1. Books – you can go into a bookshop and read the book. Check it out, see if you might enjoy it. Hell, you can even do a fair chunk on Amazon theses days.

        Albums – you can listen to it on radio, previews etc.

        Films – well films are still a problem, because the trailers aren’t enormously representative… but they are fairly representative in that they show off some of the action or dialogue. Not the best but… still.

        For a game? A video is hardly the same as any of the above. It doesn’t give you an idea of the gameplay or how you mesh with the gameplay.

        I can understand your stance from a business point of view – get people hooked with a video to buy it and don’t risk showing the actual game in case they were on the edge and decide not to buy. You want to get their money and making demos right is not easy (which is a problem). That’s kind of okay, but it doesn’t make you sound particularly positive or welcoming. (Not necessarily a problem, but it will put some people off).

        1. I believe you are wrong on most counts.

          You can go into a book shop and stand there reading a quarter of the book before you buy it. But you don’t. Nobody does. Generally they ask you to leave, muttering something about public libraries. The difference between what we can do, what we should do, and what we actually do, is the crux of the issue.

          You can listen to songs on the radio, or samples on Amazon. This model almost works. Almost! The majority of albums you buy because you heard a single song you liked on it – which of course gives you absolutely no idea what all the other songs are like unless they are basically the same. OR you buy an album because you’re a fan and you just like the stuff the artist produces. (I don’t feel ripped off it it was only the one song I liked, or indeed if I don’t like any of the songs on the album when I first listen to it. Usually I keep listening and it grows on me.)

          As for film … well, there you are. Rather like books. You don’t get let in to the theatre for free, and then asked to pay after 30 minutes of the film to see the rest. You take your chances. You pay up front; you try to enjoy the experience – whatever it turns out like. Sometimes you think it’s a terrible film, but rarely do you ever think to demand your money back just because you thought the plot was lame at the start, or because one of the actors was wooden. Rarely indeed do you walk out of a film for these reasons.

          1. I wonder why they always put those comfy chairs and Costa Coffees into them?

            Who said anything about a quarter of a book? Maybe read a chapter. Maybe a couple. Nice way to try it out. And also, as I said, Amazon does the book preview which again lets you have a peek inside from the comfort of your own home.

            As for albums – you don’t have to buy albums necessarily, you can just buy songs, but apart from that, via Spotify you can even listen to the whole album. If I’m hovering over a purchase I’d listen to all the songs, and then decide if I want just the one I heard and liked, or the lot of it. Easy to do, easier to make the choices.

            In fact, we have very few barriers for listening to music now, and that seems to keep things ticking along nicely. That’s a massively positive thing.

            It’s why free-to-play games have a little bit easier, because there is a built-in bit of showing off what you can do. You’re trying to sell the game based on showing that game off. There’s obviously a lot more to it and a lot of models to play around with and decide what you want to do.

            Leaving film until last but like I said – the trailer for a film is a very different thing to a trailer for a video-game. A film trailer at least shows off some of the core components of what you might experience if you see the whole thing – it’s usually not particularly representative, but it gives you a moderately comparable hook. A game video trailer doesn’t really do the same sort of thing at all – it doesn’t tell you much about how the game plays. A game demo might not do that either, but it’s got the capacity to.

            We do buy a lot of stuff on marketing and faith. But it’s always easier to buy stuff if you get a chance to try it out. Something smaller and entertainment-based such as a game or book is less stinging and investment than a fridge or car or whatever, but it still helps people to buy.

            1. Sorry, that may have been a touch confrontational – I don’t think there’s a huge problem with what you’re doing and the reasons are sound. Not least because it’s easier to buy a sub-£10 game, say, based on a good sell. If it doesn’t work out – well, it didn’t this time.

              It’s certainly a different story for £30 games I feel. And even then in comparison to similarly-priced entertainment products such as books, DVDs or music – we have an enormously bigger opportunity to try-before-buy than a lot of games.

              1. Absolutely; that’s why our games cost less than £10. We’re experimenting with pricing right now to get the right price point.

                Not all games fit our model of selling them – but ours do fit, it seems. Our next game is free-to-play anyway…

  10. I’ve actually come across this already, in an article ( http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/122056-Game-Dev-Claims-Demos-Hurt-Game-Sales and appears to be have been said previously here: http://multiplayerblog.mtv.com/2008/04/14/study-publishers-shouldnt-release-demos-just-trailers/ )

    I actually completely agree, I cannot remember the last time I actually played a PC demo, and went “Well, I just HAVE to have this!”
    Although, I usually either KNOW I want the game, from videos or Team FourStar playing it, sometimes I just torrent the full game to try it. A demo MIGHT offer me the reassurance that the game will work, but how do I know I’m getting an accurate view of the game? (Think Sonic ’06 demo. We got to play the ONLY fun, LEAST broken level SEGMENT they had, and never saw any of the HORRORS that were prior to that level, or even the rest of that level..)

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of the people that torrents a game, plays it to death, and then uninstalls it.
    I actually purchase the games I play and enjoy.
    I recently bought a variety of games I couldn’t find in stores that I’d previously bought and lost the disks for, or torrented and completed back when I had absolutely no money, via digital download services.

    I view it something like this:
    I enjoyed your game enough to play it to/WANT to play it to completion, and so, I’ll pay for the game.
    Sometimes, I play a game, and whilst I enjoy it, I don’t think it’s worth the full RRP, and so I put it on a list of games to purchase when it comes down in price (I actually uninstall the torrented version, once I’ve decided on what I’m doing, either buying it or not)
    I actually got roped into buying DmC via the recent steam deal, and a quick go on a torrented version of the game.
    The story is actually worth the time to acknowledge, the gameplay is really fun, and the game was just generally a pretty good time.

    I LIKE Devil May Cry games, but all I remember of the story is LITERALLY:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9vhFUrQjJE
    Seriously. That’s all I think of when I think of the previous DMC games, and I’ve completed a good number of them.

    I also do a little games programming in my spare time, and so I know how much effort goes into making the polished games that go on sale, so I buy games that I think are pretty cool, or have an interesting concept, especially ones on sale, even if I have no real interest in playing them at that time.

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/05/26/the-slow-strange-death-of-the-demo/

    This is the only counter argument I’ve ever seen to the “Demos hurting sales” one, and it has zero evidence/figures to back it up.
    I find the implications of one of the last statements, the “Which reminds me of an earlier post about demos, and why they’re so often very wrong and even misleading to focus on the first chunk of a game” pretty concerning.
    Is it not implying that, if your game is horribly tedious for 80% of the game, you should just show the best bit?
    So.. You should Sonic ’06 your demo..?
    I’m using that game a LOT, but it’s the only game I’ve literally EVER gone “FUCK THIS. It’s just TOO broken to PLAY!”, whilst the demo stage (Which was pretty much the least broken SEGMENT of a level they could find..) was actually a lot of fun.

    Although, like I already said, if Sonic ’06 had let us play one of the Mach Speed levels, or a Silver/Shadow level, they’d have had almost zero sales..

    Having said that about demos, I think that XBLA games actually do a LOT better with demo content though, due to the fact that you can upgrade to the full game mid-play, with zero effort, and you don’t have to . I’ve purchased a number of XBLA games that I wouldn’t have, through those demos.
    In that example, it’s a case of “I’m already playing, and having fun, I want to carry on having fun, and have access to all the features!”, making your purchase more of an impulse buy, which services like Steam can’t offer.

    Basically, what I’m saying is, your game is literally INEVITABLY going to be on a bay of pirates, why would you even bother to waste the man hours to make a demo, when giving money to the developer of the game is effectively -ALREADY- an honor system..?

    Also, it makes me wonder about the point of putting DRM into games, at a “Time/Cost vs Reward” level, when there are people who rip it out of your game in hours/days, as a hobby. =/

  11. We tried this with our Arcade Collection (http://www.ledaentertainment.com/arcadecollection/) – a set of retro arcade games for Windows Phone. The games were free to download and came with 25 credits per month. If you wanted to play more than that, you had to buy additional credits at 10p per credit – just like the old arcade.

    We got so slagged off int he marketplace for being in the free section, but asking players to pay, that we ripped out all the IAP and went with an ad-supported model instead. All those 1* reviews were destroying our download figures.

  12. The last time I played a demo then bought the game was just this week with Kerbal Space Program, I would prefer to try before I buy when it comes to games.

    I’ve been stung in the past buying games on the strength of a video & the game turns out to be a turkey & I’ve wasted my money, give me a proper hands on demo & if it’s any good I’ll buy it every time.

    If a games developer won’t provide a demo of their “prize winning” game that usually means it’s a real turkey, so far your games have all been brilliant, don’t put off customers like me just because some industry “expert” says it’s the right thing to do.

    1. Herein lies a problem… we are the experts. We’ve got the data. Hard facts. The simple truth of it is, demo conversions are very rare. We’re better off just concentrating getting people to pay for the games up front.

      I haven’t completed the picture of course… we’re also charging bugger all money for them. In an ideal world, we’d offer the games for so little money that 100% of people downloading the game will just take a punt on it. Unfortunately credit card transactions do come at a price so we can’t quite go as low as we’d like.

    1. Yeah, we’re working on it, slowly! The nonvisual simulator core is done. Just starting the client GUI now.

  13. This is depressing news for me, because it means I’m in a minority in yet another aspect of games, and it means that as far as I am concerned, games are going straight down the toilet. I refuse to buy games based on a video unless the game has monstrous amounts of other positive endorsement. In fact, I view game videos as all but completely useless – they are a fast way to unsell me on your game. If I am watching your game video, you have about 15 seconds to convince me that I should care about your game, and 99% of all games fail that test. My greenlight voting record is chock full of games that might be good but which utterly failed to sell me with their crappy videos.

    I bought Revenge of the Titans based solely upon the demo. It took a while – I wasn’t really sure it was my thing for a long period of time, but I dug that demo up again, and decided it was good enough to merit a purchase. I would never have even considered the game otherwise. I love Xbox Live Arcade because everything has a demo and it’s easy for me to make informed decisions. I hate PSN because all too often, stuff there doesn’t have a demo, and even if it does, it’s irritating to get from the demo to purchasing the actual game. Guacamelee sounds like fun, but no demo on PSN, so screw ‘em, I have plenty of games already.

    Even Steam seriously drops the ball here, IMHO – it’s surprisingly irritating to transition from the demo of something to the full game, which might be playing into the whole low conversion rate issue for games on there; Though I recognize that you guys are doing it the old fashioned way, straight from the game, which should, if the world were a rational place, work better.

    Oh. And I DO feel ripped off if I buy a book or go to a movie and it’s crap. And as a result, I don’t watch many movies, and I have a hard time ante-ing up for a book I’ve never heard of in a bookstore.

    I understand that I am, apparently, the tiny minority in that I am a rational, informed consumer, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Thus, this rant.

    1. Your rational informed behaviour though is rather depriving you of entertainment though… fortunately you are indeed, completely abnormal :)

      1. Fortunately for me, I get a lot mileage out of the games I do buy. ;) I bought a Nintendo 3DS and Fire Emblem: Awakening based on (you guessed it!) playing the Demo at the Nintendo Booth at PAX East. 70 hours logged there so far, and I’m not done yet! :)

        And of course, like most of the rest of the world, I have a bunch of games in my Steam library that I bought on sale because even for me, games priced at $2.50 or thereabouts tend to enable “Oh screwit, how bad can it be?” purchases.

        1. That’s exactly it: we’re currently probing to find out exactly what price people will say, “Oh screwit, how bad can it be?”… and then funnel thousands of people into it.

          I mean, even a fairly mediocre game is probably worth $1, because you can have a bit of fun discovering how rubbish it is and then ranting about it. It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. I’d like to think that our games were reasonably awesome though and easily worth $20 :)

          1. I haven’t actually looked at any of your other titles in any form.

            The actual problem I have is that there are too many games, so I can afford to be crazy picky.

  14. I disagree that demos “should” be dead.

    I’d pirate a lot less games if there was a demo.
    I played demos for F1 2012, Towns, Darksiders 1 and 2, Project Zomboid, Gunpoint, Crusader Kings II, Football Manager 2013, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Sleeping Dogs, Spec Ops: The Line and so on before buying the game.
    I could name even more.

    I’m genuinely disappointed if there is not a demo of a game. There’s stuff that a video simply can’t explain.
    The death of the demo is a rise for piracy for sure. If that really hurts the devs may be a subject not scientifically proven, though.

  15. Add another to the list of the disappointed (apparent) minority.

    I’ve been burnt enough times on “It’s got to be worth at least that much!” entertainment purchases in the past that now if I’ve got concerns about a game, I don’t buy it if I can’t try it. Between past unsatisfactory experiences, and a long list of games to play, no price is enough to get me to say “screw it, I’ll give it a shot” when I’ve got doubts anymore. Videos are missing the single most important thing – interactivity.

    The flip side is I’ve bought games based on the strength of the demo before – sometimes games I wouldn’t have even noticed if it hadn’t been for the demo. Have I purchased every game I’ve tried the demo for? Of course not. Not even most. But I’ve yet to go from probable sale to no sale based on one either.

    And an aside – I’ve never actually bought a full game via a demo’s “purchase” link either. I’ve always gone back to the direct source.

    1. I’ve just solved this problem by rarely buying anything over a tenner. I got burned once – Everyday Shooter I think – but now on reflection I’m not unhappy to have spent a tenner on it. Maybe I’ll even go back one day and try to appreciate it. Having said that, I bought it entirely based on wordy hype around the internet, and didn’t see a video. If I had seen a video I’d probably have not bought it.

      1. I rarely buy anything over that price either. But there are so many games available for that price (especially if you don’t feel the need to buy a game immediately at release), and my wish list of games is definitely bigger than my budget for games.

        If I have doubts about a game, I don’t spend my money on the game. I’m far more free with spending my time, though.

        That said, I understand the business case against a demo. Especially a pre-launch demo. Impulsive purchases can be huge. It just sucks for the more cautious consumer like myself.

  16. didn’t read all entries, but I think demos are still important. I don’t have a high end computer and sys requirements are often off, I’ve bought games that I was unable to play or old games on steam that were full of bugs and barely playable.

    Also take into account that, unlike books or movies, I cannot get to experience a complete game if I’m not skilled enough. So a demo lets me know how hard the game is, I have games so hard that I don’t get to see 20% of all their content.

    I don’t buy iOS games if I’m not able to play the demo first, why? some games have awful controls and are unplayable, I need to experience first-hand if I’ll enjoy it. Games are about EXPERIENCES not just content, so demos are important.

    You can, of course, stop making demos, if that works for you, good! But is this a trend? Just because you don’t find them useful doesn’t mean everyone does, and this hardly looks like a research, more like a personal hunch on something that needs some data to back up your claims.

    1. I’ve got a million rows of data to back me up, made up over 8 games, over 10 years. Now I notice that most of the rest of the “professional” industry has tacitly been doing the same thing since about 2005 already.

  17. I think some of the backlash from this comes from your statement that the “Demo is dead,” when in truth it is not, and should not be. You do quickly follow up and mention that the demo does not work for your style of games, which indeed may be the case.

    As you pointed out, with a low enough price point, a demo is not needed nearly as much as say for a $60 AAA title. If the price of the game is comparable to the price of a good book, or a movie… taking a risk on it isn’t as big a deal. And, as you stated in your post, you were comparing this to other games you have purchased, usually at a deep discount on steam… so yes, price can affect the ‘need’ for a demo. For a low enough price point, I’ve forgone the the whole demo stage myself.

    Ideally, I would still like a demo even in those cases. I am much more likely to drop money on a game I could try out, via a demo or playing it at a friends house or some other method, rather than solely having to rely on a video or review (and I would not trust a review if the reviewer had not got a chance to play the game personally, which in effect is a proxy-demo). A demo is more likely to make me purchase a game when it first comes out, at full price, rather than waiting till a Steam sale comes along. A video can help encourage a purchase if its done right (as others have mentioned, having the video show actual game play instead of chunks of cut scenes and story elements), but its not the same as hands on play.

    And, as a side reference to the posts above, with the caveat that you are specifically talking about demos for cheap/reasonably priced games and I am referring to demos which include more expensive games… A book can be checked out from the library, or sampled for a few pages in the store before you purchase, and get a reasonable text-based demo of the book. You can sample music in so many different ways before purchase, and get a reasonable audio sample of the album you are buying. Sure, a movie trailer or review is not always an honest representation of what is to come, but it is a video demonstration of the movie in question.

    In all three cases, reviews and opinions of friends might indeed encourage me to give them a try. More likely, it would encourage me to seek out a ‘demo’ version and see if my opinions matched those of my friends. And a proper demo would be in the medium of the subject in question.

    All of which is moot, I suppose, when your numbers show that from a business point where profits make the decisions (as it should, if you want to run a successful business), I and others like me are in the minority. However, I have never seen a demo of a game that hurt sales if the game (and demo) was good. I HAVE seen games not release demos because they knew their game was bad, and did not want to give players a chance to see that before purchase. Personally, I’m more likely to favor a game that offers a choice of a demo, as it sends a message to me that “We have faith that our game is good, and are willing to put something out there to prove it”.

    But if the lack of demo loses you one sale, and the low price garners you 5 new sales… the correct business choice is obvious. I will be interested to see the results of this choice you have made.

    1. Even if the demo is amazing, you’ve already experienced a good portion of the game, and so, your curiosity may well be sated, and you now have no need to purchase the game.

      Effectively meaning, someone just paid to entertain you. Pretty sure THAT is not how that’s supposed to work.

      Having said that though, if demos get a lot of downloads, and yet, make no money, why not look into slapping some ads in there?
      At least that way, you could potentially make SOME money from people trialing your game?

      People tolerate adverts whilst watching TV, so that they can watch better shows without paying more, I’m sure they could learn to do the same with games.

  18. You can certainly do as you wish. Perhaps your target market is very different than myself. Over a certain amount of money, if there’s no demo, I don’t pick up the game. I’ve been burned shelling out for a game I couldn’t stand too many times, and I consider videos only marginally useful. “We can put a pretty video together” doesn’t necessarily translate to “We can make a game you, in particular, will enjoy”.

    I also rarely go to see movies in the theater, since most are just fine on DVD, and I am the freak who reads the preview chapters before getting a book. And a physical copy of a book and movie can be passed on to someone else, thus limiting the amount of money I feel I’ve wasted. For good or ill, once a computer game is installed, it’s mine and only mine.

    The latest game I’ve bought over 5 U.S. dollars? Torchlight and Torchlight 2, which both offer demos. It takes a great deal of familiarity with the style of the people doing a game before I am willing to risk more than that with no demo. I don’t even play demos very long, just 30-60 minutes as a taste test to see if I’m still interested in playing it after that. But perhaps I am in the minority.

  19. There isn’t a marketing professional in the world that can’t put a good spin on a game in making a video. Heck, they’ve been doing that for movie trailers forever. You can look at two trailers for the same film and end up completely different conclusions about what the rest of the film will be about. You get the “hint” trailer, followed by the “”here’s the basic concept”, followed by (after a film’s release in theater) the “Well..here’s pretty much everything that’s cool in the film.”

    Since the medium of film is “to watch,” it makes sense that “demos” for it would take the form of video trailers.

    The medium of a game is to experience it, to press a button and see if you like that button’s placement, or run through an area and see if the gameplay leads you along, and if the pathables/non-pathables make sense. If people are playing your demos, and only 1% of those folks are being retained to make a purchase, then it’s because the gameplay is apparently lacking in some way. It could reflect a mildly unoriginal concept, or poorly positioned buttons/ menus, or any number of smaller things along those lines, Use that as feedback, not as an indicator that demos in-general are “broke.”

    You can claim that the people who’ve argued that demos are important to their purchases, are the 1%, but they aren’t. You CANNOT have the data you think you do. What you have is the “click-thru commital ratio” of how many played the demo and were hooked enough to buy that game. You have no way of knowing whether the people playing your demo would have bought the game if they hadn’t played the demo first. To hear you say that, it sounds like you’ve got this great product that would have done so much better if it hadn’t had a demo. You’d probably be right, some of those folks who weren’t impressed enough to buy, might have dropped money to risk playing it, and then decided, “wow.. no thanks..” or “crap.. well, since I’ve got it, I’ll play it through.” (Which is a good thing on your end, because they could become hooked with a game that they aren’t all that interested in to begin with.) From the player’s perspective, it sucks though.

    Personally, I’d be damn proud of those folks that played the demo and then bought the game. That’s the real deal right there, they liked your stuff and wanted more. It speaks volumes for the quality of the game. Those players loved your game and probably gave it good reviews, told their friends, recorded videos of themselves playing, etc. Without a demo, you likely wouldn’t have had those same people pulled in. A good demo builds the anticipation prior to release, and enables you to improve your product, based on early feedback. The folks that buy a game they like (especially with multiplayer content) on release day, will be a happier fan of the game. They want to impress their friends, etc.. If they come along later, after reviews/videos/word of mouth/ etc.. it’s not the same experience.

    Consumer risk-taking has fallen off considerably in all entertainment markets. People go for the “safe bets” based on game/movie sequels, popular books re-imaged into movies, popular stars, big-name effect companies, etc. With games, that effect is more pronounced because the cost of games make it impractical for most budget-minded folks to jump onto something unknown, and then if they don’t like it, jump to a less riskier title. Something like Halo 8 will outsell anything anyone puts out to compete with it on any console that will use it. That’s not going to be due to it’s own merits, but the merits of the previous games under that title. If you think in terms of pleasing investors by not taking risks, you’ll see how well it compares to the buying public.

    That “risk taking” is a huge leap of faith by consumers, and moving to the free-to-play model (like your company has the sense to be doing) will reduce/remove the effects of it. Of course, if the games aren’t monetized correctly, it’ll fail, and then you’ll be damning the Free-to-play model, instead of demos, and then you’ll be back to trying to sell your games from behind a curtain, with only “the good stuff” peeking through. .. you know, through video advertising.

    It’s unfortunate though.. if your game is cookie cutter enough to be fairly and adequately represented in most aspects, through a video, I suppose it’ll do just fine. I’ll just be wishing I had a demo of it to check it out, so that I don’t have to wait to rent the game first. Renting the game (for me) is the kiss of death for purchasing it, because I’ll finish the game, and then in-order to buy it, I’d have to REALLY be interested in it’s multiplayer content… it’s kinda like a full-feature demo.

    1. I think you really need your own blog to post an essay that large in response!!

      I believe you’ve missed the point of my article almost 100%. What you have written is the Golden Happy Indie Developer Mantra. It’s what we all wanted to believe, it’s what we all feel, in our happy little cosy indie hearts, is the perfect solution.

      It is not.

      It’s hard to repeatedly deconstruct the arguments against the data, but my brief response is:

      1. You cannot compare a trailer of a film to a demo of a game in terms of how we learn about something. The purpose of a film trailer is simply to let people know of a film’s existence and what sort of production and scenes might be in it. It is up to the consumer to decide whether to take a punt on going to the flicks and watching it (or even, buying a DVD/download, or even renting it).

      2. When I talk about 90% of the game’s delight being given away in the demo, I genuinely mean that. A film trailer gives away almost nothing of the plot or the character interactions or the emotions of the film itself. It gives you a tiny window into a few very short scenes and usually reads like the blurb on the back of a novel. A game demo, on the other hand, imparts 90% of the delight of discovery. You experience all the novelty the game has to offer in the demo, and this is sadly a huge part of the appeal of a game. Once you’ve consumed that 90% for free, it’s very hard to convince yourself to cough up infinitely more money for what is likely to be just the remaining 10%.

      3. Attempts to work around the problem are largely futile – whereas a film has the benefit of being a passive experience where you can be flicked forward through the timeline and cover two hours of plot inflections in just thirty seconds of soundbites, you can’t inflict this experience on the demo player. The demo player must either be put right at the start – usually the dullest part of game, as it has to be simple and easy enough for a complete beginner to learn how to master the game – or somewhere in the middle, where they’re likely to be overwhelmed by what’s going on, and confused by how they got there or why they’re there; and then you have to cut the demo so short it’s barely there at all. Consider 30 seconds out of a two hour movie – that’s just 0.4% of the running time of a film. Try that with a game and see how well it converts. There is, in short, almost no way to make a demo of a game that doesn’t give away 90% of the satisfaction of the game.

      4. The amount of money on the line and potential hassle is surprisingly critical in the decision making process when it comes to assessing risk. Everybody has a threshold below which they don’t care – everybody – but where that threshold is defined, from our perspective, by a distribution curve, influenced by personal tastes, peer review, financial liquidity, past experience, and convenience. This goes for film, books, games, theatre, opera, gigs – you name it.

      5. This whole article is based on real numbers and real data. Although I don’t have specific data from other indies (well, actually I do, but I’m not going to tell you their data), it basically mirrors mine. I couldn’t care less if the 1% of players who bought my games based on demo conversions don’t ever buy any more games from us again as a result of not having any more demos (actually, it’s 6%), because there are now a new 12% of players to replace them. Win.

  20. Guess I’ll never be buying any of your games, then. If so many people decide not to purchase your game after playing the demo, it must mean that your games aren’t very good. Personally, I love checking out demos of interesting looking games that flew under my radar, and buying them if the demo proves them to be worthy.

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