Demo Players Are The Enemy

Hitting the nail on the head:

Want to resell your game? With all the one-time use codes included with new games, resell value has gone down.

DRM? Ubisoft now requires you to have a constant Internet connection to play their PC games. And EA’s recently released Command & Conquer 4 has the same requirement.

The most recent mind-blowing announcement was that EA is planning to release “very long” game demos (3-4 hours, apparently) and charge $10-15 for them, then sell the full game later at full price.

All together now: holy shit.

Can anyone give me an example of one of the big gaming companies providing more value to the consumer in the last year?

Absolutely.

I desperately want to tell the story of why EA’s demos (Skate as exception) are so awful, but I shouldn’t because it is Inside Baseball and I don’t want to name names. Here’s the moral of the story though. Consumers see demos as a “try before you buy” that can help persuade you or dissuade you. Fairly reasonable. Some publishers see demos as another reason to issue a press release. If the demo could just be the Press Start screen, that’s what they would do. Any gameplay someone gets for free that they could be paying for is theft. If the demo provides no value to the consumer, that is irrelevant. If one person tries the demo and decides not to buy the game (FREELOADER) it is not worth it if two potential people who weren’t going to buy the game convinced by a satisfactory demo.

Why? To them, demos are for people who are already going to buy the game. That’s why they are going to charge for them. Some folks at EA see demos as accessories, ways to monetize existing fans. Not everyone in the brass is that shallow, but they get the most press. Some of the smartest people I’ve met at EA are in those echelons, but they don’t get the attention of the Intermob.

Generally, we designers hate that mercenary approach. We want to create art and get it into people’s hands. And if they enjoy it, it is only fair that they pay for the full experience. Anything that treats the audiences we respect as breathing piles of money is generally seen as sketchy, hence the recent backlash against Skinner Box Game developers.

But you know what? It will backfire. Because AAAs have been making culturally empty things for so long thanks to the suits that a second-tier game these days only has a few hours before it wears out its welcome. Many of us will gladly pay the $15 to get a few fun hours out of Generic Shooter X rather than a few fun hours and a lot of slogging with the $60 version.

It will just take a few iterations of the big publisher Prisoner’s Dilemma with one of them releasing a string of big budget flops to really shake things up. Which will happen first? This? Or the bubble bursting on the studios doing Skinner Box games? Or will they happen simultaneously? I for one am thrilled at the prospects of the aftermath.

7 Comments

  1. I’m definitely in favor of the ‘Cliff Notes Game’ idea. I’ve played many games that were a blast but lost their fun at around the four-hour point, and I’d definitely take an 80% discount to remove the chaff.

    I think this move will change developers’ mindsets. Publishers won’t be able to put multiplayer in the game’s Long Demo. Since most gamers base their purchase decisions on multiplayer, not campaigns, this will leave developers with little incentives to actually develop the campaign past the 4-hour mark.

    End result: Tighter, more focused single-player campaigns, a la Portal, for a very good price.
    If your real concern is getting art to the masses, it seems like EA’s demos are in your favor.

  2. I may be Old Man Cynic Mccynic Pants, but I really think if devs are going to have little incentive to develop past the 4-hour mark that they will get their resources cut proportionally and you will see the same level of quality at best.

  3. As far as big companies providing more value to the consumer in the past year, GSC Game World and their handling of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series is the first (and best) example that comes to mind. If you had purchased Clear Sky or Shadows of Chernobyl, you got a $10 discount on Call of Pripyat (which they were only asking $30.00 for originally, and this game was easily larger/longer/more entertaining than most $40, $50, or the two $60 dollar PC games). The game is also easily/heavily modded, and multiplayer maps are being released for free as of recently.

    But perhaps GSC does not fit your definition of “big gaming companies”… I guess Valve is the biggest I can think of that continues to shine with support and value in mind?

    As far as the large $10-$15 demos go, I do hope that by doing things this way, more risks are taken and more diverse games are tried out. Using the demos to get a feel for the consumer response and getting some ratings up on IGN/Gamespot/Kotaku/etc without investing huge amounts of money definitely isn’t even close to the worst idea I’ve heard from a gaming company these past couple months (I know, that’s not saying much).

    Also, this might be way off, but maybe this decision could have been influenced by piracy as well? Pirating a game to demo it before buying it is a very popular excuse, and many people that do this likely move on to another game before they do actually purchase a full version of a game they enjoy (or forget or are too lazy to pay, but are willing), in at least some cases. In my opinion, most “normal” demos are too short to make a decision about whether a game is worth the asking price, and giving out 4+ hours or so of gameplay for free would be risky for the company with all of the ADHD gamers out there that can’t play the same thing for more than a couple hours or juggle several games at once and forget about some of them…

    I can see a lot of people pirating the $15 demo, never paying for it, but then purchasing the full version once it comes out, all while the super fanboys won’t mind paying for both a demo and the full game (or getting their parents to). Or perhaps the opposite, enjoying the full game but feeling like it was half-baked and only deserves a $15-20 contribution for their efforts. I don’t know, just a thought.

  4. Isn’t what you are proposing the serialized games that came out a couple years ago? PS3 put one out that was some Jhorror survival thing.

    After playing some terrible demos (some because the game was terrible and some because they did weird gameplay limits), I would be more inclined to pay $10 for the first 3 hours as long as when I bought the full game I didn’t have to play those hours over (I’m looking at you Force Unleashed). Making me replay that part of the game is a disincentive to me purchasing the whole thing.

  5. EA has long abandoned video games as a form of Art. Look at what they have done with Madden 10, and Fight Night 4, bastardizing the products with the introduction of online Ads. In Madden 10, the Ads actually popup over gameplay prior to the snap of the ball. In Fight Night, it’s not as outrageous, the Ads are displayed there during a load up screen.

    What’s truly egregious about use of the Ads is that Ads are primarily used to compensate for a product or service that is being given away for free. Yet in EA Sports case, customers have already paid full price for their product, and are being slapped in the face with Ads that many feel taint both the immersion and overall experience of the game.

    Making matters worse, the Ads are not color coordinated, have no overall theme, and seem to be general Ads that would be displayed on any website found via a standard HTML page. In other words, the Ads weren’t even designed for the medium in which they are being displayed.

    Now, what’s beyond worse? Worst? Ads pay out by two means, pay per view, and pay per click, with the pay per click being orders of magnitudes more profitable than the pay per view, which typically only pays out a few cents for every 1000, 10000, or even 100000, views. In other words, EA Sports has spoiled their product and ruined their customer’s $60 gaming experience for what probably amounts to about one penny per customer.

    Yes, you got it. At the end of the day, that one cent of Ad revenue mattered more to EA Sports than their entire customer base combined.

    Well done EA Sports. Well done.

  6. You are entitled to your opinion. I don’t feel like they taint the immersion or ruin the game because I’m constantly being bombarded by ads when I watch TV sporting events anyway. Also, I would not assume Massive’s remuneration schedule to be the same as Google’s.

  7. Well first I think big companies ARE starting to build out more core experiences, quality over quantity. While not all have succeeded in this or found the formula that fits their game I think a lot of developers know this is what needs to be done. It has gotten to the point in technology that its not a matter of “what can we do?” anymore. its simply a question of “What can we do with this budget and this time frame?”

    A perfect example is third party sports titles like ones from EA and 2K Sports. Dev cycles are short for these SKU’s since they need to be released every year and the new feature lists start out grander than time would allow then dwindle to what time allows. On a side and in conjunction with raising costs to developing games now, the cost of exclusive rights for some of these games, end up making the project almost a loss in the end. Hence one of the many factors for using In Game Ads. Due to the fact that cost ARE so high, a lot of these dev teams are comprised of modular teams and core people that are working on multiple SKU’s. At face value that is fine, but the reality of it is crunching from one project to another based on staggered release dates makes this system draining. In the end you get recycled and dead experiences.

    I think there is a new trend waiting to emerge. I am calling it that hardcore casual. This is the short but sweet experience I think the industry needs to find before it can move forward. I mean as an ex hardcore player, I don’t have the time to invest in the involved deep games I once played growing up anyway. So now I want efficient and rich experiences without all the old repetition just to make the experience last longer. Show me one successful SKU from recent and that same experience could probably be shown in much less time, in turn making the dev cycle shorter and the costs lower.

    I could go on forever, but I will spare you the time. 😀

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