Game Dev Claims Demos Hurt Game Sales

Andy Chalk

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Nov 12, 2002
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Game Dev Claims Demos Hurt Game Sales

The Art of Game Design author Jesse Schell says releasing a demo for a videogame can cut its sales in half.

Oldsters like me will remember something called "shareware" which, simply put, provided people with limited access to a game and gave them the opportunity to pay if they wanted to play the whole thing. It's a system that made the guys at Id Software very rich, but you don't hear much about shareware or game demos anymore, despite their near-ubiquity back in the day.

Jesse Schell, the author of Puzzle Clubhouse [http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Game-Design-lenses/dp/0123694965/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360615661&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Art+of+Game+Design], may have some insight into why. Speaking at DICE 2013, Schell claimed that releasing a demo actually has a very powerful negative impact on a game's sales because they provide gamers with an avenue to sate their curiosity without having to actually spend any money.

Citing EEDAR data on cumulative Xbox 360 unit sales over a six-month period, Schell demonstrated that games with a demo and a trailer sold roughly half as many copies as those with a trailer but no demo. "You mean we spent all this money making a demo and getting it out there, and it cut our sales in half?" he asked during his presentation. (The relevant bit starts at the 10:00 mark.)

"Yes, that's exactly what happened to you," he continued, answering his own rhetorical question. "Because when you put the demo out, people have seen the trailer and they're like, 'That's cool... I gotta try that game.' And then when they've played the demo [they think], 'Alright, I've tried that game, that was okay, alright, I'm done.' But the things with no demo, you've gotta buy it if you want to try it."

It is perhaps not the most gamer-friendly way to look at things and he also rather obviously overlooks one of the most common rationalizations for piracy, the oft-heard claim that it allows potential customers to "try before they buy." But from a business perspective - and like it or not, this is a business - it also proves the inherent fallacy in the statement by showing that piracy, even when used as a channel for unofficial demos, has a negative impact on game sales. It's easy to claim you wouldn't have purchased a game anyway when you've already played it, after all. But is it "right" that game publishers should so brazenly exploit the curiosity of gamers? Schell may have numbers on his side, but I suspect that not everyone will agree with him.

Source: Variety (YouTube)


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Kopikatsu

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May 27, 2010
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I find that very interesting. I'm sure many of the comments here will be 'Well, then those games sucked anyway', but I think Schell has made an important point, especially with the EEDAR numbers on his side.

Games that focus on gameplay could very well be hurt by demos because...gameplay is gameplay. You play it, you've already experienced what it has to offer, and then that's it.

Games that focus on narrative don't lend themselves very well to demos because while a demo might peak your interest in the story, they'd likely be giving you information that is wholly out of context and therefore is non-sensible, or a spoiler- in which case, that would also hurt the game because it's ruining it's own focus.
 

The_Great_Galendo

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I'm pretty certain that adding a demo only hurts your game if your game sucks.

When I go to the bookstore, I read the first chapter or so (or more, depending) before I buy, and if I don't like what I see, then I don't buy the book. My attitude with games is pretty much the same.
 

IronMit

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He uses a chart that shows sales figures of games with trailers against games with trailers and demo's.
The Games with only trailers sell twice as much as the one's with the demo's and trailers.

However AAA titles already know they don't need demo's so are just showing trailers. And thus AAA titles sell a lot more anyway.
I don't remember playing an Assassins Creed 3 demo on my console for instance. And some of the best selling games of last year included mass effect 3 and Fifa and they had demo's.
 

Eternal_Lament

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I remember hearing something about this, that out of 9 possible scenarios (made up with 3 levels of demo quality ad 3 levels of game quality) that only 2 out of those 9 possibilities will actually lead into increased sales (a terrible game with an amazing demo, and an okay game with an amazing demo) Every other combination either results in no noticeable increase or, in other cases, a decrease in sales.

And to be fair, I can't think of the last time that the demo alone made me want to buy a game. I either was going to get it anyways, in which case the demo just sates my appetite, or it actually turns me off wanting to get the game.
 

saintdane05

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Ah, someone has been watching Extra Creditz, haven't they?

http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/demo-daze
 

LordLundar

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So his entire argument boils down to "We need to get the money from the sheep before they realize it's a piece of shit".

Bob was right. The DICE speakers are almost entirely pretentious assholes.
 

Assassin Xaero

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I've bought a few indie games just because of the demos. Dungeon Defenders is the only one I can think of where the demo made me not want to buy it. Well, and Heavy Rain, but Heavy Rain already looked like crap and I just played the demo to make sure it was crap.
 

LostintheWick

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He's specifically talking to developers and publishers that create mediocre titles as their means for profit.
This doesn't apply to solid titles :)
 

bandit0802

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If I decided not to buy the game after playing the demo, it's because the demo didn't impress me. A good demo usually entices me to buy the full version.
 

fix-the-spade

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Interesting point... but I find it odd when demos (and more recently, closed/open betas) were such an important feature of my gaming life.

I got a demo of Metal Gear Solid in a PS1 magazine, played it, played it again, went out and bought the game the next day.

Half Life 2's Ravenholm demo had a similar effect on me. MGS in particular I wouldn't have bought without the demo, I was a Quake freak at the time, a third person-not-shooting-everything game didn't appeal no matter how good the reviews.
 

The_Great_Galendo

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Eternal_Lament said:
I remember hearing something about this, that out of 9 possible scenarios (made up with 3 levels of demo quality ad 3 levels of game quality) that only 2 out of those 9 possibilities will actually lead into increased sales (a terrible game with an amazing demo, and an okay game with an amazing demo) Every other combination either results in no noticeable increase or, in other cases, a decrease in sales.

And to be fair, I can't think of the last time that the demo alone made me want to buy a game. I either was going to get it anyways, in which case the demo just sates my appetite, or it actually turns me off wanting to get the game.
Well, these are both interesting arguments, but I'd bet that, at the very least, an amazing game with an amazing demo would also increase sales (by giving more people the opportunity to get hooked on it). I also suspect that an okay demo would increase sales for a terrible game. I don't know if an okay demo for an okay game would help or hurt; on the one hand, more possible exposure, but on the other hand, less hype. I'm not the sort of person that buys into hype, so for me I know which scenario is more probable, but I can't speak for the majority of my fellow citizens.

Still, upon reflection, both arguments seem to boil down to the advice "don't release a demo that's worse than your game".
 

Zerstiren

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I think we can come to a reasonable compromise, between game developers and their audience: encourage the sale of used games and rentals.
 

Kross

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Sep 27, 2004
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I know that I would have never purchased Fallout 1 with my limited budget, if not for its fantastic one town demo.

It's hard to quantify how many people buy a game because of a demo, and it's also hard to determine what scope the demo should portray to draw sales. Some demos give too much, some are tedious, and some are broken - all things that will disincline people to purchase the full game.
 

Random Argument Man

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May 21, 2008
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Well we say a bad demo means a bad game. Although, I thought the demo for Spec Ops: the line was pretty boring...and then everyone gave it a best game of the year nod.

So... Yeah, buy a demo and check the reviews to see if offers more than the demo showed you.
 

Deathfish15

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I love how everyone focuses on this one comment section of the guy's 20 minute speech. How about the part where he explains that 3D gaming is a "fad" that "rich geeks" will have, but it's not something people want on a daily basis? Or how about the part where he explains to companies to stop nickle-and-dimeing customers and just sell a full, enjoyable product at a single price? Or, another great part that he explains, is how Free-2-Play is not the way to get customers because of the skepticism by customers based on their mental perception of not receiving a full product?



P.S. However, to talk slightly about this guy's "demo opinion", I'll state that I was considering buying the PC version of Crysis 3 until I tried the Open Beta/Demo....now, I've tried it and have moved on to better things without purchasing.
 

Tanis

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Aug 30, 2010
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You expect me to drop 60USD on a game without anything but METACRITIC to back it up?

What...are you retarded...or high...or highly retard?
 

mdqp

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He is telling the truth, but it's not like I should care about it, as a customer. If I can pressure a company into releasing a demo, than by all means I will, so I will risk less when I decide if I should buy a game or not.

This also tells me nothing on how many established brands had demos, compared to new IPs (established series will sell more, regardless of demos, usually. Also, people are more wary of new brands, so they will evaluate more closely the demo).

Bottom line is, this tells me very little about the situation, and it also means nothing to me, because it isn't about giving me a better service, but is about trying to get as much money as possible out of my pockets, so it's something I should probably be against as a matter of principle in the first place.