If you’ve been a gamer for a few years now, odds are you’ve played a video game demo — and odds are, you probably enjoyed getting a taste of a game you were interested in. But as the gaming industry continues to evolve, many AAA titles are removing themselves from the practice of releasing playable demos. This is a big mistake.
It’s no question that the nature of game demos has changed in the last five years, taking place on a stage broadcast live to the world instead of being downloaded and played in the viewer’s living room. Every year we see hundreds of games played by developers at events such as E3, PAX, Gamescom, and more — made available to those in attendance or a select few behind closed doors — but why not release them to the public at large?
We certainly have the technology to do so, as proved by the growing digital market on consoles. But as for the practice of making demos for consumers, it’s more a question of ‘how’ rather than ‘why’.
With games becoming more costly to produce, publish, and advertise; many developers have opted to use reviews, promotional demos on stage, and avenues like YouTube or Twitch to market their game and the experience within. This strategy puts games in the hands of trusted personalities to share with their audience, hopefully encouraging them to go out and purchase the game themselves. These previews and exclusive look programs have become paramount to the promotion of AAA games and indie games alike, especially considering that most of us currently consume gaming content through these avenues.
But just because we consume content differently, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be getting a chance to try out the games developers are releasing — especially because they have the digital capability to do it.
Take a look at Microsoft for example, who has a trial program available for Xbox One. The trials allow you to download a full copy of the game to your Xbox One and play through a selected area of the game, usually the beginning, before cutting you off, prompting you to purchase the full product. These trials also work for multiplayer games, giving you access for a few hours to get a feel for the online gameplay before encouraging you to purchase a full copy of the game from the Xbox store.
The catch? Only a few of these trials exist — and they’re usually not for the large AAA titles you want to try out or locked behind subscription programs like EA Access. Fallout 4, Rainbow Six Siege, Halo 5, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 all lack playable game demos in Xbox’s trial program, with Rise of the Tomb Raider being the only AAA release to feature a trial — which is phenomenal, by the way.
Therein lies the problem: as consumers we’re unable to try the product we’re about to purchase.
Sixty bucks is a lot of money to pony up for an entertainment product you haven’t experienced for yourself. While some gaming franchises like Battlefield and Call of Duty are near-guaranteed to produce the content you’d expect, there’s plenty of games being released that may not live up your expectations (or exceed them).
That’s where game demos are supposed to come in.
By adding a trial for every major game release, both Sony and Microsoft could help establish a new layer of trust between gamers and developers that would allow consumers to feel more confident about their video game purchases. Not only do these trials allow gamers to experience the titles they’re interested in first-hand, but it gives them a chance to develop a connection with the game itself — which would further encourage them to purchase the product.
Take Rise of the Tomb Raider’s trial for example. I downloaded the game to my Xbox One and played through an hour-long chunk of the game which allowed me to experience the narrative, gameplay, and style the game was going for. As a fan of the original Tomb Raider release on Xbox 360, I had been contemplating purchasing the sequel — and the trial sold me on my purchase. It allowed me to develop a connection with Lara’s narrative once again, which is something I wouldn’t have done through promotional advertisement (although I understand everyone is different).
The beautiful thing about these trials is that they don’t have to be specifically cataloged as a demo either, because they simply allow access to a game for a limited amount of time before prompting those playing to purchase the full version of the game itself — thus eliminating the requirement for extra funding and development time from those producing the video game itself.
At this point, there’s really no excuse not to push programs like Microsoft’s trial program forward and continue to invest in the, especially considering that many gamers (including myself) are starting to doubt the worth of many AAA titles releasing these days due to unfinished releases and sub-par performance.
I mean honestly, who can forget what Assassin’s Creed Unity did to poor Arno’s face in front of Elise?
If I’d seen that in a trial for Assassin’s Creed Unity, I certainly wouldn’t have taken it out on the town. Would you have?