The saying is that first impressions go a long way, and make an initial impact such to define a persons overall liking/disliking of a particular person or thing; in this instance, a video game. So, demos, as they are so thoughtfully and helpfully granted to us for free, should probably give us a great insight into a game and leave us wanting more, so much more that we will stop at nothing to delve into the last pieces of shrapnel at the bottom of our wallets (or even credit card), throw that recession bullshit to the wind and fork out on a game that, from the demo, we simply just want to continue.
A brilliant example of a demo that did this was the Fable II downloadable chapters provided on Xbox Live after the launch of the game. I happily did the first chapter and fully immersed myself into the world of Albion; upgrading my character and powers and kicking some serious ass, only to then be hit with a ‘buy the full game now’ prompt screen when I was just beginning to grasp the concept of the game and was enjoying it fully. As you can probably guess, I was sucked into buying this game, and after playing it through fully, was so glad I did. So yes, game demos can be good, but, they can also be very bad, and fail poorly…
Dead Space is one example of a bad demo. It failed to make me want to move on and it threw me into the midst of a shit-load of crazy Necromorphs, starving for ‘noob’ blood and guts. They must have been getting pretty full because they were well fed a good few times. Dead Space however, (upon buying it anyway due to numerous people and magazine reviews telling me it was amazing) was amazing. The best survival horror game I’ve ever played and I was sucked in from the spine-tingling start and just itched for more. So why did they not use the first 15 minutes of the game for the demo? That would have worked fine!
In honesty, the demo for Dead Space kind of put me off the game and I put off buying it for a while, until it came down in price. Yes, I realise now what a mistake this was, but in my eyes the poor demo was to blame. The hype around the game before and on release had me interested, but as I was being given a demo of the game for free before purchase, I did the obvious thing; downloaded it. In this particular case, that was probably a bad idea.
It’s not that the demo didn’t give a good idea of the style of combat gameplay and mechanics used, or even what type of a game it was intending to be. It did those things well. Where it failed was that it dumped you into one of the tougher parts of the game (combat wise) and left you to fend for yourself. The demo was by no stretch a true representation of Dead Space. The atmosphere provided throughout this game in the brilliantly created and terrifyingly realistic environment did not shine through in the demo, nor did the engaging story or the characters within. Dead Space has a vast array of qualities that were not given their time to shine in the demo. It was too focused on showing off the combat, guns blazing side of the game, rather than it’s more appealing, spine tingling ability to make you as a player hesitate around almost every corner.
It’s obvious that demos as a marketing tool are very effective, but think of some of the best games you have ever played and ask yourself; ‘did I play a demo for them before buying?’. In my case, the answer to this question for all of my favourite games would be ‘No’. Gears of War demo? No. Halo, Final Fantasy 7, Deus Ex demo? No, no, no. Don’t get me wrong, I have bought games based on their demo, but none that I would ever regard as one of my personal top games. I have always found that the games that I don’t have demos for are the better ones, but why? Maybe it’s because the story is allowed to build from the start and I am able to engross myself into the game. Maybe it’s because nothing has been given away (other than video footage) before playing the game. I can’t quite put a finger on why.
Maybe we should question how we may feel about our favourite games if we had played a demo of them before purchasing…
What do you think?