Are Game Demos Really Going Away?



Following recent tradition, Capcom are being rather creative and forward-thinking in their approach to promoting their upcoming big-budget games. The one I’m thinking of in particular is Dead Rising 2. Like Bionic Commando before it, DR2 will be available first in the form of digitally downloadable content that isn’t just a demo of the game. Where Bionic Commando was preceded by a remake of the original NES game on XBLA and PlayStation Network, Dead Rising 2 follows a slightly more traditional, efficient approach.


At X10 earlier this year, Capcom announced that a standalone episode that serves as a prologue to the events of Dead Rising 2 will be released on Xbox Live ahead of the release of the retail game itself. Titled Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, the episode won’t require a copy of Dead Rising 2, and serves as a “unique sample” experience of sorts. It introduces Chuck, the new protagonist, along with his daughter, in a town overrun by zombies.


The catch here is that there has been no mention of an actual free-to-download demo so far, even following the recent Capcom press conference in Hawaii. Downloading Case Zero is going to cost money — money that you probably didn’t expect to spend on sampling the game before release. Now, while one certainly can’t accuse Capcom and Blue Castle of shafting consumers here — Case Zero is a unique experience after all — it also raises the question: is this a step toward eventually moving us away from the luxury of being able to sample as few games as possible for free? After all, EA, too, have brought up the subject of having customers pay $10 – 15 for what they call “premium demos.”


Defending his publisher’s business plan, Crytek CEO Cervat Yerli recently said in an interview: “Because we’ve had this free luxury for so long, now there are plans to change this people are complaining about it. The reality is that we might not see any free game demos in the long term.”


It makes you wonder if the majority of publishers really do view demos as something that hurts their business. I feel it’s safe to say that most of us at the consumer end view a well-crafted demo as an easy way to figure out whether we’re going to enjoy a game or not. Sure, a follow-up to a successful game like Dead Rising 2 may not require a demo to sell itself, but for a new, untested game, a free demo can be crucial to attracting an audience. $15 is still a fair bit of money to put down for a game you don’t know you’ll enjoy. Judging by the free Monster Hunter Tri demo disc, Capcom are fully aware of this fact.


So maybe not all demos are going to go away. Maybe we’ll still see the occasional vertical slice of new and different games in future years. One just hopes publishers aren’t so fixated on their bottom line that they forget how to speak to their audience. After all, both movies and music albums still have trailers and music videos on MTV, both of which count as free demo experiences.


Food for thought:


On the other hand, Case Zero is exclusive to Xbox Live, which means there’s no equivalent of a “demo” available to PS3 owners. Perhaps we’ll hear announcement of a separate demo in the future after all.

Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.