I’ll be brutally honest when I say this; at the DICE Summit 2013 Jesse Schell took to the stage and discussed the game industry and while a lot of his commentary was right-on, the part that stuck out to me and many others was his talk about game demos. In his mind, game demos are a bad thing for developers and publishers as they can hurt sales by as much as 50%. That is really an incredible figure to toss around, isn’t it? On top of that, he argues that there are many other ways to market a game that will help sales that are not demos, stuff that will force the consumer to purchase the game to see if it is any good or not.
Doesn’t something about this whole argument just seem… dishonest?
If someone is not buying something because they played the demo, wouldn’t that mean that they didn’t like the game, or at least the part of it that they played? It feels like Schell is putting the onus on the consumer for being “bad” for the industry by trying out games and deciding that they don’t like them as opposed to purchasing them and then finding out that they don’t like them. No matter what, gaming is an industry where the idea is to provide the public with a product that they want and will enjoy, hopefully buying more of that product from you in the future because they liked what you sold. It seems detrimental to everyone involved to have it the other way around where you lure the public into buying a game on showy trailers and pre-rendered videos that cannot give them a feel for how the game actually plays.
“They give you this, but you pay for that,” Neil Young said all those many years ago and it is still apparently true.
The implication from Schell is that a trailer is what will lure in the consumer, they’ll say that they want to try that game. A demo means that they will go and actively seek out the demo, try it, then say, “well, that was okay” and not buy the game. I feel as if he is relying too heavily on his numbers and the recent tactics of major publishers who have been neglecting to put out demos for their bigger games in fear of them being exposed for not being as good as they make them to look. So what Schell is saying is that from a business standpoint it makes more sense to pull the wool over your consumer’s eyes and punch them in the face after they’ve pulled out their wallet.
Why not just make better games that people will actually want to play?
Sure, I understand from a business standpoint that you want to maximize every dollar that you spend in hope for getting that big return. That is the end game for publishers; to make the most money. They want to keep consumers just happy enough so that they’ll keep buying games, or else they aren’t utilizing their resources correctly. The only problem with that is that very model has been utilized by other industries and we’ve seen consumer dissatisfaction grow along with the prices of products and how little value there are in them.
If you don’t believe me just do some research on the airline industry and how their price-gouging and shoddy customer service has bred angry, resentful consumers who now hate to fly.
Game demos keep the industry honest, it keeps the publishers from releasing crappy games with super cool trailers and marketing materials and forcing the consumer to spend $60 on something that they might not enjoy.