It is a great feeling to browse the PSN or XBL and find a demo of an up and coming game that you’ve been dying to play. We all crave to play something that isn’t out to the public yet and playing demos is a way to wet the appetite. I know it is fun and exciting but does that demo do the full version of the game justice? Can you trust everything you see and do as an actual representation of what is to come? Those are the issues that we all face in downloading that demo and those issues can make or break a game.
Back in the days before the internet, demos were distributed on CD and usually packed into print publications or given away at your local game store. Needless to say people generally didn’t get their hands on those demos in any significant quantity. It wasn’t until the internet came along that PC demos were widely distributed and available for all gamers. It took consoles even longer to get their demos out to the public and I’d even venture to say that it wasn’t until the current generation that console game demos became popular. In the earlier days games were much smaller and less complex allowing game companies to make distinct separations in their games and allow the public to sample small pieces of the game. When your game was separated into levels or stages it was easy to offer the first stage or two for the public to play and enjoy with the promise of more levels, power ups, weapons, etc. Today’s gaming landscape is so diverse and games are incredibly complication that those clear distinct separations no longer exist and compressing a 40 hour game into a 10 minute demo is daunting. So when does this condensation of games start to do the game an injustice?
I believe that most action games can be successfully condensed. First person shooters, 3rd person shooters and even hack and slash games are all segmented enough where you can give someone the first 10 minutes of the game to get an accurate representation of the full version game. It’s the genres like role playing games and open world games where things get much harder to separate. When an RPG decides they want to release a demo they usually limit the player by taking away critical game elements to condense the experience. I know that for the Dragon Age II demo, Bioware had to take away the inventory system all together. They also removed features in the game that help to immerse the player in the story line like important characters, events and items that would normally help to make people interested in the game. RPGs will also try to show off the variability of the terrain and environments but this usually ends up confusing people. It would make a lot more sense if they would just limit the demo to the first couple of minutes or show off one section of the game that has a lot of action built into the story. The more consistent they make the demo the better it reflects on the rest of the game.
When you switch from one environment to another with no consistency at all it would lead people to believe that the rest of the game is just like that and this just isn’t the case. Based on the Dragon Age II demo I wouldn’t have even considered purchasing the full game. Luckily for me and Bioware, I know they make quality games and I bought it anyways and it turned out to be an excellent game. Its situations like these that really highlight what a demo could do for your game and what negative effects can come along with it. It also highlighted how RPGs shouldn’t have demos to begin with. It’s is more often the case these days that games are too complex to have demos and offer so many features that by cutting the game down you loose too much of the experience to accurately represent the game. I would much rather take a chance on a property based on the coverage of the game rather than by playing a demo that doesn’t show off the game the way it should. It is a shame that people put so much faith into demos and they take everything they see out of context. Of course game companies are going to save the best weapons, levels, power ups, etc for the parts of the game you pay for. More times than not the demo is just an alpha version of the game cleaned up a bit. Demos are meant to give you an idea of what the game is going to be like, not what the finished product is going to look or feel like.
I feel it’s important that everyone realize what they are playing when they download a demo. It is meant to give you a taste of things to come and when everyone complains about the length or details shown in the demo it just hurts everyone. I feel many of the games released today should just keep their efforts focused on polishing the game and leave the gameplay for the paying customers. Sure it could help sales of the game but I feel that more often than not it becomes a platform for complaints and it takes some momentum away from what would normally be an excellent game.