Beta ≠ Demo

January 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm (Rants, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Yesterday the MAG open beta closed. Now the developers have received feedback and have an opportunity to make adjustments and improvements where required. However, as I said, I wasn’t too impressed with the game from what I saw in the beta. That means that myself and anyone else who left the beta feeling the game wasn’t worth their money is not going to buy the game, and if enough people feel this way, they would have been better not having a beta. That way people could never have gotten poor impressions of the game and they may have sold more copies when people had to base their decisions on reviews. However, there is a way to remedy this problem. They could release a demo.

It seems that nowadays most game developers think that an open beta is all the demonstration a game needs, but since the purpose of a beta is to find bugs and flaws (and there will be bugs and flaws in any beta) developers are using an unfinished, faulty product to advertise their game. The first Uncharted had a demo and this was the deciding factor in me buying the game. Uncharted 2 had no demo, because as co-president of Naughty Dog Evan Wells said, the developers didn’t think they could condense a “12-15 hour experience…. into 15 minutes.” Maybe that’s true (although they managed to create a demo for their first game pretty well), or maybe they were relying on their open multiplayer beta to help sell the game for them. Luckily for them, when I played the beta for Uncharted 2, the game seemed pretty much complete. So, after a less than stellar beta, the best thing that Zipper Interactive can do is release a demo to prove that they’ve taken people’s comments on board and addressed their issues with the game.

One online game with a demo is Battlefield 1943. I never bought the game, but then again I never would have bought the game without trying it first. So EA didn’t lose anything there. However, at 30 minutes of game time, the demo was probably too short for me to make up my mind about anything. And why was the demo only 30 minutes long? With 3 classes and a variety of vehicles how could I possibly have gotten to grips with any of the game?

Unlike a single player game, a multiplayer game has no end and therefore people tend to play them more. So why allow them to only sample an experience that has no end for only 30 minutes? Good luck finding a style of play that suits you or getting your mates together to try the demo with you in that 30 minutes. So why not give us a day, maybe even 2 (make it a weekend) to try out your game [To clarify, that is 2 days from the activation of the demo, not 2 days worth of game time]. If we like it, then we’ll buy it, if we don’t, you haven’t really lost anything.

In fact if the player is allowed to carry their stats over from the demo to the game once they’re more likely to want to buy the game to justify the hours they put into the demo [The proof’s in this article explaining the commitment to Duke Nukem Forever(via Kotaku)]. Which brings me on to my next point, if you hold an open beta for your game, make sure any experience/rewards etc carry over to the full game. The beta is open to all, so there’s no argument of unfair advantage and again if people put a lot of time into the beta then carrying their stats over to the full game will encourage them to buy it.

Some games like Uncharted 2 and Modern Warfare 2 can sell purely on hype and the popularity of their predecessors. However, you’ll notice that both the first Uncharted and Modern Warfare had demos (although MW was only on PC). With so many games being hyped as amazing masterpieces (such as Borderlands, which gets good reviews but since I haven’t played it, I’m not going to buy it) the best way to set a game apart from and above the rest is to offer gamers a demo. After all, if a game is as good as its hype the game devs have nothing to worry, right?

So, hopefully we’ll see more demos in future for all games, regardless of whether they have a beta or not. And hopefully Zipper Interactive will release a demo for MAG showcasing the fixes they’ve made since beta and with plenty of game time.

How important are demos in your decisions to purchase games? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  1. Jamie said,

    That’s an interesting thought about using escalation of commitment (and loss aversion) to convert beta testers to paying customers. Especially in MMOs or shooters with unlocks a la Modern Warfare 2. Even just giving people a unique pet or piece of equipment would probably be enough.

    Regarding demos for downloadable multiplayer games, I like what Valve has done with its “free weekends” on games like TF2 and Left 4 Dead. It seems to work well for them, too.

    • thepscgamer said,

      Your idea of giving away a special item they can keep in the full game to people trying a beta is a good one. It would certainly encourage people to 1) play the beta and then 2) go on to buy the game.
      I agree that free weekends are a good way of letting people try an online game (especially as they let you try the full game and with friends) but if you miss them, you have missed your opportunity to try the game. Also, I have not seen any ‘free weekend’ style demos for console games, but hopefully this will change in the future.

  2. authentichate said,

    I’ve come to think that demos should come with trophies/achievements, either separate or connected to the final game. People love achieving things, and a game that rewards you for trying it out would likely go far. Like the item/unlock system mentioned above, once players get a taste of what could be, they’re more likely to spend money on the full game.

    Plus, demo trophies/achievements would tempt people into trying out games they might not normally play. Business, woo!

    • thepscgamer said,

      That’s a good idea. If each demo came with 2 trophies (1 for completing it and another for killing a boss/finding an item etc) I’d definitely download more, even in genres I wouldn’t usually look at. The ‘demo trophies’ would have to be given to you automatically if you bought the game though, I wouldn’t appreciate having to buy the game and then download the demo to get the extra trophies.

      If you combine the two ideas, you have a winning formula. The promise of trophies to tempt people into trying the game, and some sort of reward for buying the full game to help tempt them into buying it once they’ve played it.

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