Earlier this week Matt talked about hype in his opinion piece and that train left the station, as far as Destiny is concerned, back in 2009 when the following poster appeared in HALO: ODST…
Since then we’ve had two solid years of tension building prior to launch; a perfect storm of Activision’s financial backing, the launch of the next generation consoles and Bungie’s FPS heritage seemed certain to make landfall and wash away the competition. But… Destiny’s calling and I’m not at home; so why have I chosen to pop out at the last-minute? To be brutally honest, I played the alpha and the beta and I just didn’t enjoy it. I should like it: FPS, check; science fiction, check; RPG elements, check; cooperative gameplay, check… it ticks all my boxes and yet when I played the early builds, I didn’t like it. To the extent that I cancelled my pre-order. Maybe it was the repetitive nature of the missions you could pick up on planet; maybe it was the persistently respawning bullet fodder; maybe it was the fact that the raids felt unbalanced to the point of unfairness, even though the majority of our party had maxed out the level cap for the trial? Most likely it was because in my opinion none of these issues improved between the ‘alpha’ and the ‘beta’.
As I was discussing this with a friend they pointed out to me how brave of them it was to put out a demo as “research shows that games with demos sell half as many copies as those without”. I, being a freelance scientist, immediately demanded to see this research. It turns out they were referring to this video, where at 10 minutes and 24 seconds in, Jesse Schell talks about EEDAR data for games on the Xbox 360.
The video as a whole is interesting and touches on over use and ineffectual use of gamification, which was a topic he’d introduced in his 2010 DICE presentation. People trying to gamify every conceivable thing is analogous to chocolate he says; chocolate makes ice cream better, ergo it must make everything better including cottage cheese… the audience laughed, he looked smug and Philadelphia called a marketing meeting.
Back to Demos. The graph in the video shows four lines depicting Xbox 360 cumulative sales; the bottom one is game without a demo or a trailer, above that games with a demo, then games with a demo and a trailer, and finally, at the top, games with just a trailer. So that proves that making a demo halves your sales right? Well, it’s a pretty sweeping generalisation and there are a lot of variables left to the imagination (I’ve not been able to get the raw data). What years was data collected for? Was it all Xbox 360 sales or just Xbox Live Marketplace Did they consider a timed trial or beta to be a demo? Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops are 2 of the 5 best-selling games of all time on the 360, they didn’t have a demo, so arguably, would the sales have halved if they had? No, of course not. Likewise Halo 3 and Minecraft are another two of that top 5; Halo 3 had a beta and Minecraft had a timed playable demo, as is the policy for all XBLA games n the 360. It seems odd that the difference in sales between having a demo and not would be so great if these were counted as demos for the purposes of this research.
“So what’s your point Andy…” I hear you cry, “…you played Destiny and now you’re not buying it… you’ve kind of proved Schell’s point.” Well of course having a demo will lose you some sales, and that seems to be all the industry focusses on. What about the goodwill and buy-in you can get from people who are not only on the fence, but sitting in next door’s garden? Many times have I been so swayed by a demo that I’ve not only splashed for a game, but I’ve bored my friends with every minutiae until they’ve been forced to do the same. Below are some demos that I have enjoyed over the years, leading to purchases and cajoling of friends (perhaps you could tell me about your favourites in the comments below).
Doom (and Wolfenstein 3D in fact) from id Software was my first exposure to gaming as I know it today; before them it had all been text-based adventures and the BBC Basic. The shareware concept was brilliantly simple and based, I imagine, on how one might deal crack in rural areas… you get the first hit free, but if you want some more you’ll have to pay for it on the phone and it’ll be sent in the post.
My friend Martyn had an Amiga A500 and I’d go around to his house every Sunday to play Scorched Tanks. The game came on an Amiga Power Demo Disk (or something like that) and given the immense power of the arsenal available to us, we often wondered what devastation the weapons we’d unlock in the full game would bring. Sadly we never found a copy and to this day I have a yearning to know what hell I might unleash if I cried thunder and let slip the dogs of war. Martyn moved to New Zealand, presumably the safest and most distant point should I ever get my hands on the nuclear button.
After the launch of Half-Life, Valve released Half-Life: Uplink as a demo; the chapters had been cut from the original game during development and polished up to give undecided players some insight into Gordon and his antics without spoiling too much (other than crazy monsters take over a secret science station and a strange suited man with a clipboard). We take outtakes for granted now, though I assure you this was mind blowing back in the good old days. Here’s someone playing it very quickly indeed.
Splinter Cell Conviction:
You start by beating a guy up in a Maltease bathroom and then you storm an abandoned warehouse that contains an EMP. The demo was a great introduction to the new direction that the series was headed in, giving players a taste of the plot to come, an opportunity to try out the dynamic interrogation and hands on with Sam’s new found climbing and killing skills, including mark and execute. It proved, if proof was ever needed, that Fisher is a badass and Ironside plays him brilliantly. I played this demo over and over and over, yet I was pleasantly surprised when I bought the game to see that they had adapted a level from late on in the game, to give players some quality exposure to all the toys and tricks without spoiling the game at the same time.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
This was a demo that not only sold the game it was promoting, it also sold Zone of the Enders on the PS2 too as the demo disc was included with it for the EU and NA releases. The game looked stunning from the moment you leapt from the George Washington bridge, right up until you best Olga and head back onto the Discovery’s bridge and out of the rain. Not a snifter of Raiden either so many still consider this to be the definitive version of MGS2.
All this history laid to waste because of some frankly unsubstantiated data analysis and an overly dramatic soundbite from Schell; it was all that the industry needed to sound the death knell for demos, after all:
“What does it matter if people don’t like the game after they’ve bought it?!”
This attitude should not, nae must not, be allowed to prevail; developers and publishers need to realise that if their demo does halve their sales, then they should make better games and not rely on people buying sh*t because they don’t know any better. Well done to Activision and Bungie for producing an alpha and a beta of Destiny; I’m sorry that it wasn’t my cup of tea.