How the Purpose of Trials and Demos Has Changed Over Time

How the Purpose of Trials and Demos has Changed Over Time
By Joshua Temblett (Dontkillmydreams), OnRPG Journalist


I decided to examine the purpose of demos and trials throughout the video game industry, how each genre uses them differently to attract potential consumers to their product. What’s more intriguing: as this industry has moved forward, so has the use for us to have ‘small tastes’ of games. What once started off as a way for smaller companies to showcase their games for a minimum (if that) fee has changed into a large marketing ploy by multi-million dollar businesses. So what has exactly changed and why?


In the early 1990s shareware distribution was a popular method of distributing video game demos. These small snippets of the title were usually restricted to the first segment or section of the game. These demos were also available in store (on floppy disk) for a minimum fee. What was once a commodity for PC gamers has since growth into something available on consoles, both home and handheld.


Some game developers choose not give the gamer a demo of the full game, instead opting to create a prologue for the game or something separate from the full game. These experiences, while not being from the final product, are still relevant as they give you a peek into the gameplay.


In the late 1990s, around the PlayStation era, demos were used to show gameplay and hopefully convince an undecided customer to invest money in the game. Nowadays, whilst this is still one of their main purposes, another reason lies beneath the skin. When a company releases a small taste of their game to the public, it’s showing that the developer in question has confidence in their product. Well, enough confidence to show us the final product of what the game may be like.


Of course, some games don’t need to provide the consumer with free demos. Legend of Zelda and Grand Theft Auto are series that generally don’t need to show potential buyers what the product will be like, because the majority of gamers trust the developers and know that these titles are going to deliver on their promises.


If a game doesn’t have a demo then it generally implies that the developers are hiding something; this is what most gamers believe, and after all if the game was really that good, they wouldn’t be afraid of flaunting it.


Empty Trial Servers

Trials offer you a chance to test any game.


You see, in this day when games cost large amount of money, especially in Europe and the UK (who get ripped off with regards to pricing), people just aren’t going to shell out $60/£50 for a game that isn’t worth it anymore. When you add the economic crisis into the mix then it doesn’t take a genius to realise that people just don’t have the money to buy less than perfect games anymore.


With MMORPGs there’s a different investment. Not only do you have to buy the game, and pay the monthly fee, these games also require an investment of time. Now you could argue that this isn’t a ‘cost’ but is the whole reason why you play the genre (to have something to waste lots of time on). However you know when you buy an MMO that you’re going to put a lot of time (and effort) into it, so you’ve got to make sure that you choose the right game.


A trial has a different purpose for MMORPGs and online games. For online games the developers are hoping that you’re going to get addicted to the game and that you’re going to feel the urge to buy the game to feed that addiction. Just look at games like World of Warcraft. I was against playing that game, but after the trial-month I found myself incredibly infatuated with it.


I’m starting to make trials sound like a brainwash technique, aren’t I? But at the end of the day, that’s what they are. In what is an incredibly competitive market you have to be able to offer players a taste of the game to hook them in.


With MMORPGs it’s not just about the trial though, it’s about how they get it to you. Once again I’ll use WoW as an example. When I first looked at the trial of the game I saw that it downloaded as you played the game. This meant that after two minutes of downloading the executable and installing it, I was playing the game. This instantly got me into the action and I didn’t have to wait two to five hours to get into it.


Of course there are other types of trials/demos, non playable ones. You may be thinking: “What do these have to do with MMORPGs?” Well, what you may or may not know is that Final Fantasy XI has a benchmark ‘demo’, which you use to see how well your computer can cope with playing the game. Whilst these types of demos aren’t playable, they still give you some idea of what the game will be like and to provide you with information on the game’s content.


Game Content

See what a game has to offer.


After all one of the most important things about demos is the availability of them and with Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, getting these little slices of games to the consumer is much quicker and easier, not only that but these services are open 24/7 allowing the gamer to try the demo at anytime.


Demos and trials are all parts of the marketing plan and when a game doesn’t have one it might even imply that the publisher doesn’t think that the game will be worth it, or that the publisher is losing a lot of money and can’t afford it. The thing you’ve got to remember about game demos is that the developers don’t just remove a small segment from the game, in most cases game developtments take about 1-3 months away from development time to make these demos and really polish them, and some publishers just can’t afford losing the development on the final product.


What once started off as small and simplistic way to get people to buy a game has evolved into a large marketing plan that has a lot of thought and politics behind it and can even give us, the consumer, an idea about how the developer feels about their game and how successful they think it will be. Trials possibly hold even more importance for the MMORPG genre as these really need to hook people and get them to pay-to-play.


It’s a competitive market out there, and game developers and marketeers need to do everything that they can to get their product, which they’ve been working on for several years, off shelves and into the consumers’ hands. And we need to choose wisely by perfecting our skills in joining the trials!


Which trial will you play today?

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