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The Demo Is Dead, Part 2
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The Demo Is Dead, Part 2
by Caspian Prince on 06/05/13 05:38:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Because my previous blog post was not a complete academic essay on the subject, nor indeed intended to really go any further than the few people that visit our blog, it seems that a few people are deconstructing the arguments and poking some big holes in the assertion that "The Demo is Dead", which is fine, but the article is not at all complete, and contains no hard data (of which I have a lot). At the time, I just thought I'd pen some musings on the subject talking to people who already didn't care (existing blog readers, who are generally customers and therefore unaffected by what we do with our existing titles). Anyway, the internet sort of exploded in rage and disbelief that a tiny indie developer could become such a cruel, heartless, candy-snatching killjoy. As a general reply to various comment all over the place, here are some further musings:

99 Reasons To Not Buy Your Game

This was clearly an exaggeration for literary impact, and if that's not obvious to you, for shame. But instead of just asking me what those reasons are, maybe you could engage in devil's advocacy, and think of some yourself. Here are some I thought of, spuriously:

  1. I got my fill of gameplay already from the demo. (Our demos typically gave away 25% or so of the full game progression)
  2. I've had 90% of the initial delight of the game for nothing. Paying some money for the remaining 10% is a waste of money. (Note disconnection between "delight" and actual content)
  3. I can't be bothered to pay for it when I can go and play another free demo somewhere else.
  4. I've already got a bunch of games I've paid for but not yet even played. Maybe I'll not bother getting this one yet.
  5. I played the demo ages ago and forgot all about it by the time payday came because something else distracted me in between.
  6. I only buy games through Steam.
  7. I'm a poor student/waster/single mum and I don't spend money on games especially when I can be entertained endlessly by demos for nothing.
  8. I loved the game except for this one small thing that I didn't like like I can't remap the fire button to X and for that reason alone I'm not going to buy it.
  9. I thought the game was too easy but that's because the demo can only show the first 10 levels which have to be easy to not put off the 95% of people who find it too hard.

You're Just Using Yourself As A Single Data Point!

Some have accused me of using myself as a single data point ("I've never bought a game in the last 5 years from playing a demo") and drawing my conclusions based on this, which is fallacy. This is not the case; my own, singular experience was what got me to look at the data in the first place. It was just a hunch, that I got to thinking about actually a few years ago. It's only in the last year or so that the data has become impossible to ignore (see below for some figures).

The Nature of Puppygames Demos

Few people were aware of the exact nature of our demos, or even our games, and it's probably worth researching because our games are of a particular ilk and available only on a particular platform. We make desktop arcade games mostly, and that's a pretty strange niche to begin with, which substantially effects the way demos work. Our demos were "full" versions of the games, which could be unlocked by registration (no further download). They tended to let you play the first 25% or so of the game unfettered before expiring on a cliffhanger (eg. first boss appears, or you're just about to see the next "world", for example). Claims that we're "doing demos wrong" are from people who, I suspect, have not been doing this for as long as we have. The fact is, our demos were more or less no different from nearly every other demo I've ever seen. They weren't even unsuccessful either - they converted at an industry-respectable rate, AFAIK. The problem is that rate is shit and the amount of money we can charge for a successful conversion has been eroded, which brings me to...

Context Is Everything

The context of pricing and market positioning, specifically. Over the last 10 years we've seen the average price of an indie game plummet from $20 (sold direct by the developers) to $5 (sold on Steam or BigFish in a sale) to about $1 (sold in a bundle of some sort). Steam pioneered the price slashing in the market - I'm sure you educated types with economics degrees have a special name for this manoeuvre. In the space of a couple of short years, direct sales plummeted to less than 1/10th of what they used to be (and they were never great). Almost overnight, the chances of being an actual indie developer - and succeeding! - have dropped from "you'll be lucky" to "you've as much chance of winning the lottery". Not only had consumer expectation of prices been eroded from $20 to $5, but consumers were also taught by Steam to buy on the basis of video and recommendation and, most importantly of all, discounts. Then, just as things didn't seem they could get more crazy, along comes the Humble Indie Bundle, and we're now becoming accustomed to picking up titles for a dollar or less. Again, demo unseen. We're conditioned to buying stuff because it is cheap not because we necessarily want it. I say "we" - yes! I am one of you. I am a consumer. I've got a hundred games in my Steam library. I am doing all these things. I won't buy a game if it's not on Steam any more. I won't buy a game if it costs over $10. And so on. This reminds me of an anecote many years ago when a friend of mine came bouncing into the room full of glee because she'd bought some mint essence. When I enquired what was so amazing, she told me that it had been 75% off so she just had to buy it. I can't recall her ever before or since actually making anything with mint essence in it, but it was a bargain! In this context, what we now see is that 95% of our income - any developers income - comes not from conversions of demos, but from sales via gatekeepers and bundles. What the focus of my original article was really about is that there is a case for simply dropping prices through the floor and not giving anything away for free. There is "free" stuff everywhere, already. The differentiator we now have is that if you want to sample our stuff, it will actually cost you. Otherwise it is simply unavailable. It is out of reach. You can look through the glass into the shop but you can't touch it until you spend a (paltry) amount of money. Just like with mostly everything else in the world these days.

Are We Right?

There's no harm in being wrong. We can be wrong. We're going on what the data tells us, and we have a lot of data. We've sold 481,529 games in the last 3 years, and 30,246 of those have been to people who played a demo. That means the other 451,283 sales were made without anyone ever seeing a demo. If you want percentages, that's 6%. We're quite happy to be proved wrong! If the data tells us we're wrong, we'll go back to using demos. Our hypothesis is, we'll make a bit more money if we ditch demos and drop the prices. As you can say what you like about the 94% of sales being without demos and argue till you're blue in the face that you don't buy games without playing a demo first, go on ahead. Argue away - you're arguing that black is white. You're not making us 94% of our sales. The bit you need to argue over is this:

6% of our sales are to demo players, direct, and they have made us $72,000. We think that if we drop our prices hugely, and ditch demos, that we'll continue to make 6% of our sales direct, but that we'll make a bit more than $72,000.

The Sands Shift Beneath Our Feet

And still that's not the whole story. The thing that most beginning developers - us included - fail to take into account is how the markets change over time. As I said, when we first started, we sold conversions on demos for games that cost $20. We started just at the tail end of a golden era in independent game distribution (typical bad luck, huh). The internet had just revolutionalised developing games and the gatekeepers were just about to move in, along with a flood of other developers who suddenly discovered they could do it too. It is suprising in hindsight that so many developers clung to the $20 price model in the face of what was happening. Things came to a head in about 2008 or so, when we released Droid Assault. Droid Assault was released to the sound of tumbleweed. No-one was even the least bit interested. It's a great game (IMHO, haha), but when it was released, nobody wanted to buy it. Customers were already thoroughly in the pockets of Valve and BigFish by then. If you didn't have a game on a portal, it simply didn't sell. DA must have shifted literally a few hundred copies. By contrast on Steam, now it's finally out on Steam that is, it's shifted thousands of units. And so we must realise that the market is changing, all the time, imperceptably slowly. Let's look at those figures I just mentioned above, and instead, let's look at just the last 12 months: In the last 12 months we've sold 77,224 games, of which just 725 were demo conversions. The demos weren't suddenly any different. The prices weren't suddenly any different. Suddenly, after just 2 years, we're only making less than 1% of our sales via demos. Nothing else changed except the entire rest of the market. So actually what you really need to be arguing over is this:

1% of our sales are to demo players, and they have made us $5,200 (yes, really). We think that if we drop our prices hugely, and ditch demos, that we'll continue to make 1% of our sales direct, but that we'll make a lot more than $5,200.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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Chris Dunson
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Haha fair enough. I personally would not buy a game without playing a demo and enjoying it. I'm clearly not the customer you are catering towards and from looking at your stats I can see why. Thanks for posting this information. Despite your poor attitude this is opening up a lot of discussion. For that I thank you.

Caspian Prince
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Seriously, you can't just turn up in someone's blog and tell them they've got a "poor attitude". Explain yourself. Put up, or shut up.

Julien Delavennat
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"Seriously, you can't just turn up in someone's blog and tell them they've got a "poor attitude". Explain yourself. Put up, or shut up."

"Seriously [...] shut up."

^ This is probably what he meant :o Of all the ways you could have asked for explanations, you chose that one, maybe you've had a bad day, who knows, I don't blame you, hope it helps

Have a nice day n__n

David Paris
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I suspect the hostility just arises from anything that challenges the accepted norm. We are used to demos being perceived as having some sort of value, but I think you are right, people are buying much more off videos now than demo conversions.
rnAnecdotally, the Steam pricing trend is one I had totally noticed as well. I'm a fervent Steam sale follower because I love playing as many different games as I can, but my finances don't support doing that at first release prices. So that said, I absolutely watch the Steam sales, the humble bundles, etc... and play decent looking titles that roll across those. More accurately, I'm likely to play a 'reasonably good' game that comes across at a very low price, far in preference to a 'very good' game that is available at a higher price. So yes, I have just helped supply & demand game prices down in doing so.

Luis Guimaraes
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I thought everybody already knew that non-gameplay videos are useless and most gameplay videos are scripted and fake.
rnUnless by "videos" you mean streamers and let's play, that that all suddenly makes sense.
rnI for one don't buy games without playing the demo or watching a good bit of it in let's play or stream to make sure it's good.

Kim Wahlman
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I would be interested in how many that downloaded the demo, not just how many that did that also bought the game. My best guess are from the ones that tested the game, they didn't like it. Not that they got their "fill" from the demo.

Removing the demo make it harder to test a game before buying it (unless you check for a cracked version). When my education is over and I start my own indie studio with a couple of fellow students I will encourage demos to each of our releases. I personally would be more satisfied to see that the demo helped the player decide rather then, "725 of all that downloaded the demo bought it".

If you only care about money and not the game itself sure then the demo is a bad thing, because then you can't force a customer to buy it if they wanna try it and maybe never play it again. So s/he lost anywhere from 8$ to 90$ (the price range in Sweden are around 50 SEK to 600 SEK) for a game s/he disliked and he will not give his friends that ask about it a good review.

If you care about the money AND the player, a demo is very important I think. If 725 of 725000 buys the game after playing the demo, is it something wrong with the demo-tester or the game? I would say the game. It might be a good game in your mind, but apparently the consumer world thinks different and when you only care about sales the demo might be dead in your eyes because you do not wanna give the player a good game, you wanna earn money.

When I test a demo that has no restrictions I will buy it because I wanna know the entire story not just the small part from the demo. If the demo has some restrictions but also succeed to get me hooked on the story I will buy it.

I don't know what you put in these 90% but I do not think you put any story in these percent, so I do not know why you play games. Story is the main component in a game, fail to have it and the game will not be a fun game to play unless it is just for casual play.

The only game I bought without seeing more then some game play is Batman: Arkham City, but that was because of the huge sale on it on steam. I practically got it for free. I saw some game play from GDC, so I thought it was a good investment. My other 106 games are games tested by demo, a gift or tested at a friends place first.

I have bought games without much information before but that is only because I have played games in the same series before. Like Skyrim, and Dead Island. I got RipTide for 2$ so I bought it even when I didn't fell for the first game.

Force a player to buy your game to see if they like it is like asking for more players looking for a cracked version instead, let the player test the game and focus on making a game that is fun and good rather then just put a game together and do not care if it is good or not.

All I read in both of the texts are "I care more about money than giving the world a good and fun game". It might be the totally opposite, but if you complain about how little you earned from the demo testers that is how at least I see it. Instead of complaining that your demo only was bought by 1% ask yourself WHY it is this way, the game is apparently not as fun as you think it is, and fun and story are both reasons to why a consumer buy a game. I will not buy a game that isn't fun, and I will not buy a game with a bad story.

Dave Toulouse
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Your story is sweet really but it feels like you're assuming that his data is a reflection of a crowd acting exactly like you by throwing stuff like "the game is apparently not as fun as you think it is".

He's not arguing that players form a homogeneous group and that nobody care about demo anymore but that his data leads him toward a specific direction because he can't argue anymore about the value of a demo. Yes maybe people like you (and me, I didn't buy some game in the past due to the lack of demo) will be upset but trying to run his business based on comments instead of his data would be pretty silly.

Beside all of this is false debate anyway. The problem for indies is not "do your game have a demo or not" it's "do I even know your game exists or not".

Luis Guimaraes
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"Story is the main component in a game, fail to have it and the game will not be a fun game to play unless it is just for casual play."

Doesn't even need a demo to watch the story without having buying and without having to endure the bad gameplay.

Simon Ludgate
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From what I understand, the 6% represents people who bought the full game THROUGH the demo. However, this ignores people who may have downloaded the demo and bought the full game later through another method. You wouldn't have any way of knowing if they played the demo first or not.

There are a number of other complexities that you might not be seeing. For example, I might download the demo and not buy the game, but I might tell a friend about my demo experience and she might buy the game without downloading the demo. On your numbers, that sale would not be demo-induced and the demo would not have induced a purchase; however, in reality, the one demo download did directly result in one game sale.

Ultimately though, I do agree with your conclusion that demos might not be the thing for you. A demo is merely a marketing tool, just like banner ads or going to conventions. Taking away demos is like cancelling a run of TV spots: you do it because the cost of the promotion exceeds the revenue gains. I don't know what a demo costs you to produce, but if it only nets you $70k and it costs more than $70k to deploy, then obviously you should cancel the demo.

I think this is why the demo has largely vanished form the AAA scene: the cost to deploy it was becoming astronomical as the costs of game themselves grew, and the size of the demo became impractical to deploy.

However, I disagree with your conclusions about why demos are "dead" in a more global sense. I think the demo is still a very powerful and effective promotional tool for most smaller or indie developers. Furthermore, most of your arguments presented above are simply silly: they are arguments pirates would make, not demo downloaders. Surely, you must admit that piracy exists and that the demo is that "moral" option instead of piracy. Take away the demo, and piracy becomes the ONLY option to try-before-you-buy.

I think the hostility to your argument wasn't that you decided that demos weren't an effective promotional tool for you, but you decided that demos weren't justifiable for anyone. In many views that's so laughably incorrect that the whole internet must have felt compelled to correct you ;)

Caspian Prince
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We do know whether they tried the demo and then bought the game through Steam instead - we track everything very thoroughly. The percentage of people that do this is so tiny it's not even worth mentioning.

For sure, demos are a complete waste of time for us; but I also think that for the large majority of other indie developers they are probably also a waste of time. You may as well be giving the whole game away for free - and this is indeed where a lot of the market is headed, including ourselves.

Kyle McBain
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How are these complexities things he might not be seeing if there is no hard data on it? I have never heard of someone buying a game because their friend said the demo was awesome. That is actually really funny to me that you said that. If someone told me they bought a game because the demo rocked... or so a friend said I would laugh at them so hard.

And what happened to things like Gamefly or rental shops or watching a Let's Play video as a "moral" option? Why is it the "ONLY" option for you to pirate videos?

Let's agree that the demo isn't dead. But we should let it die. It's not a true depiction of the game. It's a sales pitch and only shows a fraction of the material. I would rather the focus be on the game and not a demo.

Kyle McBain
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*pirate video games

E Zachary Knight
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Thank you for the followup. I think this article is far superior to your previous one. I think that the shifts in the market do make a lot of sense. Ditching the demo on a $5 or less game is probably a good move. The market has become one of impulse buys as you have described.

I think a lot of us are approaching this from a mindset of demos being useful for the higher priced games. I personally will not buy a game for anything more than $20 without having tried it first. But I buy quite a few game for $5 without every trying them. Sometimes without having ever heard of them before.

As for your "99 reasons", a lot of what you listed apply without demos as well. How many times have you watched a video of a game and thought it was neat, but forgot all about it when you had the money to buy.

Others apply equally well to buyer remorse as well. Sure it is easier to shake off buyer remorse when you are only paying $5 on a game, but it still happens. You buy a game and realize that it isn't as fun as you had hoped and then you never play it again.

Again, thank you for this followup. I think it helped clear the air quite a bit.

Jonathan Gilmore
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Agree on all points. I've bought two dollar indie games without a trial based upon word of mouth or reputation, but I genreally don't buy more expensive games without an opportunity to try them out.

You are also right as far as the marketing expense. Demos are similar to any other promotional tool. Some games can benefit from them more than others.

Nick Harris
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It is unfortunate that the tone of this article makes you come across as nauseatingly entitled. Calling your potential customers 'wasters' will put you in an adversarial stance with them. I for one will deliberately avoid all of your companies games on principle and buy those made by developers who know that players can't determine whether they like the articulacy of the controls, feedback loops and possibility spaces that arise in the emergent gameplay system when all they have access to is a (non-interactive) video. There are plenty of videogame developers who do not fall into the common delusion that just because they bring life to some digital void that they should be treated like Gods in real-life and worshipped for their unique abilities.

Daniel Backteman
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I do have to agree with this..While I am very, very thankful for the debate and the data that's been made available, the general tone makes me view the author negatively. And this extends to his/her product (not questioning your sex, Caspian, just trying to keep it general). When the market is the way it is, I have to be more aware of how I vote with my wallet and that results in me often checking out the creators. Whether I view the creators negatively or positively will affect my inclination to buy the product.

Maybe you're writing less formal here as you see Gamasutra readers as peers? Either way, please do try to come off less douchey/arrogant when you're writing publically! One sensationalistic headline and a quote about what you're writing here can do some PR damage. Which..Would be pretty ironic, looking at what the article is about.

Caspian Prince
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I'm sorry, but I'll write about what I want on my corner of the internet, and I'll make no apologies for the way I come across. I'm not here to make anyone feel good; I was sharing some data with you on my own blog and our conclusions and actions taken. I was asked to crosspost it here, and here it is.

I didn't call a potential customer a waster - I called a waster a waster. A potential customer is someone who wants to spend money on games. Don't deny that there are plenty of people out there who have no intention of buying games; they're just killing time kicking tyres. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's no point in catering to these people.

Daniel Backteman
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@Caspian Which is your right! Standing for your views and opinions is also respectable. I'd like to argue that there's an easily accessable middle ground between "not here to make anyone feel good" and kissing ass, but you've probably already got enough of those comments that you can use them as wallpaper for the office.

I hope you don't get more unnecessary grief for this. Again, thank you for the data and taking the time to write this.

Joel Lamotte
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I'm still a noob in that domain but these two articles made me wondering if MineCraft would have sold if there wasn't an initial early version free to play, which have never been updated. I mean, MineCraft marketing is basically just videos online made by people wanting to show what they did in the game (initially at least) but just to reach this point some people had to play the game.

Now this shows that videos are more powerful than demos to sell the game, but as other have argued, I think there is not enough data about the demos selling games to make sure it's not worth making them. For example, maybe demos help convince some kind of people that it's good, in case videos don't convince them. If the demo is cheap to make, does it really impact the selling?

Also, these articles suggests that removing demos requires droping the price too to be successful. These are arcade games. What about other kind of games? What about Cliffki's games which are big enough that the price is quite high for indie games but is still worth it for this kind of niche game with long deep gameplay?

I remember someone coming with statistics in one of the previous GDC talks who explained why there wasn't demo anymore (basically if the demo is good the game might sell, if it isn't, the game will not sell, so it's better to just sell it and fake it with videos). I think there are some truth there but it's hard to generalize such complex topic.

The game I'm working on might be a bit alien to master at first so I'm thinkin of having at least one free playable version but the rest will have to be paid. I think this is a quite different case than when you sell games with easily guessable mechanics (like most arcade games).

So all this discussion just tends to renforce my impression that you have to decide case by case, you just can't generalize for the whole industry.

Caspian Prince
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Absolutely. Though we must remember that quoting Minecraft in any discussion is usually not very helpful, as Minecraft is so utterly unusual as to make any comparisons to it generally meaningless too.

Kenneth Blaney
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The problem with looking at it only in a percentage way is that it excludes the demo's ability to attract attention. That is, the people who are likely to play a demo *might* (no data) also be the ones who are going to become your product evangelists because by finding the demo they are likely the people already closest to you. This might especially be true for a demo that comes out before the game is available.

To that extent, I think the arguments for/against demos are tangentially related to the arguments for/against piracy. This isn't too surprising because a huge "reason" given for piracy is "there was no demo and I wanted to try it" (whether or not you accept that as a reason is a matter for a different debate.)

Caspian Prince
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This is true to some extent, but on the other hand, they are dwarfed so utterly by sales through other channels than the demo that it's probably not a significant effect (again though, no data to prove, this is just a hunch).

Jeff Beaudoin
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Your main point has nothing to do with demos.

"We think that if we drop our prices hugely, and ditch demos, that we'll continue to make 1% of our sales direct, but that we'll make a lot more than $5,200."

Steam has already proved that if you drop your prices hugely, your sales increase by a ton. Removing demos while you drop prices and then giving the removal of your demos the credit for your increased sales is... nonsensical.

Josh Bycer
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Personally, I think another factor of demo appeal has to do with the complexity of the title in discussion. If you have a game that does a lot of things different from everyone else, then a demo can help on the simple premise of showing people just what the heck your game is about. It's better for customer satisfaction that the demo would turn away people who found that the game wasn't for them, as opposed to buying it then discovering that they just don't like your game.

Regarding demo length this can be tricky to balance. Because as you say, if you give the player's too much then they may get completely filled on the demo. But I think the gameplay is also a major factor.

The geneforge series from Spiderweb Software are RPGS made entirely in an old school style and each one comes with a demo that gives you a large amount of content and then you unlock the rest of the game via a license key. The point was to give the player enough content and story to pull them into the world and get them to pay for the rest.

This I think is the best way to go for that type of game, if you're trying to create something that you know is going to be niche, it's better to make sure that your audience has a perfect understanding of just what your game is about before having them give you their money.

Caspian Prince
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Even Spiderweb eventually conceded and put most of his games on Steam at less than half the price he was selling demos direct :S And that's when they're not on sale, too.

We had a crack at figuring out demo length. For the last 10 years or so we randomly configured our demos with multiple variables on installation: demo timeout, maximum level allowed, whether the game would simply stop working after timeout or allow 1 game before exiting to nag screen, etc. and correlated that with conversion rate. After we had a few thousand results we then fed these back into the games and maximised conversion rates. It's still paled into insignificance though.

I can't of course speak for everybody - there are outliers everywhere - but something has changed in the last couple of years, and we must accept that things are not what they were.

Chris Lynn
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I actually agree with the article. Looking at the demo sections of most onine stores you can arrive at similar conclusions. Top-seeling games don't have demos, and even most indies don't have one. The Steam demo section in particular is almost devoid of games, considering the amount of titles the store has.

I think the author has expressed something that most developers already do, but don't outright admit. In May Steam had 5 demos, in April it had only one (Sacred Citadel). In comparison, it had over 30 games releasing in April. From the 10 top selling games at this moment only one has a demo, Gunpoint, but it was actually the top selling game before the demo came out. I think those numbers back up the point of the author, that demos are not the norm, and that most games are not using then and doing just fine.

Caspian Prince
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Indeed, I feel as if I'm a messenger here, and I've been pretty thoroughly shot. I've been described as "entitled", "arrogant", a "douche", "evil", having a "poor attitude" - just try to keep a cool head with that being directed on you when all you're doing is sharing some of those oh-so-coveted figures and pondering a conclusion drawn from them.

Frank Gilson
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I want to specifically critique part of your opening, where you come up with a few of your '99 reasons' why a demo gives a potential purchaser a reason to not buy your game.

"I got my fill of gameplay already from the demo. (Our demos typically gave away 25% or so of the full game progression)" and
"I've had 90% of the initial delight of the game for nothing. Paying some money for the remaining 10% is a waste of money. (Note disconnection between "delight" and actual content)"

These two are the developer's fault. A demo is not something to treat lightly and throw together. You can easily put 'too much' of your gameplay (especially, I agree, with an arcade game of the type you create) into a demo. If you fail to 'hint' properly at deeper content and a higher kind of fun in the full product, that's also your fault. These two reasons can be corrected by proper demo planning and execution.

"I can't be bothered to pay for it when I can go and play another free demo somewhere else."

This person wasn't going to buy any games...seriously...with all the demos and free-to-play out there this type of consumer wasn't ever buying your game, demo or not. However, they might refer a friend to the game, who may then buy it. Thus a demo served to activate positive word of mouth.

"I've already got a bunch of games I've paid for but not yet even played. Maybe I'll not bother getting this one yet."

How does a demo have any relation to this consumer? Such a person, with a backlog of games they've bought but not played, who won't buy your game, won't buy it regardless of whether a demo exists or not.

"I played the demo ages ago and forgot all about it by the time payday came because something else distracted me in between."

The forgetful consumer here is likely to forget about your game-without-a-demo by payday anyway. A demo has no relevance here either. A properly constructed demo, which I admit may not be possible for your type of game, would enhance such a consumers ability to remember come payday.

"I only buy games through Steam."

Also not a reason...if you run into a consumer who only buys through Steam then you need to be on Steam if you want to sell to that consumer, demo or not. Your off-Steam demo could link to Steam, although of course all that is tricky.

"I'm a poor student/waster/single mum and I don't spend money on games especially when I can be entertained endlessly by demos for nothing."

Again, demo or not, this consumer isn't buying your game ever. Not a reason.

"I loved the game except for this one small thing that I didn't like like I can't remap the fire button to X and for that reason alone I'm not going to buy it."

...and then you 'trick' this consumer into buying your game and they run into the 'one small thing' they really don't like and regret the purchase, initiating a chargeback, which, for such a small amount, you won't be fighting. They then go on to bad mouth your game to their friends...when a demo would have shortcut all that buyer's remorse.

"I thought the game was too easy but that's because the demo can only show the first 10 levels which have to be easy to not put off the 95% of people who find it too hard."

This is again the developer's fault. Demos require proper pacing and 'future hinting'. They are difficult to do well. They may not work for all games.

So, Caspian, you may not need demos...but 'the industry' does.


Shea Rutsatz
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Nice. This is kind of what I was thinking... a lot of these "potential consumers" would never be a consumer either way, and a lot can be avoided by putting effort into a proper demo.

Caspian Prince
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We'll only really know if some of these secondary effects such as word-of-mouth and so on have an effect in a few months when we've collected the sales and conversion data from the demoless versions of the game currently circulating. But as it stands I'm seriously in favour of actually pulling all our titles completely off our site altogether. We've literally spent 6 months on updating them in an attempt to compete with what Steam does - they're auto-updating, cross-platform, easy to purchase, etc - but why on Earth have we spent 6 months effort on 1% of revenues?

But a note about the recurring implication that the "demo not selling" is somehow the developer's fault: sometimes this is the case. Sometimes not. Our demos have been highly tuned using hard statistics and worked in a pretty straightforward way with entirely understandable upsell. Overall we we looking at conversion rates of about 4% which is entirely respectable (I'm not sure what the industry standard rate is these days but when we started it was known to be around 1%).

It doesn't really make any difference whether they convert at 100% though... the fact remains that revenues from demos are dwarfed by sales without demos through other channels. We'd rather put our efforts into these other channels rather than trying to squeeze a couple of more % points out of a demo.

jim moore
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I actually took a look at his company's games, and in that context, his point stands: what they make are simple, arcadey games with a nice art style and at a low price point.

Just looking at the screenshots one can see what they're all about-for example, there's one that's essentially space invaders with some cool upgrades. Now, either you want to play that or you don't. For the prices they charge, it's a pretty low risk to make that blind purchase.

As for the larger debate of Demos across the industry, clearly there is a trend moving away from demos in general, but considering the new demos section on my 360, I would say that reports of it's death are greatly exaggerated.

We will know that the demo is dead when someone writes an article on it, and the comments will ask: "what's a demo?"

Paul Furio
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Demo Cons:
* Potentially extra developer/content effort to create a demo version, simplified build, installer, test it, etc.
* Potential bandwidth/download cost for no immediate revenue.
* Only a small percent of people who play your demo will buy your game.
* May be able to tantalize player with just a video at vastly lower cost.

Demo Pros:
* Get actual stats of sell-through for your title, in addition to stats on demo progression, crashes, etc.
* Potentially inform the user of ways your game is different than the video demonstrated.
* Engage a player with the fun and the interaction, build on that reward loop so that players are compelled to buy the game.

For games that are typical ("Yup, another shooter" or "Yup, another match three"), a video, screenshots, or a friend's review will make me decide whether or not to buy the game. For games that are truly innovative (Spy Party, Papers Please) it is the act of actually playing, experiencing the "Oh wow this is different!" moment that makes me want to buy the full game. Really, if you can convey your game in a video because there's no unique twist, then just do a video. If the experience is what you're selling, put the effort into a demo.

Stephen Horn
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I would love to see even one proponent of demos show data that support their efficacy as a sales tool.

Curtiss Murphy
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Wonderful retort! Enjoyed the followup, even more than the first one.

Amir Barak
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Both articles were interesting (though I hold different opinion to the author) I do think, as an aside, that the articles would have generated less debate concerning the author's person were they titled "My Demos Are Dead"...

Shea Rutsatz
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Just that minor change probably would have avoided most of the debate.

Caspian Prince
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Unfortunately I think if you ask nearly all other developers where their money is coming from these days... they'll be saying the same thing as me, after they've looked through some stats.

I'm not just talking about paltry $50ks here and there either - that might sound like a lot of money to a fresh college graduate who's just made their first game but it only runs Puppygames for 3 months. We're talking 6 figure sums.

Amir Barak
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Again, I think you're missing the point here. What do you mean most devs? Zynga? You? Ska Studios? Visceral Games? Nintendo? Sega? Robot Loves Kitty? Suspicious Developments? BioWare? Klei? Mike Bithell? Rampant Games? .....

There's a huge slew of dev studios, and an ever growing number of games, I think that a one-size-fits-all approach is probably not the right approach at all. I've bought games based on their demo as well as games without a demo. I've bought games without seeing anything about them because the text description sounded interesting.

Maybe we should rethink what a demo is and how to make it work better for our games.

Adam Romney
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There are many comments that propose personal anecdotal reasons for making a purchase, e.g. only if it has a demo. I don't know how useful this is, since we do not know if Gamasutra readers are representative of the blogger's audience or video game consumers in general.

Having just said that, it would be great to see other developers post their own sales data as it relates to those who played free demos.

Caspian Prince
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I'm not sure many developers want to stick their necks out and admit what's going on because it makes us look like all we care about is the money.

Of course if all we cared about was the money we wouldn't be making games, and certainly not supporting them for 8 years after they're made, and adding to them and upgrading them for players for free. But the money is very, very important. You can't run a company without money. You can't support a family without money. You can't even live on your own without money. I'm not in any way rich - my family has a frugal though currently comfortable existence. That's why we've got to look at this stuff seriously.

Diego Leao
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Great points, again :D Happy to see someone boldly talk about this, and with such good arguments.

Some games might need a demo, of course, but sometimes a demo might have the effects you talked about. It sure does for me. There is a least a dozen games that I felt "satisfied" having just played the demo. "That was fun!... well, moving on!"

Mike Engle
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Depending on your take on it:
1. F2P killed the demo.
2. F2P *is* the demo.
3. F2P emerged from a basement wearing the same clothes Shareware wore when he descended into that basement a decade or two ago.

Curtiss Murphy
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F2P is hard to get right with so many traps waiting at every turn: 'pay to win'; 'give away too much'; 'low conversion/high overhead costs'; and 'Skinner Boxes'. Free is the new economy, and it is extremely complex.