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Releasing a game demo can cut your sales in half, warns Schell

Monday, 11 February 2013 13:42 GMT By Dave Cook

Schell games CEO and industry analyst Jesse Schell has warned that releasing a demo of your game before launch can kill your sales. Schell argues his case against releasing a demo at DICE Summit 2013 last week, and he had the stats to back up his claim too.

Above: EA recently confirmed that the Dead Space 3 demo was downloaded over 2 million times.

PCGamesN reports that Schell stated, “You mean we spent all this money making a demo and getting it out there, and it cut our sales in half? Yes, that’s exactly what happened to you.”

He cautioned developers that without a demo to test, gamers will have to buy a game in order to see if it’s any good or not, while demo downloads will often deter players from picking up the full release, rather than encouraging a purchase.

Schell also explained that the games selling most were those that built up expectations by not releasing a demo, while teaser trailers and other marketing ploys worked more effectively than a demo to raise interest in titles.

Here’s Schells presentation in full. PCGamesN points out that he makes the above points around the ten-minute mark.

What do you think? Would you be sad to see demo downloads disappear? Have they ever put you off buying a game? Let us know below.

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59 Comments

  1. DarkElfa

    Or, you know, they’ll pirate the thing and then have the whole game and never bother buying it at all.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. silkvg247

    Surely if the demo was good and the game was good then the demo would increase sales?

    So don’t they mean shit demos for shit games cut sales in half?

    #2 2 years ago
  3. orakaa

    Oh yeah, a demo can cut your sales in half… particularly if it is BAD, or if your game is bad.

    Schell’s comments are quite shocking to me because he only speaks in term of sales, not quality AT ALL (and when you see the games his company has released, I am not surprised).

    60 euros/dollars/whatever is a lot of money to pay “blindly”. You have to know if the game is going to be good or if it will suits your taste. Being gamers don’t mean we HAVE to buy any game that is released.

    I’ve NEVER seen any gamer try a demo and say “oh boy, this is so fun/good… let’s not buy it”. The only cases where it happens are when the demo is bad. And by “the demo is bad” I mean either that
    1- the game in itself is bad OR
    2- the demo didn’t represent the game’s qualities (so the demo should have been better made or they should have scrapped the whole idea of a demo).

    There are games where a demo isn’t worth it. Games like Demon’s/Dark Souls for instance. But for most cases it IS a useful tool for a gamer to make his decision. Last examples I had on this were Metal Gear Rising Revengeance and DmC. I had a blast with MGRR’s demo and pre-ordered the collector’s edition, where I honestly tried DmC and it was not fun to ME.
    Same went with Ni no Kuni: I was quite interested in the game, but trying the demo REALLY confirmed my interest and also made me buy the collector’s edition

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Dave Cook

    Wasn’t the Bayonetta demo shit? If so, that’s mad as it’s the only game I’ve given 10/10 this gen.

    Thankfully I don’t have to give scores any more though.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. pajamapop

    i make it a policy to never buy a retail game unless it has a demo. if it never gets one, i might try renting it, but if i rent it and enjoy it, why would i go out and buy it? surely i can just beat it during my rental!

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Lloytron

    To conclude that people should have to pay top dollar for a game they may not particularly like shows real contempt for the customer.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. TheWulf

    You know, I rarely buy a game unless it does have a demo, so I’m not sure how I fit into their sales ideals. Look at the Traveller’s Tales LEGO games, for example; those always have demos, and apparently they sell really well.

    Perhaps the truth here is that a demo reveals to the masses how terrible your game is, regardless of the marketing involved. So, quite simply, put effort into not making crap games?

    #7 2 years ago
  8. TheWulf

    @6: That’s why I don’t buy much in the way of mainstream any more.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Gnosis

    Well, now that’s a nice way to treat your customers like idiots. This statement is wrong on so many lvls, it’s incredible. He’s basically saying, that all that matters is to sell you stuff, even if it’s a piece of shit. Ppl won’t buy a game without a demo. They’ll rent it. Or get it from a friend. Or pirate it. Moron.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Clupula

    I didn’t think the Bayonetta demo was shit. Short, yes, but not bad. It convinced me to get the game, when I was on the fence about it. I don’t want to make this another thread about that OTHER game, but I’ll say the demo for that one confirmed everything I thought was going to be wrong with it.

    On the other hand, Brutal Legend…always HATED Jack Black. Find him so incredibly unfunny and I’ve always felt his whole “metal” thing devalues the genre, so the last thing I wanted to do was play a game with Jack Black in the world of metal. Sounds like the lamest concept on earth. The demo made me buy it first day.

    A good demo can help your sales. A bad demo will wreck them.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. TheWulf

    One more thing! Another problem with demos is that they sometimes pick the least interesting parts of games, or they’d horribly disjointed. The best way to handle a demo is to just give the first hour of the game, without it being all over the place and incomplete.

    Work with Valve on creating a new form of DRM that allows an hour’s play of a game for free before having to buy it. Plenty, and I mean plenty, of casual developers use this exact system to sell their games! The only reason I bought the first of the Drawn games was because I played the timed trial and enjoyed it so much that I didn’t want to put it down when the time ran out.

    This kind of thing would work for mainstream games, too. It doesn’t have to be a specifically cut up demo (at least not on the PC). All they have to do is just allow for an hour’s trial. Is that so hard?

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Clupula

    So, what games does this guy’s company make, so I know to eternally avoid them? Since I’ve never heard of him before, I’m guessing they’re PC titles?

    #12 2 years ago
  13. sh4dow

    @8:

    I second that.
    Since after The Witcher 2, all my money for games went to indie devs. I just despise so many parts of mainstream development…
    Which is really a shame because there would be great games, made by great artists. But they (and the consumers) really need to fire the leadership and make sure that it is replaced by one that aspires to MUCH higher moral standards.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. orakaa

    @11 : that might not be a bad idea (but just as the demo, the beginning of the game must be good or interesting enough so that people want to do more).
    On PS+ (Sony’s paying version of the PSN), you can try many games for one hour. After that the game can’t be launched (unless you buy it). It’s quite good. Tried Borderlands like that and quite like it.

    So it IS technically possible to do that for all games. The problem might lie with the bandwidth: for such free 1 hour trial, you need to download the full game (different size than a 3 Go demo)

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Gnosis

    @14: It’s not only on PS+. I’m not a member and it worked for several different indie games I’ve tried, like Quantum Conundrum and Pixel Junk’s Eden. You download the game and after the time’s up, you can buy a key to unlock the rest. I’d still rather prefer a demo for bigger titles though. Not really looking forward to downloading a huge game just to see, that it’s was a huge waste of time.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. orakaa

    @15: I know it’s possible for small games as well, but I was talking about “big” games ;)

    #16 2 years ago
  17. Cobra951

    I have never bought a game I’m not sure about just to see if it’s any good. I have frequently bought games I knew nothing about after playing good demo versions of them. Personal conclusion: This guy is full of shit.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Beta

    @17 +1

    If I don’t get a demo, I’m not going to buy your game at full price just to see if I like it.

    I’ll watch a walkthrough for a few chapters on Youtube and make up my mind then.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Gheritt White

    I just had a blast playing through a borrowed copy of WH40K: Space Marine over the weekend. I’d had every intention of buying the game at launch, but the demo put me off. So that’s one wasted sale.

    Same goes for DmC – if there hadn’t been a demo, I’d have bought it day one; but I didn’t like the controls in the demo so I didn’t and still haven’t. Another sale lost.

    That said, I’d have never picked up Star Wars: The Force Unleashed if it wasn’t for its *awesome* demo, so horses for courses I suppose.

    They do cost a helluva lost of time/money to make though, so I can see why Jesse Schell thinks they’re not really worth it on balance.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. SplatteredHouse

    Either the game can stand on its own strength, and carries the backing and belief of the people that made it – and if proven it, is worth buying…Or, it doesn’t have those qualities, and it needs me to hold reservation, or be more cautious. The problem for publishers, there, is that game can find itself rejected for another that left me with a simpler choice.

    If the publisher isn’t visibly behind a game (especially so, where impression/info has been thin on the ground – and they now insist on meting that out piecemeal like it’s rations!) then BY NO MEANS should you ask somebody to plunge their money in to the grab-bag and hope to get something worthwhile!

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Clupula

    @19 – You thought the demo for The Force Unleashed was good? That’s actually what turned me off to it. The QTE AT-AT fight. I was enjoying it up until it suddenly felt like I didn’t really fight anything.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. ManuOtaku

    Call me old school but i dont play demos, the few i did play gave me a bad taste of the games thinking they were bad, and then after buying the games i realize the games were good or great, which made me realize that for various reasons, from being badly made by developers, etc, demos doesnt work, i think they are too short to give a good glimpse of the final complete game.

    But i do understand and respect that people use it as a main criteria for their purchases, though.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. Ali

    I wasn’t planning to buy Sleeping Dogs till I played the demo. Same goes with Call of Juarez 2, Crysis , Killzone and a li others.

    It is a double edged sword. If your game is really good then you don’t have to worry.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. YoungZer0

    I’m gonna repeat here what i wrote in the latest UK Charts thread:

    “Just proves to me that if anyone is interested in sales, should abandon demos. I’d argue (and some vg247 users have confirmed that) that DMC sold less units because most people thought they’ve seen it all with the Demo. Same goes for DS3. The full version is like a completely different game.

    The game that seems to be suffering from it the most from the demo release is Spec Ops – The Line. A game which didn’t even get started until Chapter 9 or so.”

    An interesting video:

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/demo-daze

    #24 2 years ago
  25. MattW

    Funny that, because just this weekend I purchased Sonic Racing Transformed purely because I enjoyed the demo. Wouldn’t of touched it without demo’ing first, and ended up spending 9 hours glued to it Sat and Sun.

    #25 2 years ago
  26. JB

    Lol, welcome to the future of gaming.

    You can`t sell your games.

    You can`t buy used games.

    You can`t try a demo.

    The developers decide the price, availability and version.

    You get to pay full price for “digital convenience”.

    Your experience is enhanced with paying for various subscriptions.

    Micro-transactions and pay to win schemes.

    Always online.

    Etc…

    I can`t wait to experience the future… ><

    #26 2 years ago
  27. SplatteredHouse

    It’s the case, lately, that I go on the streaming/VOD channel of somebody showing gameplay impressions, and from that I can see that game looks fun – and I (usually) hadn’t considered getting it before seeing it – but, because I can see it in action, it looks good, that situation’s likely to lead to enthusiasm and purchases.

    But, that was only necessary to happen because the publisher was reluctant to present their game in the first place.
    I can see the view about demo = less sales. The figures for that are common knowledge.
    But, people are not doing enough to inform after understanding that they are not offering a demo, so need to do more.
    If the publisher was doing enough to push their game, then I wouldn’t have to resort to finding these so often, to try to understand the quality of what’s on offer, vs the noise surrounding it.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. YoungZer0

    @25: It’s wouldn’t HAVE. Wouldn’t OF doesn’t make sense.

    #28 2 years ago
  29. MattW

    @28: That’s your issue? A grammatical error and the police are out. Surely your username doesn’t make sense then either? lol :)

    #29 2 years ago
  30. xino

    releasing a *bad game demo will cut your game sales in half
    releasing a demo whereas the gameplay is totally different to what player had in mind will cut game sales.

    #30 2 years ago
  31. John117

    I think the only demo that completly destroyed my interest in a game was Dragon Age 2. After completing the small section I knew that the gameplay had been changed too much and would probably make me sell the game before I ever finished it.

    #31 2 years ago
  32. YoungZer0

    @29: It makes me mad. I often see people do that and assume it’s the right way to write and I’ve been doing it wrong all the time. But it isn’t, so stop doing that, you’re just confusing foreigners.

    #32 2 years ago
  33. MattW

    @32: You know, I tend to avoid online gaming forums because frankly many “gamers” act like obnoxious little shits once they have some anonymity and no real possibility of accountability. However, after lurking on this site since it first appeared I thought I’d take a chance and jump in. First post and it’s the Grammar Police. Incredible.

    Would you of jumped into an overheard conversation in a pub and said, “Excuse me old bean but your use of the Queen’s English is incorrect, best sort it out less The Foreigners get the wrong idea!” I’m guessing not.

    #33 2 years ago
  34. manamana

    Welcome to Disneyland MattW :-D

    #34 2 years ago
  35. Joe Musashi

    I think, if people watch that video, you’ll see that there is no contempt or spite. Gamers are very quick to anger.

    I’ve always maintained that curiosity plays a large part in game sales. People generally want to sample the game and often make a purchase partially driven by this desire. If that curiosity is sated by a game’s demo then that sale may not occur – as the analysis presented clearly shows. Games with trailers but no demos garnered far more commercial success than games with demos.

    This isn’t about disrespecting anyone. This is looking at how customers behave, observing trends and responding accordingly.

    JM

    #35 2 years ago
  36. Gheritt White

    @33: That should be “lest”, not “less”.

    Sort it the fuck out, mate.

    #36 2 years ago
  37. YoungZer0

    @33: Would I HAVE jumped into an overheard conversation in a pub? No. But this isn’t a pub, this is an internet forum, everybody is free to talk. And everybody can reply to you.

    You could’ve simply taken the comment lightly – the way it was meant to be – but instead you choose to be offended.

    That was not my intention, but you should definitely lighten up.

    #37 2 years ago
  38. manamana

    On topic: I bought plenty of games because of their demos. But one thing makes sense for shure: bad demos don’t work in favour of a game.

    #38 2 years ago
  39. MattW

    lol ok and I’m off before I even begun :) I operate by Pub Rules – talk to people on the internet as I would in real life. Not wasting my time, sorry fellas. Rather than discuss the matter at hand, posters shouldn’t have to worry about minor grammatical errors being picked up by little shits looking to score some cheap points. Well look at you, aren’t you sooooo clever!

    As I said, Pub Rules – you talk to people like that in a pub you better be able to back it up :)

    Have fun :)

    #39 2 years ago
  40. YoungZer0

    Look at you, talking all tough behind a monitor, bet you wouldn’t be talking like that in a pub.

    Anyway, I scored by pointing out his grammatical errors.

    U-S-A!
    U-S-A!
    U-S-A!
    U-S-A!

    Which points btw.?

    #40 2 years ago
  41. DSB

    @2 Or shit demos for good games.

    I held off on buying Just Cause 2 because the demo was terribly optimized.

    Then I eventually got it for cheap during a sale, and the game itself worked just fine, and I would’ve happily paid full price for it.

    I think the inconvenient truth is that you could be just as damned if you do, than if you don’t.

    #41 2 years ago
  42. Malmer

    I’ve played plenty of really good games with demos that weren’t any good. So he has a point.

    However, getting to start to play the game and then simply pay in-game to continue would be great. And I Think releasing episode 1 of Alan Wake for free would have done wonders for that title. Even releasing it as an episodic title would’ve been great.

    #42 2 years ago
  43. TheWulf

    @24

    I like Spec-Ops: The Line, but I’d be the first to say that they were the victims of their own poor development ethos. There was a lot of padding involved before getting to the meat of the matter. If part 9 had been part 2, then a demo would have shown that the game was worth playing.

    What the demo instead showed was that the game had a lot of padding. The adage continues to be true: Make better games, and your demos won’t betray you.

    #43 2 years ago
  44. DuckOfDestiny

    Translation -

    “Don’t let them know that your product is half-hearted shit, otherwise they won’t by it.”

    #44 2 years ago
  45. TheWulf

    @22: Actually, you’re Nu School (as is the current vernacular with the kids, I think). Old school is shareware and demos. If you look at the ancient home computers, and even the early days of the IBM PC, there were demos and shareware everywhere. Cover tapes, et al.

    #45 2 years ago
  46. Gheritt White

    @44: That should be “buy” not “by”.

    Seriously pal, sort your life out.

    #46 2 years ago
  47. TheWulf

    @14

    Yeah. That’s a fair point. You’re clearly an intelligent person and I won’t argue with you on that point at all. I would however say though that that’s even more of an encouragement to buy the game. See, you have the entire game locally, now. All you have to do is pay to unlock it.

    Whereas if you’ve just played a chopped up demo and you were on the seat, needing to download another 20gb might actually be the element that tips you towards just not bothering.

    #47 2 years ago
  48. NeoSquall

    Another successfull game maker, and by “successfull” I mean he made stuff like a Pirates of the Caribbean ride at the Walt Disney’s World Resort, a Pirates of the Caribbean MMO, a Disneyland meet and greet attraction and Toontown Online, tries to teach the Industry what sells and what doesn’t.

    Were there even remotely meaningful events at DICE this year?

    #48 2 years ago
  49. Hellhound30x

    The guy talking sounds like a sneaky thief!

    #49 2 years ago
  50. JRNO

    You can’t expect people to dish out 59.99€ or more recently 69.99€ for a game, especially if you don’t have a proven track record, without giving them a chance to try it out first. And beside that, I don’t think I have ever played a demo that has put me off from buying a game that I had been looking forward to. On the contrary, there are plenty of games that i never considered buying had I not played the demo. Games like XCOM: Enemy Unkown, inFAMOUS, Just Cause 2 Batman: Arkham Asylum, Deus Ex: Human Revolution (leaked preview version), Fight Night Champion, Diablo III and skate. just to name some – all of which I ended up buying. And in most cases, sequels or DLC to those games.

    I try out demos for plenty of games I don’t like or have interest in just to see if I missed something. I wasn’t looking forward to Dead Space 3, but I gave the demo a go. Nothing changed. They didn’t lose a pre-order, they didn’t get one because I just didn’t find it much fun and I didn’t get burned. Demos for DmC, Metal Gear Rising and Dragon’s Dogma got me on the fence, and I’m considering picking each one of those up once they receive a discount. Again, games that I previously had no interest in. Games that I didn’t follow or had mixed feelings about.

    #50 2 years ago
  51. BraveArse

    Aside from the tacit admission that devs “sometimes” release dodgy games, and you shouldn’t let them know this before release ( fairly apt given the current A:CM review embargo ), this is all kinds of nonsense.

    Unless he has access to alternate universes where games got released with and without a demo, then there is absolutely no way he can make this statement. Your actual sales are your actual sales, you can’t say you’re sales have been cut in half like that, it defies all logic. You can say that you got your forecast badly wrong though, how about doing that Schell? Classic corporate sociopath.

    #51 2 years ago
  52. orakaa

    @47: I agree. As said in my comment, when I tried Borderlands and liked it, after the first hour, I was just one click away from paying it. It works and it’s good (actually, I wish you could do that on all games, especially the ones which don’t have a demo: Borderlands was one of those).

    So I do see the advantage of this, it’s just that having to download a 20 Go “demo/trial” is not very convenient, especially when you have a limited bandwidth (even with 1 or 2 Go demos, it’s quite a slow and long process).

    #52 2 years ago
  53. Cobra951

    @52: I don’t know about the PS3, but the Xbox allows silent background downloads. I’ve downloaded full games while playing others. You can also set it up so that when you turn off your system, enough of it stays on until pending downloads complete, then it powers off the rest of the way. (It’s not this way by default. You need to go into the system setup and allow it to do this.)

    #53 2 years ago
  54. Clupula

    @53 – PS3 allows background downloads too. And you can set it so that it turns off automatically after installing whatever you were downloading.

    #54 2 years ago
  55. Clupula

    I know I never bought Deus Ex because there was no demo for it. It looked interesting, but not interesting enough to buy it without playing it.

    #55 2 years ago
  56. fearmonkey

    It is a two-edged sword. If you have a great game, release a demo that shows its strengths. If the game isnt great, you are a better off not releasing a demo, or release a demo that is essentially the best parts of the game.

    It’s like the shareware system of old, you got a large amount of gameplay for free and if you liked it, you would buy the rest of the game. That system worked great, but people forgot its lessons. You dont have to release a large part of the game for free, but what you do release has to be awesome!

    I bought Kingdoms of Amalur after playing the demo, I bought dragons dogma after playing the demo, but I didnt buy a ton of other titles that had terrible demos. If you release a demo, it has to be awesome or dont bother.

    #56 2 years ago
  57. robmlufc

    It almost encourages piracy.

    Download a game for free, if its any good then buy the full version so you dont have to cock about with patches and multiplayer stuff. If its crap then no loss.

    #57 2 years ago
  58. Vice

    This is an absolutely fucking disgusting behavior. We made a shit game WOPS we still want your money though, so buy it kk?

    @57 — that’s what I’m doing for years now and suggest to do to anyone I know.

    #58 2 years ago
  59. Joe_Gamer

    I think we are focusing on the wrong part of his speech, of course I game mostly on PC where every game has a “demo” which is a large part of the reason I choose to invest in the PC platform, no more will I get suckered by marketing BS, before I put down my money I have almost always already played the game and judged it worthy. That’s not really the point I was wanting to make though. What really caught my attention in his speach was the “Keys to Utopia”

    Magical interfaces
    Fair Payment
    Less A more I
    Family and friends
    Transformation

    That sure sounds a hell of a lot better to me than nuetering used games and monetizing every god damn fucking tiny little bit of EVERYTHING with canabalizing DLC and micro-transactions.

    #59 2 years ago

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