When It Comes to Demos, Size Matters?
As promised, I played the Batman: Arkham Asylum demo over the weekend. Lots of you Crispy readers probably did the same. For my part, I loved what I played and can’t wait to get a full build in my hands.
But, man… was the demo ever skimpy! It took longer to download than it did to play!
I cleared out some older demos to make room for the Bat-demo. Doing that got me thinking about the same issue I always have with demos: How much is a satisfying chunk?
It’s idle speculation, but I think I’ve been covering the business long enough to know that demos are almost always produced under duress. The console manufacturer wants something to feed their marketplace pipeline, potential consumers want hands-on access to a game they’re not sure they’re going to buy and the publisher wants something to tempt the consumer with. So, there you have a developer–already beleaguered and working 20-hour days trying to finish the whole game–under pressure to task people to create a demo. Let’s not forget that demos aren’t revenue generators. So, it’s no wonder that the sizes and shapes of demos vary so widely.
Going back over those old demos made me think about why I liked certain ones and the elements that make a demo feel satisfying. What do I think I want?
1. Gimme a boss fight: It doesn’t even have to be a level boss. It can be a mini-boss, for all I care. Anything more than cutting down grunts teases players with the sense of scope your game will deliver. The demo for The Force Unleashed did this by throwing an AT-ST at me and, once I crushed it, it had only ignited the hunger to do it once again.
2. A suite of abilities and weapons: One of the things I loved about the Force Unleashed demo oh so many months ago was the fact that I could wield a few different abilities. When the final version of the game came out, it didn’t matter that I wouldn’t actually have Force Lightning or Saber Throw in the Tie Fighter level. I knew the power that was waiting for me and that kept me playing.
3. Let me wander: The demo’s meant to draw me in, right? Well, then, let me get a sense of the place I’ll be visiting. After all, we all understand that it’s not going to be the full, final offering that we’ll be getting. I remember the demo for Heavenly Sword doing that particularly well. It too, like Arkham Asylum’s demo, was a short one but it showed me vistas and environments that communicated a sense of the place I’d be kicking ass in.
4. Demo and final game should talk to each other: This is probably my biggest pet peeve. I don’t want to have to play through parts of a game that I’ve already downloaded, especially if the demo’s made up of the first part of your game. Surely, some kind of capability can be built in where the disc scans the hard drive, recognizes the download, and allows me to skip stuff I’ve already done? If the technical aspects of the game’s structure make such a thing unfeasible, then at least let me get some bonus points for having to endure the déjà vu.
What about you, readers? I know we’re not entitled to the pre-release appetizers that some publishers release, but how much play does a demo have to pack for it to excite you or convince you to buy?