Saturday, June 29, 2013

This Whole Notion that Demos Kill Sales...'s a bit off. Or at least it's being mislabeled. If you're not aware, CVG posted an article this past week regarding new data that suggests games with demos can result in a halving of total sales:

I'm not irked at all by the study (hey, facts are cool and super helpful), but the presentation by CVG and a subsequent slew of other media outlets bothers me a bit. The study only took its data from Xbox 360 games, but that point has been incredibly muddled by press. To the author's credit, this point is mentioned in the article -- but it's not highlighted, expounded on, or even mentioned as any kind of disclaimer that the study may not be indicative of the medium as a whole.

It seems pretty clear from the author's perspective that, for headline purposes, the study should be presented as if it encompassed all viable gaming platforms (certainly more compelling then including boring caveats!). You think it would be fairly common knowledge that markets such as PC and mobile are different from the Xbox 360 demographic that's under analysis, but for whatever reason that point isn't being clearly articulated.

In fact, it's being ignored entirely.

That's really what's driving me nuts here. Why? For one, because the study doesn't apply to PC games, where I believe a demo can be a boon. Also, the study is based on the Xbox 360 -- which is both its own island as well as an incredibly strict and warped marketplace where a developer's one and only option to include a demo is to have it listed right alongside the game's full version.

In our experience, giving players a readily available choice to not purchase your game at the point where they should be purchasing your game is a big time no-no for driving sales. Seems to me that's exactly what's going on with this Xbox 360 study. But not highlighting your game's demo right next to the game's purchase option isn't the same as outright denying potential players the option to try the game out should they want to (and there's plenty of people who do, "Is there going to be a demo?" is a frequently asked question we receive leading up to a game's release).

There's a bunch of psychology to it that I won't pretend to understand, but to reiterate: it's all in the presentation. Which brings up another thought: Is it ethical to create a demo for a game and not advertise it on the same page that it's sold?

I'm not sure to be honest. It doesn't feel excellent by any means. But "manipulating" customers in such a passive way because it's been recorded multiple times that the game will sell less if you don't seems a better option than essentially saying: "No, you can't get a tangible feel for my game without putting money down for it. (Or pirating it, please don't pirate it.)".

Regardless, there has to be a give and take with how we as developers try to maximize our sales while not totally jerking with our player/customer base in the process. I just don't like the idea of denying players the right to play the game first in a panic move to rhetoric like that in the CVG piece.

tl;dr: Foregoing a demo isn't something I'd advise for PC developers. If you're worried about losing sales, think about the customers you may lose to disinterest and/or piracy when people Google's "[insert name of your game here] demo" and nothing comes up. Just don't slap a demo button right below the buy button if you want people to actually purchase!