Experienced Points: Your Demo Sucks

By Shamus
on May 22, 2009
Filed under:
Column

It really does, it totally sucks.

The worthless demo is a trend that’s been bugging me for a while now. Just thought I’d share my agitation with you, seeing as how you seem to enjoy that so much. Or was that the comics you enjoyed? I can’t remember. Either way: Your demo sucks.

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20208Feeling chatty? There are 48 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. *giggle*

    I doubt there are many players just dying to seize control of a musclebound turret-man who handles like a forklift in a phone booth.

    Great article! I agree wholeheartedly.

    Leslee

  2. Visi says:

    I think the last demo I played that made me buy the game was Defence Grid. The World of Goo one was decent too.

    Thinking about it, both those demos were just the first few levels of the game, I guess if you can do that, it works.

  3. Magnus says:

    The last demo that made me buy a game?

    hmm… I think it may have been shareware Doom. I miss the days you got a third of the game to try out! I only tried that because of Wolfenstein 3D as well, and ended up buying several iD games. Just goes to show really.

    Stopped looking at demos in the mid-90s, stopped buying games magazines too. There were so many good PC RPGs, adventure games and strategy games then, you couldn’t help yourself but buy a good one. Truly a golden age for me, but I think you may have mentioned that yourself recently.

  4. Colonel Slate says:

    The defense grid demo was a great demo, and thank you lord, someone talks about demos

  5. Clint Olson says:

    Well, it wasn’t a PC demo, but the XBox 360 demo of The Force Unleashed very much made me want to buy the game. The demo was flat-out amazing, and (some might argue) might even have been better than the full game, due to the full game having hackneyed boss mechanics a lack of fun enemies to fight in the later levels.

    How’s that for a counterexample? ;)

  6. RichardB says:

    What can I add? You nailed it. The last demo that sold a game to me was Diablo II, specifically because I got the start-of game experience.

  7. ngthagg says:

    I’ve been sold on MMORPG demos, mostly because the typical MMO demo involves downloading the full game and getting a free pass to play it for a week or more. Obviously, that wouldn’t work with a game like RE5, since most people would be able to finish the game in a week.

  8. Bret says:

    I played an amazingly awful Tetris demo on a cell phone recently.

    It was just standard Tetris, of the kind available on every system known to man, but it cut off, with no reason or warning, after thirty seconds or so. Not even enough time to get a freaking Tetris!

  9. Hugh says:

    I’ve played both the Mirror’s Edge and Bioshock demos recently, and both of them rather sold me on their respective concepts. However, cast your minds back a decade or so. Anyone play the Starcraft demo? Too refresh your memories, it was a short, wholly original as the Terrans, which introduced a couple of the main characters, the core mechanics of the Terran and Zerg races and (best of all) tied in as a prequel to the actual opening of the game. Amazing, yet all too rare.

  10. Elzair says:

    OT: Shamus, I am surprised that you have not covered this potential story. Considering your anti-DRM stance, I thought you would be interested in the worst form of DRM yet.

  11. Elzair says:

    The last demo that made me want to run out and buy a game (and, consequently, the last demo I remember playing) was the Gothic demo. Of course, I had read about the game and wanted it before that, so I am not sure if it counts. The demos for Metal Gear Solid and Brave Fencer Musashi are better examples. What is interesting about Musashi’s demo is that it completely misrepresented the style of game. I thought it was little more than an action-platformer, and it turned out to be an action-rpg. Still, I enjoyed both the demo and the game.

  12. Tuck says:

    The Far Cry demo was, like the Crysis demo, a complete level of the game, and one of the best levels at that.

    Those games are both best played with God mode on. Not because they’re hard, but because there’s just so much fun you can get up to when you can’t die. :D

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Amazingly enough,it was the UT3 demo that made me buy it.Though I still think it is worse than the original UT,the demo turned out to be way better and much more fun than numerous games Ive played before and afterwards.In fact,the game itself turned out to be just slightly more fun than the demo.

  14. JPLC says:

    Thanks for speaking up about this. The worsening of demos was getting on my nerves as well.

    However, two demos in recent memory that actually made me want to buy the game are the demo for Mirror’s Edge (PS3 version), and inFAMOUS (PS3 exclusive).

    Mirror’s Edge’s demo was a tad short (but most definitely not one of the shortest out there), but the gameplay was just way too intruiging and fun to pass up.

    inFAMOUS’s demo (which I actually just played for the first time this morning) not only gives you 4 (I think) missions to tackle (2 story missions and 2 side missions), but it lets you explore a decent chunk of the in-game sandbox city with very little restriction (eventually, you’re told you have so many minutes left, but that comes up after quite some time of roaming, and the timer seems to reset after you do one of the missions). On top of that, the demo gives you a decent taste of the game’s “good” and “evil” abilities (a morality scale is part of the gameplay), including letting you summon a lightning storm in one of the missions (a very satisfying ability). Anyone with a PS3 will have a fun time with this demo, in my eyes.

  15. Dev Null says:

    I think I’d like the new layout at the Escapist better if, y’know, it worked. Its not like I’m going to storm off in a huff and never read their stuff again, but this is at least a couple of days now that I’ve had to reload every single page 20 times to get their server to respond…

  16. Gobo says:

    I was about to start a game demo review spot on my rather irregular blog, and fired up the demo for Braid that arrived on Steam the day before. Never even got to write the review. The demo was just enough to make me fork out for the rest of the game. And with the added bonus of just continuing with the levels not included in the demo, I find it the best demo yet. The same happened with World of Goo as well. :)

    As a contrary, the Left4Dead approach of having a “free day” worked rather bad. First I used most of the day downloading the game, and when it finally got downloaded I didn’t have time to play more than a few minutes. :(

  17. Factoid says:

    I just played a worthless demo for Red Faction Guerilla. I actually had a lot of fun with the destructible environments and blowing stuff up. The game looks nice, played smoothly and gave me an interesting vignette to play with.

    But Guerilla is a different animal than standard FPS games and even different than previous Red Faction games, which were linear shooters. This game seems to be semi-sandbox where I can take missions from different locations on a big map. 120 different missions if the ad at the end of the game is to be believed.

    It didn’t show me what ANY of that will look like. Will all missions be like the one I saw? If not, how many “types” of missions will there be? How many of these missions are plot-related and how many are optional? How do I get between missions? Is this map big and open like GTA, or do I just jump around via the map?

    What is the story about? Who are the characters? Is this game a one-trick pony with the destructible environments or does it have other worthwhile game hooks?

    It gave WAY too small a slice of the game to be useful as a decision-making tool. A good demo needs to give at least an hour of gameplay, but these days that would be like giving away 25% of the game, so 15 minutes is all we get.

  18. lunch4worms says:

    IGI 2 (two full levels with intro movies) and Dominions 3 (50 or 100 turns or something like that — enough to build some armies and get into trouble).

  19. Coyote says:

    PSN recently offered a demo of Marvel Vs Capcom 2 that I can’t figure out how to actually play. All of the game play modes that don’t require another fighting game afficianado on the couch beside me have been greyed out, or lead to advertisements abut how great that feature is.

    I think it only really has 2 player local, if anything.

    That demo made me angry with rage.

  20. JPLC says:

    @Coyote

    I can agree wholeheartedly. I had been awaiting the Marvel Vs Capcom 2 demo with much anticipation as I’m a fan of the game in its previous appearances (Arcade, PS2, etc). When it finally came, it was only 2 player local. No computer opponent to be seen. Anywhere.

    If the game didn’t have such stylishly light tunes, I would’ve scraped it from my PS3’s drive by now.

  21. acronix says:

    For me, the last demo that made me get a game was the first Hitman 2 demo. They gave you the first mission in the game, which was very open ended; you could do a lot of stuff. I replayed that single level so many times I have it memorized.
    The full game was quite good too, but I found it quite a few years later in a store and the lasts missions were just pathetic compared to it.

  22. Bryan says:

    The last demo that made me buy a game was Penumbra’s. Overture was really quite good, and Black Plague was close to the same level. (Requiem, the add-on for Black Plague that’s basically whatever was left of the puzzles they wanted to introduce but didn’t really have much of a story, wasn’t all that great. It was a bit disjointed…)

    Anyway, highly recommended, even today (a couple years after its first release). If you want survival horror… :-)

  23. Matt K says:

    The last demo that made me buy the game was Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. I played a little bit in the store and it just hooked me.

    Otherwise, the only other demo I played and got hooked on was Fallout. The unfortunate part was that my PC at the time couldn’t really handle the game but what I did was great. So four years later (when I got my own PC) I picked up the bundle.

  24. RichVR says:

    My first PC demo was the first ever disk based demo in PC Gamer magazine. It was Master of Magic way back in the dinosaur era. It didn’t load. I sent them a snail mail complaint and they sent me the full game with an apology from Microprose. It was 1994.

    I still bought the game to get the manual and pay for a superior game.

    I still have the disk and the manual. I still play the game using DOSbox on my WinXP system.

    Things have changed a bit since then.

  25. Exasperation says:

    The Starcraft demo was really good. Instead of being a chunk of the game, it was a short prequel that let you play some of the backstory of the game proper. Worth playing even after you had the full game.

  26. Fizban says:

    “As a contrary, the Left4Dead approach of having a “free day” worked rather bad. First I used most of the day downloading the game, and when it finally got downloaded I didn’t have time to play more than a few minutes.”

    I thought it was great. They let you pre-load it days in advance so even with my crappy download speed I was ready, and they extended it another day or two after it started. Not that I cared, because by that time I had already bought it.

  27. Sam says:

    To answer your question, the last demo that made me really want to go out and buy the full game was MDK2. Three huge levels, one for each of the three playable characters, and it was a ton of fun. I never actually got the game, but I always meant to. That was the best demo I’ve ever played. Actually, I think it was the last one I played as well…but that isn’t the point.

    I think the last demo to actually sell me on a game was World of Warcraft. We all know how evil that game is. Took me three years to truly find that out.

  28. CrushU says:

    Actually the last game I bought after playing the demo was Left 4 Dead. I was intrigued, played the demo before it game out (Almost first two levels of No Mercy… Second level ended right after the generator room instead of a little ways after.) was hooked, and pre-ordered it right there.

  29. Kreek says:

    omikron, the nomad soul

    then again the demo (and the beginning of the game from which the demo was riped from) was dressed up nice and pretty with extra special effects that arent in later parts of the game where they should be

    i found it kindof odd that the first hologram tv had these nice sparkly effects on it but no other tv in the whole of the entire game had anything fancy about it

  30. Lazlo says:

    Lego Star Wars II. Not so much that I loved it, but it showed me that my 5-year-old son was completely enthralled by it.

    But I do see the value in even a crappy demo for a PC game. As you’ve pointed out, some games just won’t play well on some hardware. Knowing if yours is hardware that the game will like is problematic and fraught with uncertainty. If you have no problems with the engine in 5 minutes of crappy demo gameplay, and you’ve already decided that you want the game based on other factors, then at least you have a better than average chance of coming home from the game store with an actual piece of entertainment, as opposed to a very expensive coaster or, worse yet, an evil seductress of a game that will sit on your shelf and stare at you provocatively until you finally break down and go buy her a $400 video card. And then some more memory. And maybe a new hard drive. A better sound card would be nice. Maybe some speakers to go with it. Wouldn’t she look better on a nice new monitor? Believe me, I’ve been there.

  31. MuonDecay says:

    To be thorough, here, there really are people who don’t mind paying full price for just another “okay” gaming experience and are only interested in sampling the gameplay.

    Sometimes people just want to eat unflavored porridge for breakfast.

  32. K says:

    Demos that made me get the full game:

    – Braid
    – Aquaria
    – Portal
    – System Shock 2
    – Deus Ex
    – Heroes of Might and Magic 3
    and more older stuff

  33. Simply Simon says:

    The last demo that made me buy something was mount and blade. I played it about 5 times and then I bought the game.
    Audiosurf has a good demo too, although I haven’t bought it yet.

    The first time I can remember I bought a game after playing the demo was “Trespasser”, the game for the Jurassic park film. I recently installed the game again. The graphics hasn’t aged well, but it still is a quite good game.

  34. Zock says:

    The last demo which caused me immediately to purchase the game was for The Tales of Bingwood. I finished the game right away and it left me wanting for more. Probably the best 8 euros I’ve spent during the last year.

    The World of Goo demo caused the same reaction, but at the time the game wasn’t available for Wii so I decided to wait.

  35. guy says:

    Alpha Centauri. Not nearly as bad as it sounds, i had never previously looked into it until very recently.

  36. Bruce says:

    Best demo I played was for Bad Company on the PS3. They gave you the first chapter of the story mode and a couple of on-line multiplayer maps. Superb.

  37. guy says:

    Incidently, warcraft 3 also had a nice demo that actually included most basic mission types, such as timed defense.

  38. rofltehcat says:

    Yeah, demos got worse and scarce since the days I played on my P1-166mhz and Later P3-500mhz…
    Often there isn’t any real demo of a game I’m interested in.
    Last games I bought because I liked the demos:

    -Sins of a Solar Empire, it is one of those demos that have a timer run in the background and tell you after the time is up that you should buy it. But during this 90 minutes of skirmish the demo basically shows you everything about the game. It contains ~75% of the TEC tech tree and you can play skirmish against the CPU for 90 minutes.
    Unfortunatelly the original of the game doesn’t contain that much more… :/ (still fun for hourlong skirmishes, though)

    -World of Goo, well the demo basically contains 1/4 of the original (but most really fun levels come later ;), good game, good demo

    But I also have to admit that demos have lost some of their value. It is just so easy to get an illegal copy of the whole game and if you like it (and want to play it online) you can still buy it.

  39. James says:

    The demos on XBox Live Arcade are quite bad. Two gig of data slides into your XBox, and rewards you with a small snapshot of the game that randomly ends at some point.

    The Doom demo contains E1M1 and that’s it. Shareware Doom on the PC contained the entire first episode. I know what Doom is, but you now need to convince me it plays properly on a joypad.

  40. Eric says:

    The last demo that made me buy the game was for Xenogears. Why have demos over the past decade seem to deteriorate from a decent size, to a practically teaser trailer.

  41. ClearWater says:

    I think the last demo I played was Psychonauts, which I consequently had to buy (or get for my birthday). It showed the entire story setup and first level. Was at least 100MB to download iirc.

  42. Krellen says:

    To answer the question: SpiderWeb Software’s Geneforge 4.

    SpiderWeb has spoiled me on other demos. I don’t even bother with them.

  43. Joel D says:

    I’ve got to say, the demo for the new Wolverine game was very good. You can see all the controls (and combos) from the pause screen, there’s an explanatory cutscene, and it lets you play a whole level up until the level boss (it lets you fight a miniboss halfway through, too). The game also seems pretty fun – a newer, shinier God of War, but with a character that I’m more interested in & on a system I actually own.

  44. Martin Annadale says:

    Getting games back in the early 2000’s and late 90’s was hard in South Africa. They were (still are) very expensive and simply finding one to buy was hard.
    As a result i played the Halflife 1 demo over and over 100’s of times before I managed to get my hands on it. The demo was a unique level not included in the game. It was the best shooter I had ever played. I remember dancing round with excitement (in real life) because the grenade I had just tossed down on some unsuspecting soldier had caused him to blow up and what looked like his face fell right in front of me on the roof where I was perched.
    Needless to say I got the game as soon as it was possible.

  45. Miral says:

    Most recently I bought the Witcher after playing its demo.

    Currently though I’m strongly tempted to buy Braid, World of Goo, and Plants & Zombies after playing their demos. I’m trying to resist since I don’t have enough spare time at the moment.

  46. Xpovos says:

    Castle Crashers. I don’t ask much from my video games, and the demo provided just that–and nothing more. I had some laughs, I had some fun with a side-scrolling beat-’em up. All that remained was I convince someone else to go in with me so I could multiplayer with some friends. That accomplished: $15 out of my life forever, but a very reasonable game in exchange. A worthwhile trade in my opinion.

  47. Bearmug says:

    Full Throttle. It contained 3 puzzles/scenes (a bike fight and 2 puzzles) and ended in a cliffhanger (with your char jumping over a canyon on his bike and NOT reaching other side).

    I just had to buy it and see what happens next.

  48. John Magnum says:

    One demo that I think is a mixed bag is Mass Effect 2’s demo. It’s very carefully constructed to show you more than just “These are the controls, these are the graphics”. It has two parts. One is just the first level from the game, verbatim. Same cutscenes, same dialogue, same mode of interaction. In fact, you can actually use your progress in that part of the demo as a save state if you buy the full game. So you aren’t dropped into the game context-free. And, as the introduction of the actual game, it showcases combat, the level design, introduces the threat, introduces you to some key NPCs, all that stuff.

    The next part of the game is one of the recruitment missions in its entirety. So you get dialogue, you meet a new character, you get a hefty slice of combat, it’s at a higher level so you get to see the levelling system, et cetera. It’s not a HUGE chunk of the game, but it’s a pretty representative one, and it tries to show the plot and non-combat interactions of the game, as opposed to RE5’s “here’s what using guns feels like in RE5” demo.

    There are some problems with the demo, though. Like Shamus pointed out, the first few minutes of Mass Effect 2 are some of the worst, as far as the main plot is concerned. That’s not necessarily immediately evident from the demo, though.

    The problem, though, is that it gives you great huge spoilers for Mass Effect 1. I think this IS a problem, because to my mind there’s a pretty big segment of people who might be interested in ME2: People who have played part of ME1, but were turned off by a lot of things–combat, NPC AI, loading screens, the Mako, whatever–and want to see what ME2 does differently, so they can determine whether or not to continue pursuing the series.

    Except for the bit where it makes absolutely sure that you’re spoiled about ME1, the Mass Effect 2 demo does a really good job of exposing the player to all the major, major improvements they made between games. Bit of a shame.

    A gripe about the ME2 demo and ME2 in general: The new game cutscenes, along with many other cutscenes, are unskippable. They are very cool cutscenes, but I’ve now seen the first thirty minutes of unskippable cutscenes about half a dozen times, from new games and trying the demo. I like playing ME2 over and over again, because the classes are all different and there are a lot of interestingly-supported choices you can make. I don’t like watching the exact same video over and over again. If a developer has to be sure that a player has seen a cutscene, fine, but at least make them skippable if the player is doing New Game Plus. Mass Effect 2 has this, but it won’t let you skip some of its cutscenes no matter what, even if you’re guaranteed to have watched through them.

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