Demo Distrust

I don’t trust demos. Even though they do sound like a good idea on paper. You let your potential customers try a limited version of the game and hopefully get them hooked encouraging them to try the real deal. My problem with that is the “limited” part. The various ways you limit the game to create a demo can cripple the gameplay and expose the players to a potentially inferior experience. This will do more harm then good. Here are some examples.

  • Burnout Paradise – The demo allowed players to traverse Paradise City freely. However, only a handful of events were availible. In the real game, there is an event on every stoplight. The real Paradise City is a place full of action, challenges and collectibles. Compared to that, the demo was a hollow, empty wasteland. I played it when I first got my Xbox and wasn’t really impressed. I got it eventually and was blown away by the difference.

  • Need for Speed: Shift – The demo was just a few races with fixed cars. I played it and I was sure I could skip this one. At some point we got a promotional copy at work and I dipped in one evening. I was instantly hooked. The difference here is more subtle than in Burnout. I guess it’s the initial progression in career mode: going from the initial training lap to your first car, doing the first races to buy money etc. Also, the fact that I could quickly obtain a car I was interested in (Mazda RX-8) helped a lot to catch my attention.

  • Super Meat Boy – something other than a racing game this time. The demo of Super Meat Boy is a sequence of levels taken from various points in the game. It showcases some easy levels at the beginning but ramps up in difficulty extremely quickly. So quickly in fact that me and my colleges at work ran into a wall just a few levels in. That was the point where we all basically concluded that the game was a sadistic grind fest, just way too hard and not worth the effort. I got the game anyway to support teh indies. The real game is completely different. It has a well balanced difficulty curve that helps building up the necessary skills to properly enjoy the more difficult levels. Features like warp zones and the dark world levels, teh internets and unlockable characters add the kind of variety the demo was missing.

  • Monster Hunter Freedom Unite – This is basically what inspired this post. Back when I got my PSP I tried some demos on PSN. One of them was the demo for Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. This was back when Monster Hunter Tri wasn’t even out yet. I had no idea what Monster Hunter was. The demo was a collection of 3 missions of different difficulty. They could be engaged with different gear setups to chose from. However, there was no character management involved so you couldn’t customize the gear. Without any tutorial or training missions, the demo was impossibly hard. I tried the easiest monster a couple of times and got completely annihilated each time. Frustrated and underwhelmed I moved to other games. Monster Hunter Tri later caught my attention because of all the included swag (Controller, Wii Speak). I was expecting a failure but the swag meant the investment would still pay out. To my surprise the full game is completely different. There is a huge amount of tutorials and easy missions to get players used to the combat system. Also, the gathering of resources to craft custom equipment easily takes half of the play time and is an important factor of why the game is so enjoyable. I recently re-played the demo. I was able to beat all monsters with ease. But not only that. The demo was much better at getting me interested in the full game this time around. Now that I know how the full game works I can fill in the blanks.

I believe the idea of a demo is inherently flawed. Granted, these may be just unfortunate examples. Perhaps it depends on the kind of game and on the way the demo is limited. So I’m interested in collecting similar cases to search for patterns. Do you remember instances where a demo failed to convey the idea of the full game?

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

2 responses to “Demo Distrust”

  1. Clayton Hughes

    I don’t know if the idea of a demo is “inherently flawed” or not.

    Basically, it’s a marketing tool, (and one a growing number of customers are expecting you to have), and like any other tool, it can work well or not. It might generate buzz, get people talking about your game, convince people they like the gameplay and want more. Or, it could leave them feeling like your game isn’t worth their time or money, or have some other bad opinion.

    I think all of your unfortunate examples showcase some of the flaws that a demo can have. Because it’s such a powerful tool, it can really sway people one way or the other.

    For example, in the Burnout Paradise case, it sounds like a limited demo (time, number of missions, etc.) would have been a much better decision marketing-wise. (Although I can see how cost-wise just taking out 9/10 missions is a cheap way to make a demo).

    Also – I had no idea Super Meat Boy was actually good; so thanks for sharing that. I had played a level or two when it was at the IGF and decided it was stupidly hard and not worth my time.

  2. Phillip

    I have a different reason for distrusting demos more and more. The reason I hardly trust demos any more than trailers is because they are becoming just another marketing and hype booster for the game. The best (and worst) example of this is the Fear 2 demo. I was excited for Fear 2 and I was very excited when I saw the demo pop up on Xbox Live. I played it and was in absolute awe at the environment, the depth of mood and true creepiness they managed to achieve, as well as the constant new frights around every corner. The girl would walk on the ceiling, jump out at you some times, make all the locker doors in a locker room clatter and some even flew off and impaled people. It was very thrilling, and I played through that demo many times. So of course I was set to buy the game, it would be awesome if it truly like the demo. But sadly, as I quickly learned a few hours into the full game of Fear 2, it wasn’t exactly like the demo. What they had done is take almost every wicked awesome part from the game, interactions with the girl, creepy moments, and stunning visuals, and crammed it all into the demo. They literally spliced levels together, making each thrill end just as another was beginning. They pretty much did exactly what modern trailers do, take all the best lines and cool slow-mo scenes, and edit them into this over the top montage. And so the full game of Fear 2 was pretty much the demo, with an hour of mownig down endless waves of goons crammed in between each awesome scene. Anyways, that’s what I’ve been seeing in a few of the highly marketed games’ demos, and it makes me feel quite exploited.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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