Over the last 10 years, there has been a drastic decline in the availability of PC demos. So why have PC gaming companies stopped creating demos? Who is to blame? Developers who cannot release a demo due to time constraints or financial reasons? Publishers who are able to call the shots and simply no longer see the PC as a viable platform? Perhaps it falls to the PC gamers themselves who shout to the heavens about how much this company or that company screws over PC gamers and ends up buying the game anyway.
Back in the early to mid 90s, most PC game companies had to come up with ways to market their games and shareware was a great way to do so. Shareware is the ability to download part of a game and if you liked it, pay for the rest. In some cases, developers made distinctive shareware versions of their games with hours of content which were pieced together from the complete game. Again, after the shareware version was over, you were prompted to buy the full game. This system was a win-win for developers and customers alike. Devs got their product into the hands of gamers, and gamers got a taste of what the full game was all about.
A Crap Shoot
In the current marketplace, PC gamers have to gamble their money every time a game is bought. If it does not work, you are pretty much out of luck. It makes no difference what the reason is. You cannot return opened PC games to retail or stores and there are no establishments that currently buy and sell used PC games. If other industries worked the same way the PC gaming industry works, there would consumer out cry the likes of which we have not seen since New Coke. Let’s say you are in the market for a new TV. You drive down to the nearest electronics store, but none of the TVs are being displayed. You only have the picture and information contained on the outside of the box to help you make a decision. Once you open the box, you are unable to get a refund. What if you went out to eat and the food was cold or tasted awful? Too bad. The second the plate was served, you had no recourse.
Why can’t customers return PC games for a cash refund? There are some in the industry who say the EULA (End User License Agreement) is to blame. When you start the installation of a PC game, you are prompted with a screen that informs you of the EULA and whether or not you agree to the terms of the EULA. In short, the EULA states when you buy a PC game, you have only bought a license to use the game. You do not own it, you cannot trade or sell it, nor can you modify it in any way The mystifying aspect to this is if you do not agree to the terms, you still cannot take the game back for a cash refund. In reality, once you break the seal on the box, you have already agreed to the EULA terms.
No Demo For You
If you are a gamer in general, you know demos are also available via consoles. There are many examples of multi-platform releases that will include a PS3 and XBox 360 demo, but the PC gets left out. The recent announcement from EA stating that Crysis 2 will have a demo exclusive to Xbox Live is just another slap in the face to PC gamers who supported Crytek and other companies who have their roots in PC gaming. With the lack of PC demos being released and the increase of console demos, one has to wonder if developers simply no longer care about the PC as a gaming platform..
Demos Sell Games
GRID, Bioshock, Just Cause 2, FEAR and Burnout Paradise are examples of AAA titles who all had successful demos. Burnout Paradise offered PC gamers a chance to try the entire game for a set amount of time. After that time was up, every 10 minutes, you would be prompted to buy the full version. Just Cause 2 was similar in that it offered 30 minutes of gameplay in a specific part of the map after you left the initial start-up area. You could also choose to continuously play the Just Cause 2 demo as many times as you wanted. In Bioshock and FEAR, the demos were constructed in such a way, they made you want to immediately buy the games. Almost all indie and casual gaming companies offer demos in either a timed or one chapter format. Amnesia, Braid, Beat Hazard, Peggle, Trine, Plants vs. Zombies, World of Goo, Audiosurf, Bejeweled and thousands of other games have a demo. If an indie dev or small studio can release a demo, then why can’t a giant corporation with billions of dollars do the same?
The Piracy Angle
This topic also has ramifications in the world of piracy. If you really want a game that does not have a demo, what options do you have? You could look for a review online, but decent PC reviews are as hard to come by as demos these days. You could ask a friend, but what if he or she is in the same boat? You could also ask others who have bought the game, but in many cases, you cannot be sure their opinion will match yours. There are game trailers available online, but those are really just marketing tools and give you no true insight in how the games are played. You could also just say no to any company that will not let you try out their game before you buy. You only have one other road to travel if you want to try the game: Pirate Avenue. This is what is wrong with the PC industry today. You have publishers and developers leaving no other alternative to their customers than to download a pirated copy for the sole purpose of testing the game on their respective systems. The domino effect continues with the PC industry telling gamers they will no longer make games for the PC because of piracy.
The Bottom Line
All PC gamers want is to be able to try the game before they buy. PC gaming companies are making it extremely difficult to justify spending 50 or more non-refundable dollars on a product that may be good, and may run on their systems. The devs get paid regardless. The publishers get paid regardless. The customer… well…who cares about them.