Thoughts on Possibility of Pay-For-Demos

Posted March 26th, 2010 at 4:30 pm

With the story earlier this week that EA was considering the idea of offering extended play pay-for-demos I’ve received a number of questions about it through Twitter so I figured it would be a good subject to address. According to a quote from an EA exec the company could begin creating “premium downloadable content” demos that would have at least a few hours worth a play and give an opportunity for gamers to provide feedback that could improve the final complete version of the game.

Now, much of the speculation that prompted discussion on the topic came from an analyst that has a history of exaggerating and inserting opinions to speculate conclusions. So in response EA came right out and stated that they have absolutely no plans to charge for the standard demos everyone is accustomed to having provided for free, and such an idea would not be a replacement for those.

“EA will continue to release demos and we have no plans to charge for them.”

Last year there were numerous instances where consumer discontent over the handling of demos arose. While they weren’t requiring payment, games such as Fight Night Round 4 and Madden 10 offered demos earlier to pre-orders from Gamestop, or even in the case of Madden resulted in tiered versions of a demo. This pressured gamers to place pre-orders when they may not have otherwise, or may not have at a specific location. Demos were being used more to guarantee initial sales rather than to try and build them.

What many seem to be ignoring in all this is that 2K Sports already took the first step with what was essentially the first pay-for-demo. NBA 2K10 Draft Combine was an extension of the My Player mode in NBA 2K10, but was not an essential or required element of it. The Draft Combine arrived six weeks before release and sold for $5. It included the ability to start up the character and run through a few drills and a couple games.

Sales appeared to be solid for the first week and then tailed off quickly, which would basically be the same track that the downloads of any demo takes. With 2K naturally wanting to milk as many sales as possible that prevented any thought of the standard free demo from releasing until the last minute (week before on 360, post-release on PS3).

There has been no indication whether the sales of Draft Combine justified the experiment, but we’ll probably figure that out based on whether 2K offers something similar again this year with NBA 2K11. It was though just that, an experiment, that could be a determining factor in whether the idea of pay-for-demos is viable when the experience extends beyond that of a traditional free demo.

I’ve had the sense that we will see some new attempts at creating compelling demos from EA Sports this year that will hopefully lead away from the thought that giving gamers more than a couple minutes for each play through will dissuade them from purchasing the full game. Unique experiences and extensions of different elements of the game will likely be considered in some form or fashion.

The best structured sports game demo last year was NHL 10. Not only did it avoid a pre-order requirement but it provided a different scenario for each play through by simming up to the seventh game of the Finals. There was also the opportunity to play some in the Be a Pro mold as part of the Prospects Game.

Now, that is not an example of something that would be worth paying for, but it is a case where they thought outside of the box and provided a compelling demo that made people want the full game. It showed off the game’s strengths rather than attempting to hide the weaknesses as seen with, for example, a demo for Madden 10 that had one minute quarters.

So now my question to everyone is, can you think of a scenario where a demo could be created that you would consider paying for? Those who bought the Draft Combine have essentially already proven that some will so the general idea is not outlandish. What would you like to see out of a demo if there were going to be a charge for it (considering that there would be a regular free demo out too). Leave your thoughts in the comments!