Online Enabled Demo a Breakthrough for Sports Gaming

Posted January 25th, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Fight Night Champion is set to have a typically structured demo, four boxers in two different matchups, but EA Sports turned in a surprise with the announcement that it will be enabled for head-to-head online play for a limited time. With the demo arriving on XBL and PSN a full month before release this is an especially significant development that could influence the way demos are handled going forward.

The constrained development cycles inherent with sports titles have typically taken them out of consideration for early betas. There has simply been no way to fit in a beta close enough to release that would represent a near final product and still be able to implement changes in the game following completion of the beta. The hard dates required by licensed sports limits such an opportunity from being realized.

The Fight Night Champion demo will become a beta of sorts however under the guise of a demo and that could result in more immediate improvements and a better online experience out of the box come release day. EA Sports has always done a commendable job of taking community feedback from early demos and implementing them into patches but the online play element has the potential to take things to a whole new level.

The challenge for developers as the generation has progressed has been to create a demo that is compelling enough to generate sales while avoiding any complete satisfaction that would make someone determine they didn’t really need to spend the money on the full title. There has been experimentation in several different ways such as timed demos, very limited play duration, and even those linked to pre-orders with varied levels of success.

What EA has decided to do here is allow for the game to be experienced in a totally different way than just taking on the CPU, and in doing so emulates the Need for Speed Hot Pursuit demo from a few months ago. The actual draw of a competitive sports title of this nature for many people is the head-to-head gaming and in particular finding that experience online. Having both options available will allow for the CPU AI to be tested while also tracking the styles being utilized online which can expose completely different issues with the game.

Limiting the online play to two weeks accomplishes a few different goals. After those two weeks are up the demo becomes far less appealing and the anticipation will build again towards release day. It also will provide EA will a great deal of data about how the game is being played and testing of the server can lead to tweaks to improve lag or disconnects. Online performance can be tested to an extent that simply could not be completed internally.

Arriving four weeks before the game will provide for plenty of time to make those server improvements and even get a jump start on a patch that could then be ready much closer to release day. Usually the wait would be a month or longer for something discovered early to be taken care of in a patch and in that period of time frustrated consumers are inevitably lost.

From addressing exploits to improving online performance the developers will be getting a head start thanks to the demo for Fight Night Champion. Of course all will be moot if the gameplay doesn’t generate the level of interest EA is expecting or should gamers find themselves burned through the hype after the few weeks with it. This is certainly an interesting experiment regardless and if successful may very well become a staple of demos in the future.

Tags: ,