Sunday, September 21

Dipping into demos

I haven't quite gotten my wish in regards to Braid. I don't mind at all. Life is good with or without Braid or any other critically acclaimed gaming experience such as Castle Crashers.

One of my friends, amazing that I have any really, let me fiddle with the demos of both Braid and Castle Crashers. Thanks. I would prefer to never write about demos as they might be constructed on early builds and offer a limited insight into the actual game. It is unfair and unreasonable to offer impressions of a game from a demo. I enjoyed the Braid demo but found the text elements to be indulgently pretentious. The Castle Crashers demo was vile, I hated it. Please be aware that in no way am I advocating anything about either of these games (positive or negative) from this experience.

Professionally published games aren't the cheapest form of entertainment. iTunes offers free podcasts of many varied professional standards. Music is a little more expensive. Then there are DVDs and shareware style games, some free to play MMOs might be similarly expensive if one is frugal. Blu-Rays, DVDs of TV series seasons, new release Blu-Rays, larger downloadable games represent the next largest price bracket. The most expensive of this kind of media is the major game release. Price is a consideration in the arena of entertainment and games are good value for money when one considers time versus dollars. There's a risk though, the consumer wants to know that the long time will be worthwhile, will be "enjoyable", and most importantly will be worth the investment monetarily. There are definitely times when I'd rather buy two seasons of TV on DVD (or Blu-Ray) for my one video game. Unlike the game I've probably had a chance to preview the series and am buying it because I enjoyed what I've seen and want to fill in the gaps that were generated by my real life commitments. I may also wish to return to whatever place is represented there if it is particularly compelling.

Demos represent this "preview" in the gaming world. It is imperfect. The demos are often created on preview builds, early levels, out of context moments, artificial additions that may taint the pure experience intended by the developer. Demos are a huge risk for the developer and publisher because they put the product out there for gamers to try, to see for themselves and to judge. I've noticed that many companies are turning to a wide array of user participates marketing techniques as a replacement for a demo. Many AAA releases deny access to the great unwashed masses until they fork over the cash, relying on the millions of marketing dollars and rabid fanpersons to generate interest. Such strategies make me wonder if such practices are better or worse. My belief is that they are better in the short term if the product is sub-standard but far worse in the long term as consumers learn that they cannot trust material from that source. Demos are honest, there is very little to hide behind, they give the power to the gamer.

Every once in a while publishers change the rules. Spore's Creature Creator is an excellent example of the delivery of a game demo that doubles as a viral marketing campaign. Penis monsters and fruit fuckers make good press, 3 million created creatures must mean this game is good. It also has follow on benefits for the developer / publisher as much of their game content is created by the users. N'gai Croal's discussion highlights how many artist hours it would take to create a similarly sized creature database, if you consider $20 per hour versus free the difference is significant in dollar terms, particularly when you consider that this structure also generates interest in the game.

The best game demo I've seen in a while is the demo for Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy. The reason I make this claim is because the creators of this demo showcased all three kinds of gameplay available (four if you count the quicktime events). The first is a tutorial in hand to hand fighting, each element is introduced in carefully measured doses eschewing the need for a manual and enabling the player to master hand to hand fighting quickly and easily. So too with the fighting and driving sections. The demo even does a passable job of concealing the poor level design and largely uninspired game design choices made in the final product. I bought the game in the end, I wanted to reward the manufacturer of this product with my dollars, to thank them for taking the risks and putting effort into treating me as a valued customer. Oh the irony.

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