Do Game BETAs and Demos Kill both the Mood and Sales?
The question is, do game companies sell less games because they offer a beta or a demo?
In an interview with GamePro magazine, Gears of War head-honcho Cliff Bleszinski said the following: "Once you play a BETA, you can check it off your list - you can say, yeah, I played it."
So, what Cliff seems to be saying is that they will not sell as many games to the public if they offer a beta/demo. Makes some sense and as the old saying goes, why buy the cow (or GOW in this case...) when the milk is free.
Of course BETAs can be looked at in a slightly different light than demos because a beta is supposed to help the devs sort out issues that they might not have found otherwise. Wide-scale testing also stresses servers and other support systems that routing in-house testing just can't do as effectively.
On the other hand, betas do provide quite a bit of insight into the final product. The gameplay will almost certainly be the same and graphics usually only increase slightly in the final versions. In essense, a BETA of a multi-player game is a free playing period that helps devs and gets gamers excited about a game.
Of course this can backfire and it can cause gamers to run the other way before the final version even hits the streets. Maybe some of the issues have been fixed? Could be, but some might not know it because they got their fix in, prejudged the game and moved along.
One good example of a beta going awry is the oft-mentioned Frontlines: Fuel of War PC beta. Promises were made, people played the beta (several stages in fact) and gave feedback, answered polls and were generally invested in the process.
In the end, the BETA was buggy and cheats and exploits were rampant. This put many gamers off on the game and kept them away when it was launched (we cancelled our pre-order). While it still lumbers on in life-support, it's undeniable that the preview seen in the BETA might not have been a good idea from a sales standpoint. If we look at the flip-side of the coin, the beta saved consumers money on a game they might have not been pleased with.
Demos can be seen in a more positive and negative light than betas. Demos will give you a preview of the finished game, not test code, but a snippet of the actual shipping version. This is great because you'll know just what to expect. From the sales standpoint this can also be a good thing because it can help you get more excited about a game... as long as it's good.
A poor game makes for a poor demo and that's sure to scare away the dollars. A good game has less to worry about but there is still the "yeah, I played it" thing to think about. There's that negative we were talking about.
Going back to what Cliff mentioned, the very act of playing a BETA or demo of a game after hearing about it and watching it being hyped can be cathartic. Once it's played, the excitement abates and the shine comes off quickly.
For a dev, this is clearly not a good thing. They make games to make money. Yes they like their jobs and all that, but in the end, they need to sell games to pay their salaries.
Game playing and even buying are very emotional things. While some gamers buy everything under the sun, others research a game and follow it's development from early on. This following can be seen in action if you've ever been to a midnight launch. The anticipation of a game is often a devs greatest sales asset, they know you want it and will tease out the details until it launches.
They know, as Cliff says, if they let you play it you might lose your devotion. The mystery will be gone and you might devote your attention elsewhere now. That's not a good thing for them, they need your gaming love hence the decision by some to not provide any working games to the general public.
While we have simplified the psychological aspect here, yeah, we can see where Cliff is coming from and we do think losing the emotional appeal of a game can be killer. We love to see demos because they can save you from a lot of heartache and buyers-remorse. The fact is though, with a good ad campaign, ample screenshots and gameplay video, a demo is not a necessary component to launch a game.
Right now there are thousands of gamers playing BETAs of Call of Duty: World at War and the reaction is mostly positive but their is some dissent. There are cries of "COD4 mod!" being made and we do find it hard to argue with that as the game is using the COD4 engine and the gameplay/feel is identical.
We're ambivalent to the game and will still buy it but we can't even pretend to forget that we've f*cked her already and the next time we get together it just won't be as much fun or as exciting.
In the end, Epic and Cliff are right to hold back a GOW2 demo because so few things in life are a mystery, it would be a shame to lose them all. More PlayStation 3 News...