2 Cents to Play: Demos Don’t Tell The Whole Story

Originally published in The Daily Iowan 9/8/2009

Along with competing with gamers around the world, one of the best parts of the Xbox LIVE and PlayStation Network services is the ability to download game demos at no extra cost. No longer do players have to head down to the drugstore and spend $10 for a magazine (that contains information available for free online) and a disc containing four or so demos, some of which are for games that aren’t of interest.

Now, every thumbstick jockey with an Internet connection can try out the newest games without putting pants on or dropping a Hamilton on the counter at CVS. These demos are free because they’re considered to be promotional content and are meant to persuade players to buy the full game when it comes out in the following weeks. Sometimes the demo succeeds and works as a small game on its own (Call of Duty: World at War, Fight Night Round 3) or it confirms any fears the skeptics might have — as was unfortunately the case for the Batman Arkham Asylum demo.

Batman is easily my favorite superhero, but to be honest, comic book-based games haven’t had the best track record. I wasn’t surprised when the demo revealed the game to be all style, with its attempts at substance consisting only of tapping the attack button repeatedly.

Demo deleted.

I was shocked when reading the reviews of Batman’s latest adventure. It received a 92 on Metacritic and broke the Guinness World Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game.” I downloaded the demo again but still couldn’t find what everyone was talking about. I decided to rent it and play through what I could. I was instantly hooked.

This lesson demonstrates how poorly the demo was conceived. In playing the actual game, I found the demo left out the detective work and gadgets that make the players feel as though they’re Batman. The demo version, however, focused only on button-mashing combat and a stealth situation that amounts to no more than waiting on gargoyles to literally hang thugs out to dry, one by one.

Because new games are running for around $60 a disc, demos can offer the consumer a very valuable “try before you buy” opportunity. However, when the demo can’t capture the true essence of a game and the only people who check for reviews are hard-core gamers, such gems as Arkham Asylum will be in the Wal-Mart bargain bin within six months.


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