Opinion: All Games Should Have Demos (or at least, more of them)

This past week, I’ve downloaded a bunch of demos on my 3DS: Fire Emblem Awakening, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity, Etrian Odyssey IV, and HarmoKnight. Each demo let me play the beginning of the game, giving me a sense of whether I would like it or not. Combined, they provided me with a great deal of entertainment for the unbeatable price of free. And those demos have sold me on every single game.

Above: Etrian Odyssey IV. Pretty fun, but incredibly complex. Found that out in a demo!

I’m an avid reader of IGN. I check the homepage at least three times a day to get caught up on the latest news and reviews. In fact, sadly, IGN is probably my main source of news, period (besides The Daily Show and The Colbert Report). IGN is my go-to when I’m deciding whether I should buy a game or not. I’ll check the review, watch some gameplay videos to see if I might like it. But sometimes, that’s just not enough.

If you want to watch a movie, you can watch it instantly online for free, or through a service like Netflix. You don’t have to buy every movie you want to watch before you know if you even like it or not. That’s not the way it is with games, however. When BlockBuster was still relevant (well, in business) I would sometimes rent games from them. It was great—I could try the newest game to see if I liked it before I plunked down $50 or more. Now, GameFly is really the only way to rent games, but does anyone actually use it?

And unlike movies or books, games are a significant investment, both of money and time. If I pay $60 for a new game, even if I don’t like it, I’ll play through it till the end, because I want to get my money’s worth. Of course, I’ll still regret paying that much for a game that I don’t even enjoy, and now have to sell to GameStop to get like 14 cents for it.

So what I choose to do is, I wait for Steam’s mega sales, where blockbuster titles like Assassin’s Creed and L.A. Noire are only $5, or if a game is only available on consoles, I’ll wait for the price to lower to $20. (Unless it’s a must-have, like the newest Pokemon or Zelda, which I’ll buy at launch.) But even at those price points, why should I have to buy it before I’ll even know if I like it? I don’t want to own it if I don’t like it.

That’s why demos are so valuable, and should be much more widespread. The 3DS has been pretty good about providing demos for most of its games, and they’re helping me make decisions about my future buys. Demos are amazing for the consumer, and can help good games get the attention they deserve, and prevent bad ones from being bought. I read an article about someone who said that demos are bad for the gaming industry and can hurt game sales. That may be true for bad games, but it’s the opposite for good ones. People who may have been on the fence about a game might end up buying it because of a demo, and people might have cancelled their pre-order for games like Aliens: Colonial Marines if they’d played a demo.

For all these reasons, in my opinion every game should have a free playable demo. The 3DS seems to be leading the charge, and hopefully services like Steam and Xbox Live will catch on soon.

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