In this little.. article.. I will discuss the practice of releasing Demo versions of software (focusing on Games but touching on other items), versus not releasing such versions.
Companies have, in the past and present, used Demo versions of their software to either promote it or to allow consumers a free ‘sneak peek’ at the software. The most common demos that a standard consumer will use are Game demos (this is a generality of course).
So, should Game Developers definitely release demo versions of their games? It is a pretty sticky question to be honest; sure you allow people to preview the game before they buy it, but you also have to balance that with development time/budgets and the question of how much to put into the demo, whether to have it be the full release only requiring an unlock or a limited release with only partial functionality (the first is an open invitation to hackers/crackers to get the game out on the P2P market [though I am not against P2P in its entirety, P2P has plenty of legitimate uses (Lord of the Rings Online uses a P2P protocol for their Turbine Download Manager used to update/install the game client)]. Where do you draw the line? Lets take a look at some pros and cons of releasing Demo’s to the masses:
Pro: Demo versions of software allow users to experience the content before committing their money.
Con: Demo versions have a history of getting hacked by those same users and distributed ‘unlocked’ without anyone paying a dime.
Solution? Well, it is hard to come up with a solution short of making a separate build of the software – if the software doesn’t have the full capabilities of the unlocked program, it doesn’t allow for crackers to open it up for free distribution; this, of course, brings to head the cost of extended development time needed to create a separate limited build of the software.
Opinion: I personally think that developers taking the extra time (and extra cost burden) will see those expenditures come back in the form of increased sales. I know that I use Demo’s often to see if my computer can handle the game (even if only on low settings), and if the game play is intriguing enough to keep me interested and be worth my investment. It is hard to judge if a game will run well on your computer just by looking at the Minimum Requirements of a game – sometimes other factors can come into play and prevent the game from running properly at the lowest possible configuration settings. (Case in point: I tried the demo for Space Siege on my laptop which exceeded minimum requirements (though not quite meeting recommended) – even with all of the settings turned to the lowest values, the game just would not run properly. On the other hand, demoing Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars not only showed me that the game would run on lower settings, but that it was a game I would enjoy [and subsequently ended up purchasing]).
This topic must be a pretty heavily debated one in game companies, but I am sure that enough research would show that demos, in the end, help the bottom line.. which is what matters most of all to most of these huge companies right?
I am probably going to have this topic on my brain for a while, so expect more thinking from me on the subject. Until then, enjoy your gaming!