Demos help publishers and players alike by sidestepping the guessing game of traditional advertising. They can sell players on games they wouldn't have considered otherwise by allowing them direct access to the experience of playing a game. They also give smaller developers and new titles an edge they wouldn't normally have. Gaming is an expensive hobby, and as buyers we're protective of our money. Faced with a choice between two games, one that's part of a franchise or genre we're familiar with and the other a title we haven't heard much about, most of us will stick with what we know because we want to spend our money on games we're sure we'll enjoy. Without a demo, there are rarely opportunities to try a game without spending some money on it. By lowering the cost of entry to nothing, demos make it easy to sample the wealth of genres gaming has to offer, increasing the likelihood that you'll find something to play that's off your beaten path. Not all games have demos, but they should.

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If there were a gold standard for demos in the current generation of games, it would be the one for Darksiders. Clocking in at roughly ninety minutes in length and encompassing one of the game's dungeons in its entirety, the Darksiders demo isn't remarkable for its length and size so much as for its comprehensiveness. "We had flagged a few shorter areas as having potential for a consumer demo during development, but when we came to look at them later on we realized they were all fundamentally missing part of the 'Darksiders experience'," says Simon Watts, Global Communications Manager for THQ. "When we realized that there were no small areas of gameplay we could possibly release that would really give a feel of what Darksiders was about we took the decision to release the entire Twilight Cathedral dungeon." While there are some small aspects of Darksiders that aren't touched on in the demo, it would be impossible to play it and not get a very good feel for the game as a whole.

For all that the Darksiders demo accomplishes, it runs aground in the same way as all demos. According to Watts, THQ "[doesn't] have any way of tracking directly how many people played the demo then went out and bought the game." For all that they're free to us as consumers, demos cost money to produce. However, their effect on a game's sales is impossible to determine. When faced with a game that's difficult to distill into a smaller package, or one that's seen as having niche appeal, it's easy to understand why a publisher might choose to take a pass on the time and money it takes to carve out a good demo. But when they do, those publishers abandon one of the most effective advertising tools at their disposal, a way to catch players with what really matters: the gameplay experience itself.

As for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, trailers made exclusively from gameplay footage are in the works, but no public demo has been released yet. Unless and until one is, we'll have to be content to pour over trailers, screen shots, and box art, hoping to scry a vision of its vision of the future.

Adam Greenbrier doesn't try free samples at the grocery store, oddly enough. You can read more of his thoughts at his newly minted blog, The Clockwork House.

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