280: You Can't Judge a Game By Its Trailer

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You Can't Judge a Game By Its Trailer

Learning the truth about how a game plays based solely on its trailer or screen shots often requires mental abilities that border on the psychic.

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I personally gave up on gaming trailers mainly because they are basically cutscenes and don't really tell you how the game actually is (like stated in the article). It doesn't give a feel for how the game actually plays or how it will actually look since most trailers are rendered in HD, and so can lead to a disappointment when you expect something great and find out that it basically isn't. I do agree that demo's are a good way to give an idea of the game however, most times they don't give you everything available or will do something that won't be in the actual game, (being nit-picky now) but my main example is in the Star Wars Battlefront demo where as the sniper you could put on a disguise as a stormtrooper but not shoot and basically get by the NPCs, but in the game it was nowhere to be seen. I also have to disagree a little with the fact that demo's aren't around as much, because I don't know about other consoles but on Xbox live I see a lot game demo's available for download, that is how I found out about some games.

Simple rebuttal, you can.

Long rebuttal, you can. . . but.

A trailer(even video reviews which are practicality the same but show more game and game play) if it even bothers to show game play can show you the direction of game play and some basic things about it. Turok showed how fluid the QTEs where. Bioshocks stuff showed off its atmosphere and action a shame it did not show off how utterly shallow it was......

I suppose you don't know the depth of the waters till you jump in but you can still tell some things without getting ankle deep.

DX:HR is going in a bland modern shooter direction using a "cover regeneration" system or just cover and regen is old bland and tired...of course they would have to work more on level layouts if they didn't use it so they have to use it these days. But still what we don;t really know about DX:HR is AI and how you interact with it and the game world. BS had deaf and blind AI it had decent to good level layouts if you can forgive the 2 or 4 invisible walls but everything else was unbalanced, how balanced will DX:HR be how intricate will it be, is it just another corridor shooter like Halo ep 3 or is it trying something more?

We won't really know till we are flooded with video previews by sites and even then not till its out.

Badwolf14:
I personally gave up on gaming trailers mainly because they are basically cutscenes and don't really tell you how the game actually is (like stated in the article). It doesn't give a feel for how the game actually plays or how it will actually look since most trailers are rendered in HD, and so can lead to a disappointment when you expect something great and find out that it basically isn't. I do agree that demo's are a good way to give an idea of the game however, most times they don't give you everything available or will do something that won't be in the actual game, (being nit-picky now) but my main example is in the Star Wars Battlefront demo where as the sniper you could put on a disguise as a stormtrooper but not shoot and basically get by the NPCs, but in the game it was nowhere to be seen. I also have to disagree a little with the fact that demo's aren't around as much, because I don't know about other consoles but on Xbox live I see a lot game demo's available for download, that is how I found out about some games.

Demos are not really standard these days.

It's normal to be hyped up seeing a game trailer because most gamers do. But pretty much these days, trailers look like they are for a movie, not a game. But the biggest let down of trailers is that the trailers look really good and after playing the game, it's awful.

Demos also helps the game developers. Should the gaming population not happy by the demo, they can fix those problems. I wonder why developers don't give out shareware these days.

Most game trailers do not appeal to me. I must not fall into their target demographic or something. And they lie. O, how they lie.

When the Dragon Age: Origins "Sacred Ashes" trailer came out, I hated it. I had never played a BioWare game before, and everything I'd heard of them had been second- or third-hand, but I thought about picking up DA:O since I hadn't played a good WRPG in almost a decade. The trailer nearly ruined it for me. That trailer (which was third-party produced and did not feature any direct gameplay) showed some of the characters looking weird and acting like completely confident badasses, and doing things more in line with JRPG/anime characters than serious western epic fantasy (ie, Matrix-style acrobatics). Even when the frakkin' dragon shows up in the trailer, the characters just shrug and act like hyperconfident badasses for whom this is a daily occurrence. I thought, "if these characters act brazen and confident when a dragon shows up, how can their story be fulfilling or epic? They don't have to really struggle to accomplish anything."

But the game was well-reviewed and there was a great Christmas sale, so I picked it up. And the characters were the opposite as portrayed in that bloody trailer: flawed, vulnerable, struggling to make a difference in their own lives or for a better world. And combat could be tough--you couldn't just plow your way through the tougher fights without some tactics. This game (when including expansions and DLC) has proceeded to consume well over 200 hours of my life, when I've rarely played a game more than 20 hours. I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel. And all because I ignored everything that useless trailer told me.

We can read trailers, especially gameplay trailers, in the same way we read movie trailers... We do it to see if the setting, story and gameplay is something interesting for us.

Demos help, but they are not all that good. Demos are very succinct versions of the gameplay, and can only be useful if they are made to represent the actual game. Demos like Brutal Legend misslead more people that it helped, even if its existance helped improve sales by creating awareness.

hermes200:
We can read trailers, especially gameplay trailers, in the same way we read movie trailers... We do it to see if the setting, story and gameplay is something interesting for us.

Demos help, but they are not all that good. Demos are very succinct versions of the gameplay, and can only be useful if they are made to represent the actual game. Demos like Brutal Legend misslead more people that it helped, even if its existance helped improve sales by creating awareness.

Could not agree more with the Brutal Legend demo. Wish you got more of the same gameplay once you got beyond the demo...but alas, it seemed it was drive around, listen to some tunes and every now and then kill something...horrible game that suckered me in by the demo.

@ ZippyDSMlee
they may not be standard in the sense that they arent given out as publicly as they used to...but for like the xbox there are hundreds of demos available that can be downloaded at any time (cant say for the wii or PS3 bc i dont own them)....in fact looking at it there are currently 280 demos available for download on the xbox live website (give or take a few since they could remove and add them at any time)

108Stitches:

hermes200:
We can read trailers, especially gameplay trailers, in the same way we read movie trailers... We do it to see if the setting, story and gameplay is something interesting for us.
Demos help, but they are not all that good. Demos are very succinct versions of the gameplay, and can only be useful if they are made to represent the actual game. Demos like Brutal Legend misslead more people that it helped, even if its existance helped improve sales by creating awareness.

Could not agree more with the Brutal Legend demo. Wish you got more of the same gameplay once you got beyond the demo...but alas, it seemed it was drive around, listen to some tunes and every now and then kill something...horrible game that suckered me in by the demo.

I knew enough about the game to know what I was getting into, so there were no surprises there. But I can totally see why you or other people might got confused from the demo, and its a prime example of a demo being missleading.
That is why examples like Ratchet & Clank's 2 demos, or Darksiders' long demo are very effective at showing the player exactly what they are getting into; but not all of them are.

Totally agree, but:

Adam Greenbrier:
. 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.

And with trailers you can? And they are free? Don't cost any money to make?
For a demo, having both worked on (lowlevel) game development and (amateurish) filmmaking, I say that a demo is in most cases way cheaper to do than a trailer. For a trailer, you'll need new music, the voice actors and most of all _a whole new camera direction_, and this is if we presume that the trailer is actually being rendered by the games engine.

For a demo, "all" you need is a presentable segment of your game, which you should have either way if the game's any good.

In both cases, the textures, objects, setpieces and environments already exist.
And don't get me started on the cost for Prerendered trailers, for which you'll have to build all the assets (barring maybe voicework) anew...

So, the point stands: Trailers cost more than demos, and either impact on sales is impossible to determine. So why the trailers?

Because if you release demos, your consumers can actually judge the game before buying, and would likely ditch the buggy games with bad tech before the companies see a single cent.
It's just a way to release more crap...

Badwolf14:
they may not be standard in the sense that they arent given out as publicly as they used to...but for like the xbox there are hundreds of demos available that can be downloaded at any time (cant say for the wii or PS3 bc i dont own them)....in fact looking at it there are currently 280 demos available for download on the xbox live website (give or take a few since they could remove and add them at any time)

Yeah, there's a similar number on Steam too, I think that would back up the claim that only 1/4 of games (or less) have a demo. Consider that there will be multiple demos for a few games, that those demos could be anywhere between brand-new and 5 years old, and that this is covering all 360 releases - physical release and downloadable games. >300 doesn't really seem like all that much to me.

Personally the lack of a demo is the primary reason why I haven't taken the plunge with a few games. If a game sounds interesting but is ouside my comfort zone and/or has mixed reviews, doesn't have a demo, and has a double-figure price-tag, it's really unlikely I'll pick it up without strong recommendations from friends. A demo can push me into buying as even if it isn't representative of the entire game, I can at least have more confidence that I find some portion of the gameplay enjoyable enough that I won't be wasting my money.

Illessa:

Badwolf14:
they may not be standard in the sense that they arent given out as publicly as they used to...but for like the xbox there are hundreds of demos available that can be downloaded at any time (cant say for the wii or PS3 bc i dont own them)....in fact looking at it there are currently 280 demos available for download on the xbox live website (give or take a few since they could remove and add them at any time)

Yeah, there's a similar number on Steam too, I think that would back up the claim that only 1/4 of games (or less) have a demo. Consider that there will be multiple demos for a few games, that those demos could be anywhere between brand-new and 5 years old, and that this is covering all 360 releases - physical release and downloadable games. >300 doesn't really seem like all that much to me.

Personally the lack of a demo is the primary reason why I haven't taken the plunge with a few games. If a game sounds interesting but is ouside my comfort zone and/or has mixed reviews, doesn't have a demo, and has a double-figure price-tag, it's really unlikely I'll pick it up without strong recommendations from friends. A demo can push me into buying as even if it isn't representative of the entire game, I can at least have more confidence that I find some portion of the gameplay enjoyable enough that I won't be wasting my money.

it might be a quarter of games out but what about games being released? how many games get released a year? im pretty sure its not that many compared to amount of demos available, some of the demos might be for old games but i saw plenty of demos for new games still to be released

I bought the game off the Darksiders demo and I wouldn't have touched it before then. The reviews said that it was a Zelda clone, but it didn't look like one - that's exactly what it feels like though. I wouldn't have believed how much fun it was without the demo.

I think trailers sole purpose is to introduce what the title is and hopefully leave a good impression. That's great for movies since all you do is do what you do with the trailer. You just watch it. But with games, you got to think another thing that trailers don't give you. How does is the game play? And if it is a sequel or prequel, you got to wonder if what they improved on or added if any, on game play. So game trailers don't do anything for me. They are nice to look at, but previews, interviews with the creators with that game giving you some insight on what they are doing to the game, demos, etc. are more important to me, anyways, than trailers for video games.

And look, I am at a gaming website which should tell you I am here for information on games.

so, article aside, did u say a good or a bad thing about Dark City? i re read a bunch of times and im still not sure.

The dearth of demos is one of the reasons I see the rise of streaming services like OnLive and Gaikai as such a good thing - sure, their ostensible function is to be a full-blown content delivery system that exists alongside traditional digital distribution and retail channels, but some of the things you can do with those services has tremendous potential for how we look at demos.

Picture an applet on a blog that shows "[Author of blog] is currently playing [Game X]", that, if you click on it, will not only launch the game in question via your web browser, but actually drop you into the game with the author (presuming it's a multiplayer title where that sort of thing is possible of course). That's something Gaikai is capable of, along with embedding links in Twitter feeds, at the end of reviews for the game in question, you name it - if a title is on such a service, you can fire it up and play it for a set amount of time just by clicking on a widget/hyperlink; word of mouth advertising and other existing channels for disseminating information to your customers can be seriously augmented in such a fashion.

As for the usual barriers that arise to halt demo development (cost, time spent focusing on a demo in lieu of the product itself, etc) - none of that would even need to apply, as you wouldn't have to gin together a tailored "glimpse" of your gameplay, customers could/can simply sit down with your actual game and play it for an hour or whatever. Without needing to download and install anything. How cool is that?

Of course, the problems that make those streaming game services 'not quite ready for prime-time' still exist, most notably that the network infrastructure simply isn't as advanced or ubiquitous as it needs to be, but the possibilities technologies like these hold for the future are quite exciting.

Badwolf14:
I personally gave up on gaming trailers mainly because they are basically cutscenes and don't really tell you how the game actually is (like stated in the article). It doesn't give a feel for how the game actually plays or how it will actually look since most trailers are rendered in HD, and so can lead to a disappointment when you expect something great and find out that it basically isn't. I do agree that demo's are a good way to give an idea of the game however, most times they don't give you everything available or will do something that won't be in the actual game, (being nit-picky now) but my main example is in the Star Wars Battlefront demo where as the sniper you could put on a disguise as a stormtrooper but not shoot and basically get by the NPCs, but in the game it was nowhere to be seen. I also have to disagree a little with the fact that demo's aren't around as much, because I don't know about other consoles but on Xbox live I see a lot game demo's available for download, that is how I found out about some games.

I like that style of demos. Instead of cutting the actual single-player experience, the levels are deliberately designed to give most of everything available in the game by first impression. Since demos are there to impress, inform, and incite consumers to buy the game the customer will turn off the TV/monitor having had extra content.

Starcraft and Half-Life both had demos that were stand-alone missions and I really enjoyed the work in them and extra content. Nowadays, those stand alone demos would cost 10 bucks on Xbox Live.

hermes200:
Demos help, but they are not all that good. Demos are very succinct versions of the gameplay, and can only be useful if they are made to represent the actual game. Demos like Brutal Legend misslead more people that it helped, even if its existance helped improve sales by creating awareness.

There are bad demos, sure. I can think of a handful of demos off the top of my head that carved out a piece of the game that wasn't representative enough of the whole. The demo for Brutal Legend should have included some of the RTS combat from later in the game. You get bad movie trailers, too, though. I'd rather have a mediocre demo for a game than no demo at all.

Whoracle:
So, the point stands: Trailers cost more than demos, and either impact on sales is impossible to determine. So why the trailers?

Trailers get made because they're an easy way to get the game in front of buyers' eyeballs. They can also be cut easily into television commercials and into ads that play on video streaming sites like Hulu and Gametrailers. It's not unreasonable that they're automatically included in a game's advertising budget.

The problem right now is that demos are often seen as an extra, a little something to give the game a boost with potential buyers, when they should be just as much of a gimme as trailers are.

Badwolf14:
it might be a quarter of games out but what about games being released? how many games get released a year? im pretty sure its not that many compared to amount of demos available, some of the demos might be for old games but i saw plenty of demos for new games still to be released

Wikipedia has 856 games listed as released in 2009 alone. Keep in mind that that number includes games on all platforms: 360, PS3, DS, PSP, Wii, and PC. The list of games released this October that I linked to in the article lists around 80 games, depending on how you count them. There are a lot more games released in a year than just the major titles. Even then, only a fraction of the big releases in a year get demos.

The demos you saw for the 360 cover 300 or so of the roughly 800 games available on that console. That includes Xbox Live Arcade games for which demos are mandatory.

rebus_forever:
so, article aside, did u say a good or a bad thing about Dark City? i re read a bunch of times and im still not sure.

I think Dark City is a visually stunning movie. I'm a fan.

DISCLAIMER: Please don't kill me. Just playing devils advocate here to show both sides of the story.

I can understand both sides of the issue for having and not having a demo to go with the all-to-common trailer. As the article pointed out, what if only a quarter of the summer movies had any advertising. Film mavins would have missed out of the majority of summer flicks due to lack of advertising more than anything. That just makes for bad bussines. If nobody knows about your games, your going to have a terrible market turn out. On the smae lines of comparison, movie trailers lie to us all the time. Based off the trailers, I though Devil was going to be good. (I forgot about the whole M. Night Shamalan stigma.) It is sort of accepted as the norm. That yo9u watch the trailers to be willingly lied to then go and take your chances. Games are the same way. Nobody seriously belives that the box art is going to be representitive of the gameplay itself, do they? I'm looking at you, Atari 2600. In the same way, I've never seen a game trailer that has "sold" me on a game, it's just served as some visual candy to make me aware of the exsistance of the game and then leave me to drool a puddle on the carpet while I wait for the release.

That said, demos take time away from creation, since they need their own marketing and release coordination, and they themselves aren't always very representitve of the final game. How many demos have their been that are just as deceptive as the trailers? The true final measure of the game is how it is received by the player-base.

TL;DR version: Trailers may be a marketing lie, but at least it lets you know about the game.

The whole article falls on its head not taking into account that while you can see a scene from a movie - which you will actually see in a movie, or read a sample from a book which is actually a part of the book - the game developing process is compartmentalized and the final product results from the convergence of all of the finished aspects.
You can't give out an accurate trailer a year before the game is released, because the gameplay is not yet final.
Its gonna be done when its done.

It would be like expecting to see a portrait-painting, half-way done: just a snippet - you say - but what if its still in the process of adjusting luminescence and adding the first layers of the paint, up to a point that no face can be even made out of it.

Truth is, most the people that are really worried about their value for money usually obtain a version of the game through illegal means, and maybe buy it later.
The rest is not that 'protective' of their money. Besides, if you have enough cash to maintain a hi-tech modern PC, you should have plenty to play whatever you want anyways.

The gaming equivalent of a movie trailer isn't the cinematic trailer but the demo.

This gets mentioned almost as an aside about halfway into the article and then taken for granted from there (as the article veers into a discussion of how more games need demos), but not much effort is really spent arguing the point, and I'm still left thoroughly unconvinced about this core premise.

Certainly a demo is the best option we as players generally have for getting a feel for what a game's really like to play, far better than screenshots or trailers (whether mood or gameplay). But it's the other side of the equivalency that I'm skeptical of - who ever said that the purpose of a movie trailer was to give you the best feel for that the movie's like? The movie trailer's job, plain and simple, is to get you to go to the movie. It's certainly not to convey the plot of the movie, or to suggest similar movies, or to tell you about the movie's acting or cinematography. That's not to say that it won't occasionally do those things, but they're secondary to the trailer's purpose.

I would argue that the game demo's closest comparison on the movie side is the review or the synopsis - both designed to give you a more detailed impression of what you're in for when you go to the film. The typical movie trailer/TV ad, I'd say, corresponds to the gameplay trailer: both give you enough detail to make a reasonably informed decision without giving too much away. And the game world's cinematic trailer corresponds to the classic 'teaser trailer', be it logo or otherwise: just enough information to whet your appetite about the goings-on.

Can gameplay trailers be deceptive? Absolutely, as can 'atmospheric' trailers (though arguably those aren't deceiving because they're not even trying to tell you what playing the game is like), and as can demos themselves - people have pointed out Brutal Legend already, but I'll also point out that a number of reviewers chided Flower when it came out for getting much darker than the previews they'd played had led them to believe. But cinematic trailers can be at least as deceptive; in fact, I'd claim that cinematic trailers are more often cut to be actively deceptive, presenting movies as something they're not in order to draw more viewers; think of the parody trailers for The Shining, or for a more real-world example the atmospheric trailers for Cloverfield or The Happening that completely omitted those films' doofy villains. But the point still holds that if you go into a movie having only seen ads and trailers, you're at least as likely - if not more so! - to be going in with a mistaken impression of what you're getting than if you pick up a game having only seen gameplay trailers and screenshots. This isn't even unique to movies; heck, even this article's trailer could be considered deceptive - I was promised a discussion of why trailers aren't enough and how to try and judge a game using minimal public info, and wound up with a mini-rant on how more games need demos!

So why do we care so much? Why do we demand demos for games but not, say, extended samples of movies (say, the first 15 minutes or so)? I think there are a couple of factors at play. One, you could make the argument that a 3-minute trailer at least holds a greater percentage of the screen time of a 90-minute movie than the 2-minute gameplay trailer for a 25-hour game does, and that the demo lets you see a comparable proportion of the game's content. But again, movie trailers aren't trying to represent the movie's content; they're 3 minutes of non-spoiling high points, carefully selected to try and make the movie as appetizing as possible - and I don't know of many demos that are constructed that way, any more than I know of any movie trailers that are just the first 3m of the movie. (Unless there was a Superman trailer I'm forgetting...)

More to the point, though, the reason that games have demos is because the stakes are that much higher. If you get deceived into watching a Cloverfield because you're expecting a spooky psychological drama, you've wasted ten bucks and two hours of your life. If you get deceived into buying a Brutal Legend by its trailers (or even by its demo!), you're out sixty bucks, and probably 3-5 hours by the time you realize that you're not getting what you expected. We demand game demos because we put an investment into games - both financial, temporal, and arguably even emotional - that we just don't have to lay out for movies.

Well, to be Frank... the hole thing is bias. Even the blurbs written on the back of the game package. Most likely because, they got bribbed. Take a recent 'hit' COD black ops. Its best to buy games from specialists, due to they have a time trail for the game. So if you think its a piece of dog shit (MOH) ,you can swap it for something less shitty (New Vegas). Though Deus Ex has square enix making the cutscences, hope they don't fuck it up?

I believe that many game companies don't create demos for several reasons, such as for some games they wouldn't influence sales much or at all. For example, MW2 broke records for selling the most copies at launch and earning the most of any video game EVER, so if I was Activision/Treyarch, I'd probably think a demo is a waste of time and effort, as pretty much everyone will buy it anyways. If a demo is supposed to entice people to buy the game and increase sales, there isn't really much point releasing one for a very popular game that will likely have a lot of sales anyways. As well, a demo may reveal a shallow game for what it is, while a trailer can add fluff and make a game seem deeper and more interesting than it really is. There's also the sometimes related problem of gamers playing the demo than becoming disinterested in the game, which doesn't even always happen due to a game being shallow. If I have to replay a whole section of a game I played in a demo, it can seem pretty monotonous the second time through. As well, people are lazy and may feel like they've experienced everything in a game just from the demo.

So unless companies want to drastically alter demos to be misrepresenting in order not to spoil the gaming experience for one reason or another, they run into a problem in releasing demos. Though innovative games like Audiosurf or Minecraft do benefit a lot from releasing demos, they can introduce the concept of the game to players while still leaving them wanting more.

Trailers in the industry are a joke. Most the time these trailers don't even showcase actual game footage but some cinematic construct created by the marketing team and some artists which may not even be something done in house. Then you have my "favorite" trailers, which are the cross platform trailers that will show footage from the 360 for a PS3 commercial. This is just another reason "the" industry needs to clean itself up.

Yeah, gonna go against your article for this one. Saying that a movie trailer is a good vehicle to explain what a movie is about because both are cinematic media would mean that a good vehicle to promote a book would be to show the writer's grocery list. They are both written, right?

That's a silly concept that you build your entire article on. A movie trailer is completely different from a movie. As some dude above me (huh) said its point is not to tell the movie story, but to get you to watch it. A movie trailer does not have any narrative or character development or cohesive action scenes or suspense or anything that a real movie might have. It's not much closer to the movie than the posters.

I agree that demos are important, but you don't need to be psychic to tell how a game works from the trailers, as long as you look at gameplay trailers from events such as E3 and from reviews, or even on Youtube videos. (Buying games on release day is a foolish, indefensable thing that I cannot understand how it's come to become so ingrained in our little subculture. Once in a while? Kay. Every time a modestly hyped game comes out? Bugger off.) By looking at those videos I can see if a character has trouble connecting with a melee attack, of if the game drastically autocorrects for him. I can see how easy it is to navigate the map. I can see how bullet spread works. It's a preview, which is all I need.

Although frankly I live on without any of this as long as I got Susan Arendt's and Ben Yahtzee's scoop on the game. With those two opinions what else do you need to know?

speak for yourself Adam Greenbrier, you can tell a lot about a game from it's trailer, Unless you've never seen one or can't pick out themes in a product. Saying that a game to trailers is movies to posters is rediculous: "hmmm... the expendables, looks like a toy story knockoff."
Trailers show us the tone a game is going to be, they show us some semblance of the game world the art style and some semblance of what the plot is about, and those are just the smallest things I can think of that trailers give away.
On the whole, this was a poor article that would be better if it just got to the point of asking demos to come back.

Lessee...I think I said something similar awhile ago... *digdigdigdig* AH! Here it is:

Me, in that one thread that one time:
Every game should have a demo that is no less than 45 minutes long for a single-player demo, and either a 5 hour or heavily limited multiplayer demo available for free download on whatever gaming service happens to have the game, and maybe even available at a kiosk in a Gamestop or something. This way, people can play the game for a bit, form their own opinions about it, and decide whether or not they want to buy it.

I realise that this would cost money, as everything does. But trailers cost money too, and as you said, a demo is better than a trailer.

*Thinks of Dragon Age's trailer*....
Yeah.

Well... I won't be buying any game without a demo or good reviews(not really required) + friend recommendation

Spelling mistake, last paragraph: Should be "pore over", not "pour over". Otherwise a good article.

I agree with many of the points in this article, but you have to remember that demos can also often convince people NOT to buy a game. More often than not, I find that demos are very poorly made, too short, too limited in their scope, or just plain bad. Sometimes it's difficult to discern whether this was because of the game itself, or simply a poorly-made demo.

I think a lot of publishers might not have enough confidence in their games to release demos. With trailers you just see the best parts of cinematics and gameplay stitched together with dramatic music. This wins everyone over. While there will certainly be nay-sayers, I'm sure they have market research showing that enough people run out and impulse-buy based on that flashy showing.
But if they release a demo, that gives people a better (or at least perceived as such) taste of what the game actually plays like. This can be to their disadvantage if the game well... sucks (let's face it, there are a LOT of crappy games released), or if, like I said, the demo is just really poorly made.

Personally I tend to wait a while after release to read lots of reviews and see player commentary before deciding on a purchase, so even without demos I can be dissuaded from a purchase of a game with even the best of trailers. I don't feel like a majority of the game buyers out there operate this way though.

Anyways, my most recent recollection of when a demo turned me away from a game was with Dark Void. I was all hyped up for the game with the trailers and pre-release rumors and hype. Then I played the demo. I was so thoroughly disgusted with the game from the demo that I said there's no way in hell I'm buying it.

However, their effect on a game's sales is impossible to determine.

Bullshit. I'm sure there are a bunch of ways to track this data. Like Sony can't track who installs what game & what demo with all the mandatory PSN integration they use. Maybe they just don't want to release that info to the publishers, but I'm sure they have it.
Failing that, include some kind of mandatory survey with the demo or something.

The firs thing I will say is that you really can't judge anything but its Trailer // Like most things good games come from their story non of which can be shown in detail during a 30second trailer(althou the best, most recent, example of this would be the trailer for the new expansion of WoW)

-<

But is there a risk of giving too much away?

Sure, players could get a better understanding of the game, but if all the mechanics are revealed, where's the surprise?

Maybe I just worry too much, but there must be a balance between showing trailers and 90min demos.

Demo discs were the bob-omb for me back in the day!
When the Palystation first came out I was 100% against it in every way. I had always felt that long load times was a buzz kill for any enjoyment. On top of that many PS games came with multiple CD; who wants to stop playing to swap CDs so the story can continue? And the biggest thing to put me off the PS was the cut scenes and games trailers that used the cut scenes as a selling tool.

Sony was lying to everyone by advertising with amazingly rendered cinematic trailers. They made consumers believe that the whole game, not just cut scenes, where that brilliantly graphical. I know this because I had friends who argued at length that FFVII had the best graphics of any game, ergo, it had the best gaming experience. However, they failed to notice that the good graphics were pre-rendered in-game movies, the good graphics duing gameplay (where the environment was concerened) was a pre-rendered background with no depth to it giving the player the illusion of great environmental graphics, and finally, the sprites themselves looked like lego-blocked boxes of schite.

So, enter the Dreamcast and Dreamcast magazines that came complete, every month, with a demo disc. It was an all-in=one advertisement stategy ( one that the playstation was also using during the time). You got your $12 magazine and demo disc with 10 (I think...) demos of which there was usually a 50-50 split between playable demos and game trailers. With these demo the consumer was able to absorb a lot of information about all sorts of games and make a very informed decision on where to spend the money. And if you were short on cash, having previous first hand knowledge of a game took the guess work out of renting titles.

It was a very good marketing strategy back in the early 2000s, but nowadays with more focus on the internet, playermade walk-throughs and downloadable contents it really seems like putting out a demo disc is a little wastful to the producers. I for one would love to a return of the demo discs as a means to pre-view many games without having to rely on 2md=hand opinions.

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