Why Demo Downloads Matter


If you want to see how the game industry regularly acts as its own worst enemy, try and download the demo of a game that interests you. After getting several enthusiastic word-of-mouth recommendations for THQ’s Company of Heroes, a new WWII-themed real time strategy game, I went looking for the playable demo– only to find several barriers of hype and greed blocking my way.

Because downloading the demo means going to the official THQ site, and being bombarded with a loud Flash-animated action video that’s not even representative of Company’s gameplay, then clicking to the download page– and getting assaulted by another Flash barrage.

And when you finally get to the download section, you’re still not ready to get the demo, because that page directs you to three external download servers run by gamer sites, CNet’s Gamespot, and IGN’s Fileplanet and 3D Gamers.

Which would be fine, but after clicking any of those links, you’re still not able to get the demo yet, because like web pornographers, CNet and IGN have a subscription gate waiting for you there, so you can pay for the pleasure of using their precious servers.

To be sure, you can find the Company of Heroes demo on a free download server, if you look hard enough and you’re willing to wait in a server queue. But what happens if you give up before then?

As we know now, THQ probably loses a sale. Because according to a new study by leading market research firm NPD, playable demos are the key to selling games.

While company and gamer sites inform consumers and advertising is a factor, NPD told GameDaily Biz recently, “they are less important when the consumer gets closer to making the actual purchase decision, when other factors such as being able to take the game for a ‘test drive’ at an in-store location, online, or at a friend or relative’s house, matter much more.”

But the thing is, the experience I described with THQ is totally typical. Instead of making demos freely and immediately available, publishers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing and promotion, and develop effects-heavy sites– while treating distribution of the actual demo as a pale afterthought they outsource to gamer sites, which in turn use it as marketing for their own revenue streams.

“While various means of allowing consumers to test drive games have long been an important part of most publishers’ marketing mixes,” NPD’s Anita Frazier told GameDaily, “the findings of our study now show that it is of particular importance for attracting the broader gaming audience.”

That’s an understatement. Smart publishers should think about drastically cutting their advertising budget, and invest that cash where it really matters: developing quality games and quality demos of their games, and just as key, paying for cost-effective, broadband solutions that don’t require subscriptions or several hoops to jump through. Because far as I can tell, the only people who benefit from the way things work now aren’t the game publishers or their gamer customers, but media companies like CNet and IGN, who also charge publishers millions in advertising– then charge gamers when they try to download the games featured in their ads and advertorial. In the era of broadband, they’re an unnecessary middle man charging tolls that don’t need to be paid.



I attribute my lack of playing games directly to the issues you described. I don’t have the time to follow the gaming world as I used to. As it got harder and harder to download, I gave up.

Forget the fact that most demos are now a massive download making it a serious commitment in terms of time to download, and HD real estate.

I hope they take notice to your statements and clean up their act.


I agree with you. I had the same experience related to Company of Heroes, Rome etc.

I appreciate Microsoft for making available game downloads easily available on their site ( I downloaded Age of Empire series demos without any registration). Recently MS servers seems to be quite fast in terms of downloading.. way ahead than that of CNET and IGN.

Christian Watson

Sorry, I don’t agree with you.

Once you’ve created an account with one of the file hosting services – say, Fileshack – that’s all you have to do to download as many files as you want.

Or you can use another site such as http://www.gamershell.com where you don’t have to login and the download is pretty fast.

Omar Ismail

This is precisely why Xbox Live is such a fantastic system. Kudos to Microsoft for spearheading the console demo marketplace which looks to be imitated by Sony and (maybe) Nintendo.


Yup, after reading about Guild Wars here on this site, at least I think it was here, I was interested enough to take a look this weekend and see what it is about. After searching in vain for a demo I found that there is no demo of Guild. I did subscribe to a Guild newsletter that “may” release a trial code now and then so it is not completely lost but c’mon how many rings of fire do legitimate, read paying, customers have to jump through?


What about embracing BitTorrent, like World of Warcraft has? Obviously, that’s working for them. Why are the other game houses so indentured to the GameSpot’s of the world? Do positive GameSpot reviews drive more purchases than a kick ass demo?

Hans Blaauw

I totally agree! I had the same problem with Company of Heroes. I never play games but this time i wanted to check out the demo and it struck me how much time is involved in finding and downloading the download. All this registrations etc.


I couldn’t agree more – it’s almost enough to sign up for a Gamespot premium account (which of course CNet wants you to do).

One thought – for a single player demo, I can’t see why they wouldn’t make it freely available without pushing marketing material at you first. One possibility is that the majority of consumers aren’t savvy gamers, and can be sold by marketing (which is why TV ads for games almost never show gameplay, but try to demonstrate a compelling story).

However, for multiplayer demos I can see why they would want to push marketing before giving you access to the game. Sometimes the multiplayer demo is enough, if you don’t have a lot of time to play a game. I would probably care less about upgrading unless I was constantly made aware of all the reasons to do so. Although, they usually force you to see this stuff in the demo anyway, so perhaps my point is moot.

Most likely, executives decided they can get the average consumer to skip the 500mb+ download and just go buy the game if they push enough marketing at them.

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