Do game demos harm game sales? Schell Games founder says yes

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Omerta: City of Gangsters

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During a presentation at last week's DICE (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) summit, author, professor, and Schell Games (opens in new tab) founder Jesse Schell shared a rather bold statement for developers: releasing a demo for your game could actually harm sales. The solution? Look, but don't touch.

Using sale data from a few Xbox 360 (yeah, we know) games, Schell pointed out that the most successful games built excitement and interest for their release through trailers and screenshots but passed up the hands-on taste of a demo. "'You mean we spent all this money making a demo and getting it out there, and it cut our sales in half?' Yes, that's exactly what happened to you,” he said.

According to Schell, keeping a game tantalizingly out of reach turns the old "try before you buy" method into a more profitable "buy to try"—a colder approach, but a logical one for racking up the numbers. The presence of a demo, he continued, risks throwing away a player's interest after he or she actually experiences a sample cut of the game.

I agree that not releasing a demo may make sense for story-driven games, where it's tough to introduce just a slice of the game. But the advent of digital platforms and the ubiquity of beta periods for games has made it easier to try before you buy, and I still think demos represent a valuable way of attracting interest. How much time and money it takes to release a fragment of your game, I'm not sure of.

SimCity's invite-only beta wasn't labeled a demo, but amid continued controversy , the one-hour trial mode also seemed to draw tons of positive attention when EA opened it up last month for the first time. Has playing SimCity's beta, or other recent pre-release builds, deterred you from buying?

Omri Petitte is a former PC Gamer associate editor and long-time freelance writer covering news and reviews. If you spot his name, it probably means you're reading about some kind of first-person shooter. Why yes, he would like to talk to you about Battlefield. Do you have a few days?