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Video game download trials: Harmful or helpful?

For all of the previous console generation’s developments and innovations, I think it’s fair to say that part of Xbox Live’s genius, was making a slew of game demos available digitally to people before purchase. With the launch of PS4 and Xbox One however, demos have been quite sparse as of late, instead requiring fans to pay close attention to the likes of launch trailers, gameplay walkthroughs, and early impressions before getting actual hands on with the games themselves.

This is changing however. Thanks to the likes of Bethesda (Prey), 2K (Mafia III), and Ubisoft (Watch Dogs 2), demos have now been repalced with video game download trials that either lets you play for a certain period of time or simply caps you towards a beginning section of the game. 2017’s jam-packed release schedule is evidence enough that there is simply not enough time in the day to experience every game upon release, so now more than ever video game trials are essential. But are they harmful or helpful for players and publishers?

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Upon Mafia III’s initial release, I was torn as to whether or not I should pick it up. The idea of experiencing the story of Lincoln Clay, a mixed-race war veteran suffering from PTSD at a time when racial tensions were high was an immediate draw, but the extremely lukewarm critical reception towards the game’s open world aspect was something that prevented me from buying on day one. Sadly at the time of release I scrolled over to extremely limited demo section the PSN store, only to be disappointed yet again by the lack of being able to “try before I buy”.

This eventually changed however, with 2K Games making a free trial version of the game available some 5 months later, presumably with the intent of strumming up a second wind of excitement alongside the buzz of some fresh DLC. While I admit that the timing of this glorified demo was definitely favoured towards 2K, the trial itself was very fair and generous. It cleverly disguised the repetitive aspects of its open world by guiding me very strictly down its narrative path, yet allowed me to play the entire first act from start to finish with the ability to transfer progress over to the full version.

What this example proves either way, is that modern video game download trials can only ever be a good thing for the players. They allow people to make a truly informed purchase as opposed to a somewhat shaky one that’s dependant on external marketing material. Simply put, had I not enjoyed the Mafia III demo I could feel relieved that I saved my money, yet if I liked it I could confidently buy the game at a discount price. Admittedly this isn’t ideal due to heavy reliance on waiting for either a trial, or the game to drop in price.

It all comes down to the fact that it is almost always the best idea to wait out on a game a couple months after release, not only due to accommodate and accumulate future patches, but also to save money. Should publishers feel confident enough to bring their game trial say, a week ahead of release similar to what Bethesda recently did with Prey, players could both jump on day one as well as pay full price to support developers.

Video game trials are almost always helpful for consumers uncertain about making a purchase, while they can be much more harmful for publishers depending on how they are handled and when they are released. An available trial generally signifies confidence in their product, instead of a half-ass attempt served up to players who dodged the bullet first time around a few months later. All in all there’s no danger in downloading a trial, just be weary of the intentions behind it.

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