While a select few got to check out the newest games and peripherals at E3, others, people like you and I, were stuck sitting in front of our computers watching trailers. It’s pretty cool seeing the latest and greatest in games and I greatly appreciate the open availability of the three major press conferences, but there’s something missing that I’m pretty pissed about. You see, in an era where game companies can send 7 GB files to consumers at the drop of a hat, we’re stuck just watching game trailers. Whatever happened to the golden era of taking E3 home?
In case you forget, Xbox owners were treated to a nice swath of E3 demos back in the day:
In 2006, we were treated to Lost Planet, Test Drive Unlimited and Moto GP 2006. In 2007, we took home Blue Dragon, NCAA 08, Ace Combat 6, Stuntman Ignition, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Bigs, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In 2008 things started to dip a bit with Too Human, Hail to the Chimp, and Tales of Vesperia. In 2009, things got even lighter with Lost Planet 2 and Overlord II. Then, in 2010… nothing. Followed by 2011… nothing. But hey, at least this year we got something in the form of a set of goggles for our avatars (thanks Gears of War: Judgment!)…
So what’s the deal? In the wonderful world that we live in, all gamers could have E3 demos right at our fingertips. And yet, we’re stuck watching two minute clips of over-polished hype that’s controlled down to every finite detail by the publishers and developers behind the projects — we’re constantly told what we’re looking at, hearing and which features are most important and worth talking about. I understand completely that making a demo requires a lot of extra man-hours that’s taken away from game design. But the investment in a public demo is worth it when done correctly.
Before it was ever officially released, Minecraft's beta made the game a phenomenon.
Take a look at the success of Minecraft. The game was originally released as a glorified demo to build anticipation and to mold the game into something that would work. Once the game went into full release, gamers were so stoked by the beta that they dished out tons of cash without flinching. Likewise, look at the successful hype generated by betas for blockbuster games such as Halo: Reach and Starhawk.
These two experiments helped the developers in crafting their game and building epic word-of-mouth. So why not copy that formula and release a beta/demo for your game during E3? You’d have fans drooling over the chance to play your game early and they’ll feel like a part of the E3 extravaganza.
I think the biggest reason developers should put out their demos/betas now, rather than later, is that no one else is doing it. All of the trailers in the world will mean squat when word gets out about how awesome your demo is. Sure, making a demo is a risky tactic (i.e. if your game actually sucks); but, when done well, it can deliver a level of hype that advertising cannot purchase. It just boggles the mind in a time of so much connectivity that the only way gamers can get their hands on a game is to get a press pass.
Unfortunately, publishers are afraid to shower us with demos for fear that the game won’t deliver. It’s easier to distract us with stupid athletes, egotistical singers, and $2 million worth of booth architecture. What they fail to see is that hype only sells games the first week it’s out in stores. Good work, creativity, and trusting your product is what delivers true blockbusters. The first step to achieving that goal should be to trust your game with a demo and placing it in the hands of your customer base. Let the game speak for itself.
If you need convincing that this strategy works, just ask Notch how releasing Minecraft beta for free is doing for his bank account.