The Wargamer

26 May 2017

Editorial: Demo Games are a Good Thing Right?

The editor muses on why all wargames dont have them

Published on 11 MAY 2014 6:20am by Nik Gaukroger
  1. business and industry, public relations, buyer's guide, english

Seems a bit of a no-brainer doesn’t it? Produce a demo version of your game and release that for free in order to give the potential punter a chance to play the game at no risk and so hook them and get them to buy your full product. What is there to lose? We all love freebies and at worst you lose a bit of time trying out a game that turns out not to be for you. In fact, you may even feel grateful towards the company for giving you a chance to try the game for free and, because of the goodwill created, be positive about trying other products from them or at least making positive noises if their name crops up in conversation. Indeed I have seen repeated criticisms of some companies (Matrix Games especially) for not making demo games available for potential buyers to try out. So why accept the risk of this negative publicity on what is, on the face of it, a no lose option. 

Well, the obvious retort is that there must be valid commercial reasons for companies not to go down this route otherwise they would. I think we have to assume that companies are run rationally (well, most of the time), and that if it really were a no lose situation then they would be doing it. So why aren’t they? 

In relation to wargames (and similar products) I think the answer is, as ever, linked to the niche nature of the product. To generalise a bit, you either like these types of games or you don’t – there isn’t a lot of middle ground here. One function of a demo game is, I think, to attract people to try a game that they might not otherwise play. I would suggest that if you are not already attracted to wargames a demo of a game called, say, “Panzer General” or “Battle of the Bulge” is not going to make a lot of difference to you and you’ll generally just walk on past regardless (unless perhaps you think “Battle of the Bulge” is about slimming …). So there is no logic for a company to spend time and other resources making and publicising a demo on the basis of attracting players to the genre. It just doesn’t happen enough with wargames in my experience to make it worthwhile. (But feel free to tell me I’m wrong on our forum if you disagree) 

Now, just to slightly contradict myself, I think there is one area of games distribution where there is a tendency to try out free games and that is iTunes – and I believe this carries a significant risk for a wargames company. There is a massive free games culture on Apple’s mobile devices, however, part of that culture is leaving immediate feedback in the comments section of a game which you have downloaded. So whilst you may well get people giving a wargame a go on the iPad, if they don’t like it (a reasonably high risk if they are not already a wargamer) they will post a negative comment on the product which is then easily readable by anyone else who comes along. If you’ve seen the sort of comments the “mainstream” games press, etc. make about hardcore wargames you’ll know that people don’t just say “It wasn’t for me” they rip into the game in no uncertain manner. This gets even worse if you’re a premium priced iTunes product as people will be influenced by how much the full game would have cost them. Looks to me as though all you’re going to get from a demo on iTunes with a wargame is grief. I note that Shenandoah Studio after doing a “lite” version of “Battle of the Bulge” that was free didn’t follow this route with their next release “Drive on Moscow” 

Having said all that above I do think there are edge cases – wargames, or closely related games that can benefit from a demo version as they are likely to be able to attract new players – and indeed these may well be an excellent way for a company to gently introduce players to wargame-type games. Some that spring to mind are two of Slitherine’s recent releases – “Qvadriga” and “Da Vinci’s Art of War” – both of which I can see appealing to players who would not necessarily be attracted to a wargame (or something they thought would be a wargame) immediately, but may well be drawn in by giving the game a go for free.