I play a lot of games. I buy even more games, although not as many as I used to. See my earlier post on the economics of MMOs -- I am still playing City of Heroes after two years, which reduces my interest in other games. But that's not why I'm motivated to post. No, I wanted to talk to my future self about why demos are important.
The first demo I want to talk about is a failure, in my opinion. I've been interested in Titan Quest for a while. I loved Diablo II, and TQ looks like a good D2 clone, with high-quality graphics. So when the demo became available, I promptly downloaded it, only to find out that the damn thing won't install on my machine. The demo installed was created and tested on machines that have Windows installed to the C: drive, and relies on that. In my case, my primary HD is G: (it's SATA, and I have no IDE hard drives), so the installer bombs. There is a fix, of course. All I need to do is go out and buy an IDE hard drive and reinstall Windows, and then I can install the demo. Or I could install it on another computer, copy the install over and edit my registry. Neither of those is a realistic scenario.
In my mind, this makes the Titan Quest demo a failure. The point of a demo is to get me enough of the game experience to make me want more, so I buy the full game.
One demo that worked really well is Armadillo Run. I got an email from an online acquaintance with the link to the site and a recommendation. It's somewhere between The Incredible Machine and Lemmings, but simpler and somehow more engaging. At heart, it's a puzzle game, but one with many possible solutions for each puzzle. You're presented with a simple scenario -- get the armadillo (which strongly resembles a basketball) safely to a target area. To accomplish this, you use simple construction materials to build a route it will roll along. The materials have physical properties and obey basic physical principles -- things fall if unsupported, heavy things will break under their own weight, and so on.
The demo installed fine, so the first barrier was passed. I played through the simple tutorial and the six demo puzzles in about half an hour. While I was doing this, my wife saw the game up and asked me to forward her the link. About 15 minutes later I bought the full game.
What's the lesson? It's simple -- If I can't see your demo, I can't tell how good it is.
Which, of course, leads right back to switches and dials.