Rock Paper Shotgun are calling it “The Death of the Demo.” Could it be so?
Newsy sources report that e-Distributor Direct2Drive are offering a new game rental service. Five dollars gets you five hours with a game… one that’s conveniently fully downloaded Directly 2 your Drive, as it were, should you decide to pony up full price after your time’s up.
Good idea? Bad idea?
I honestly don’t know. Like RPS I think $5 is a little high. I think hard drives are a little space-tight. And, frankly, I don’t like Direct2Drive, an opinion I share with many people. It’s invasive, spyware laden, has poor support, and doesn’t integrate as cleanly with my life as Steam does.
Demos are tricky business. They cost money and take time to create; time developers often claim would be better spent in pure development. At the same time, though, a demo can make or break a game, and many thrifty shoppers won’t buy without a demo. It’s not an unreasonable request.
If you want to look at extremes, the demo for Crackdown probably singlehandedly sold a million units. It was the perfect demo. Ironically enough, Crackdown’s creator Realtime Worlds later sealed its own doom with another demo (well, technically an open beta, but hey): releasing APB about a week before launch allowed the entire world to see how catastrophically troubled the game was, and it imploded faster than any MMO in history, taking Realtime Worlds with it.
At Blockbuster it costs about $5 – maybe $7 – to rent a game for seven days. Their pricing model makes a little more sense because a motivated player can finish many games in seven days, saving themselves the cost of the game. Five dollars for five hours is dicier. I assume the clock is only ticking when you’re actually playing the game (if you get a flat five hours that starts the minute you boot it up this scheme is doomed), and being able to spend five hours evaluating a “maybe” seems pretty sweet.
Questions, though: if you elect to buy a game you just rented, can you simply unlock it with a keystroke? Do your saves carry over? Or do you have to start again? And how secure is this system? Hackers have demonstrated time and again that nothing is secure, so it seems to me that the only way to ensure that rentals aren’t cracked is some sort of hideous DRM maneuver that inserts a pineapple-sized camera directly into the rectum of the renter. That won’t fly either.
All that said, it seems a logical future. EA and others have already announced plans to charge for “extended demos,” which offer like four or five hours of play and cost as much as ten bucks. And if Direct2Drive’s plan works, you can be sure that Steam and Impulse will soon follow. On one hand I like the idea a lot, especially since plenty of games I want to try never get demos. On the other hand, it’s… it’s weird.