Both XBox 360 and now finally PSP (and soon the PS3 and maybe even the Wii) allow for downloadable demos. I love them. It's great. I get to try many games I would never have tried for free! As a player, what could be better?
But....I wonder, is this helping the industry or hurting it? (or just changing it?). I'm finding for the most part once I've played the demo I don't need the game and I believe though I can't prove that some of these games I might have bought if I didn't have the demo.
Rockstar's Table Tennis. The demo is all I need. I don't need other players or other tables. 2 Player table tennis is available in the demo. Maybe there is something awesome about the retail version I'm not seeing but the demo seems like enough. I can play with my friends, we don't need to pick other characters. It's just not important.
Dead Rising: For most people this is a must buy game and I'm sure based on word of mouth alone I would have bought it. But, I hate brawl games. So, since I've had a chance to play the demo I can see how it's an awesome brawl game and people who like brawl games will love Dead Rising but for me the demo is all I need. I got a taste of the game. I believe given how much my friends will be loving this game that their hype might have gotten me to purchase it but having played the demo I can tell that even if I bought it the demo's worth is about all I'd play
G.R.A.W: I wanted to buy this game when I first got my 360. In fact the review on Ars Technica is one of the things the convinced me to finally get a 360. Then I played the demo and it was clear to me I'd never personally get into it. That's good for me, I saved myself some money but it's bad for Ubisoft because I believe they lost a sale. I would have bought into the reviews and hype and probably purchased if I had not played the demo.
Saints Row: The demo just came out. Of course the real game may be better than the demo but from the demo it doesn't seem like they met the bar set by GTA. Of course technically it's better than the older series by virtue of it being on new hardware but the demo is missing something the GTA series had. Maybe it's the sense of humor. I don't know what it is. They clearly did a great job and I'm sure it will have it's fans but the demo was enough for me to think "pass....I'll wait for GTA4". Would I have bought Saints Row if there was no demo? Probably not unless the reviews were amazing or friends told me it was a must play game.
カズオ(Kazuo): This is a version of Sudoku for the PSP. There's a downloadable demo on the Japanese site. I have no idea what extra features make the commercial version worth buying but like Table Tennis above, the downloadable version of Sudoku seems like all I need. I can play forever. It's hard enough for me still that I can only finish it in the required time limit maybe 1 of 5 times so the demo alone is challenging enough and it's fun. What do I need the real version for?
Prey: I don't know what to say about Prey. I downloaded it, it's exactly what I expected. Yet another FPS. I'm sure some fans see it as the bees knees but for me it's nothing special. Would I have bought it without a demo? In this case almost assuredly not since unless it just got the best reviews ever it seems like yet another Space Marine game. Sure, you aren't a space marine but it's pretty hard to tell the functional difference between shooting aliens/demos in Doom 3 or Half Life 2 or Prey.
Oblivion: There is no downloadable demo for Oblivion and I did buy it. I played it for maybe an hour and it was not personally my thing. I'm not saying it's bad. It's just not for me. If there and been a downloadable demo I would have realised that and not bought it in the first place. Instead I read the hype and heard from some friends who loved it and so I purchased it.
I'm not calling for a end to downloadable demos. They are here to stay and as a player and consumer I love them. It just seems clear they will change the industry in some way.
Maybe they will change it by no longer making games like Table Tennis or Kazuo because having a demo makes buying them pointless. Maybe they will change it by companies learning to make more disabled demos. Table Tennis with just one round for example. The problem there is unless you get a full taste for the game you are unlikely to like it enough to want to buy it. Maybe they will not have demos for smaller games like Sudoku or maybe small games like Sudoku will become free and advertiser supported like TV shows. Maybe it will force more games to be super fun and addictive because otherwise no one will buy them after having played the demo.
So far the only counter example for me is Lost Planet. I think this would have been off my radar without the demo but the demo as turned out to be one of the funnest games I've played in a while. I don't know why. Logically it's another space marine game though it's 3rd person. But for whatever reason it's fun. Maybe it's the incredible effects and art. Maybe it's the awesome sounds and controls that feel so good but in this one case the demo has made me want the real game.
PS: I know PC demos have been available for years. I also know the PC game market is like 1/10th the size of the console market. I have no idea if there is any correlation.