Jesse Schell: Releasing A Demo Can Cut Sales in Half

Puzzle Clubhouse CEO and respected analyst Jesse Schell explained that releasing a game demo can actually be detrimental to sales.

In a presentation at DICE 2013, Schell produced a graph of Xbox 360 sales figures to illustrate his point, explaining how the games that sold the most were games that built expectation in players, but that didn’t offer them the opportunity to try the game out freely. He said:

“You mean we spent all this money making a demo and getting it out there, and it cut our sales in half? Yes, that’s exactly what happened to you.”

Schell explained that the way to generate the best sales was to tease gamers with a trailer, but then give them no way to try the game beyond picking up a copy. “The things with no demo, you’ve gotta buy it if you want to try it,” he said.

Here’s the full presentation. Schell makes his point ten minutes in:

Now, my knee-jerk reaction is to say that’s poppycock, that releasing a demo would only hurt the sales of bad games. But upon deeper reflection, it makes sense. I wish it weren’t true, because I believe every game should release a demo, but from a marketing and business perspective, its the kind of practice that fills publisher pockets with green.

via PCGamesN

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10 Comments on Jesse Schell: Releasing A Demo Can Cut Sales in Half


On February 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I can see where he’s coming from, but at the same time there are a lot of games I wouldn’t have ever gotten to know if I hadn’t played a demo of it first and thought it was great. Metal gear solid, Arkham Asylum, Fire Emblem Awakening, just to name some off the top of my head. I got interested in the entire Kingdom Hearts franchise finally when I was able to try the demo for the 3DS game. Telltale released the first episode of Tales of Monkey Island for free, tried that, and I picked up the season when I wouldn’t have had any interest in it before that.

I think a better way to sum up the argument against demos is if your marketing is built off of hype, and then releasing a demo. Someone hears the hype, tries out the demo, and walks away disappointed because it didn’t match the hype built up. In fact, thinking about it now, I think demos work best from as close to a cold pitch as possible. If I’m hearing the hype, and go to the demo not knowing what it’s about, I might decide it didn’t live up to the hype. Give me the same demo, without hearing anything about it beforehand, and I’ll have a better chance to warm up to it, and then will want to know more about it after having been able to try it and know already that I’m liking it.

I agree about wanting demos for everything, but from a buisness perspective, maybe this means the smaller a company you are, the better idea it might be to have a demo. If you’re EA or something, you don’t really need it, as you got a marketing powerhouse already. If you’re a smaller developer, or are trying to get something going on kickstarter, a demo might just be exactly what gets people interested in your game.


On February 11, 2013 at 11:35 pm

On the pc i always liked demos to see how a game would run om my system before buying. I remember yrs ago subbing to a pc magazine that offered demos with the mag for free on a disk.

Consoles I rarely ever try demos, if i want to try a game i just rent it. Then buy it if I like it enough.

Lol at teasing gamers with a trailer to get them to fork out cash. This is all to familiar with how movies are.
How many times have you watched a movie and the trailer was better!!! Same for games.


On February 11, 2013 at 11:42 pm

What he’s really saying is this:

“The rubbish we’re making these days should really be hidden behind shiny trailers because, let’s be honest, the games suck. If we put a demo out of this trash we’re never going to sell anything!”.

Make better games and the demos will sell the game for you. Make trash, show trash, and expect trash sales.


On February 12, 2013 at 4:19 am

I recall playing demos that were good enough to warrant buying the full game. I’ve also played demos that didn’t match the hype. Of course when this happens, the developers usually insist “The demo is not representative of the final product.” What really hurts the developers is when they finally release the game, and it’s actually virtually identical to the demo.

@David: I agree that demos probably work better as part of a cold pitch.

@GazH: I do agree with you there, also.

The problem is that without a demo release, players don’t have a way to modify their expectations before a game’s release. When the game is release, and players buy it and play it, many of them get disappointed because of the game not living up to the hype. Many of these players go on to rant about it in the forums and whatnot, perhaps rightly so. Then, the developers start complaining about how toxic an environment the forums can be to developers.

The truth is, big game developers cannot afford to release a demo and reveal that they may have made some mistakes in their newest game before it’s release. Smaller developers cannot afford to not make a name for themselves, so they need to release demos.


On February 12, 2013 at 5:06 am

I agree with everyone here. Its nothing new that the gaming industry is modeling itself after other entertainment industries. Lets make a shiny awesome trailer to lure people into buying our crap game.
Nothing new movie industry been using this for years like uber said.

It all boils down to this make crap games expect crap returns,simple logic. These days everyone wants greatreturns even on crap so they suger coat it.


On February 12, 2013 at 6:51 am

I agree that from a sales prospective it hurts sales, but mostly for bad games. If the game is good and has peoplle looking forward too it a demo should only hurt if the gameplaye is crap. Look at mass effect 3 anddragon age 2. Mass effect 3 released a demo of the co-op and single player and still killed it on opening day. It was only when people got to the end that the rage began and a demo hide that. Age 2 lost people on the demo because they could see right away this was not going to be Origins. Age 2 sales got hurt but imagine how much people would have raged if they thought they were buying Origins 2 and instead got Age 2?

Jack Green

On February 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Must be better for business to unload a product on people that they do not want than to let them try it out and see if it fits… I guess stores shouldn’t allow you to try on pants either. And also not let you return them after you bought them.


On March 3, 2013 at 11:48 am

Ever since games hasn’t released any demos for us to try out, I’ve been just torrenting the game to try the full game as a demo itself. If I like it, I WILL buy it, if not, then I just trash the game altogether as it’s just wasting my hard drive space.

I’ve felt cheated numerous times before when I bought games because of the hype (like COD:Black Ops), and that’s the last one I’ll ever buy without torrenting and trying it out first.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve bought numerous games that I’ve torrented simply because I just love the gameplay.


On March 7, 2013 at 7:36 pm

No demo + Bad Game = will never buy again
No Demo + Good Game = Awesome, might buy next time again
Yes Demo + Bad Game = will try next demo to see if want to purchase
Yes Demo + Good Game = Awesome, will buy again

That is the difference between short term thinking and long term thinking


On March 7, 2013 at 8:26 pm

I tend to look at the lack of a demo as a sign that the dev and/or publisher knows that what they made won’t live up to the hype they generated. I take a similar view to review embargoes. As I see it, if you genuinely believe in your product, you shouldn’t have anything to fear from an informed customer. You shouldn’t need to try to play it up to be what it isn’t. If people try a demo and don’t like it, or read a review and decide it isn’t for them, that is fine so long as you know that you made the game you wanted and put in your best effort.