Sony's Great Idea: Demos That Become Less Fun When Played

When a game developer releases a demo, it's typically intended to entice players into first trying and then purchasing the full version. In keeping with that goal, demo versions of a game are (usually) designed to be fun. This is the stuff of Game Design 101 for most of us, but a crack team of cutting-edge gaming researchers at Sony have applied for a patent based on a novel concept—game demos that become progressively less fun the more you play. Sony refers to this as "feature erosion"; the patent application can be viewed in full here.

"Redefined" Is Not A Synonym For "Better "

The patent abstract states:
A demonstration video game permits garners [gamers, we assume] a more complete game experience while promoting a desire to acquire permission to continue playing. In some embodiments, a video game is implemented with trigger metrics. While a user may initially experience most or all of the full version of the game in a demonstration mode, the mode implements trigger metrics to erode game play characteristics, such as character, object, event and/or environmental features, during video game play in the demonstration mode. Thus, fewer play characteristics may be available as play continues in this mode. Multiple trigger metrics may gradually and successively limit play characteristics as play with the game continues. As the gamer loses functionality, the user may be prompted with the trigger metrics to purchase permission to continue the game in a non-demonstration mode that disables the trigger metrics and returns the game to the more complete version.
The idea behind this dubious concept is that gamers will become hooked on a game while it's still in demo, then squawk unhappily as features and abilities they've unlocked begin to disappear. In order to prevent this, our player ponies up for the full version, which then unlocks/restores the previously learned abilities or options. Sony offers several diagrams of how this feature might be implemented:

The image above depicts an RPG/MMO style game in which the player is initially wielding a massive two-handed sword. Four hours later, his weapon has shrunk to the size of a limp daisy, leaving us with the impression that it had actually been suffering from extended priapism.

The next image shows a series of race tracks (read the images top-to-bottom, left-to-right). Initially, all four tracks are available to our level three player. As he plays more games, the number of available tracks goes down until only the default track A is available. The last box shows all four tracks available again, after the gamer has bought the full version.

Did An Actual Person Come Up With This?

If this doesn't sound like fun to you—and we bet it doesn't—it's because the entire concept runs against our ingrained concept of fairness. A demo or program that provides limited functionality or play time is one thing; a game that's purposefully designed to take your progress away after a certain point in an admitted attempt to get you to buy once you've been hooked is something altogether different.

Even if such a system didn't seem to be such an intrinsically cheap trick, implementing it turns the concept of gaming on its head. If we all start a game at Level 1 or Track A, at what point does the system arbitrarily decide to start taking away progress? Perhaps most importantly, what incentive can you possibly offer players to play a game when they know you'll start artificially reversing their progress at some point?
Via:  Silicon Era
acarzt 4 years ago

This seems to have it's plusses and minuses lol

I can see how you could get hooked on having sweet weapons and wanting them back. Seems like a cheap trick.... but at the same time if you see the best it has to offer.... and it's not very impressive... it saves you the pain of making a purchase you would later regret.

A lot of games already apply this concept into the actual gameplay. Star Wars Force Unleashed starts of you playing as Darth Vader and totally owning on some wookies. Then you have to use the other guy with far less powerful moves.

In the need for speed underground series you start with a sweet tricked out BMW M3 and then get stuck in a weak a$$ civic... lol

Inspector 4 years ago

LOL i don't think of demos like this... :D If i was to play a demo that gets less and less fun i would get tired of it and never buy it... But if the game gets more and more fun like you just keep advancing and getting higher in level but they limit you at a certain level or weapon i would want to buy the game just to play on and have more F.U.N lol.

rapid1 4 years ago

As a previous beta tester for Sony on quite a few game programs as well as being GM on 2 of there servers, and a beta releases GM as well as every upgrade beta on it from 1-8 on, and a guild leader on one of the first big guilds as well (EQ1). I was also the same on some other programs which are more recent so we won't talk about them. I can testify to some of there ideas of good things in several cases. This one seems to be a really good one right!

gibbersome 4 years ago

This is pure evil....on the plus side it will be interesting trying to play through Modern Warfare 3 with a knife and pistol.

FaceTheSlayer 4 years ago

This is an insult to gamers intelligence... if there is any left ofc.

3vi1 4 years ago

Someone needs to let Sony know that this is not novel nor patentable. There is tons of prior art in shareware that locks-out features after 30-days.

Anyone know how we can submit evidence to the patent examiner to have this thrown out?

ClemSnide 4 years ago

Ah, Sonied again. (SONIED (v. pass): To be screwed without the potential for fun that often comes out of that action.)

This reminds me of an old joke. Bill Gates died and appeared at the Pearly Gates, where he was met by St. Peter. "Bill, we have a problem with you," the angel said. "We don't know where to send you. I mean, you've donated lots of equipment to schools, you made cheap computers possible, and your charities help out lots of people. On the other hand... Vista. So we decided to let you have the unprecedented right to choose where you'll spend Eternity."

They went on the grand tour of Heaven first. There were people lounging on clouds, listening to harp music and reading the great classics. "That's nice," Gates said. "Now show me Hell."

When they got there, there was a huge party in progress. Scantily-clad women were being chased and ravaged by men, there were tables groaning with beer and wine and all kinds of food, and rock bands played on stages scattered across the landscape. "This is easy!" announced Gates; "I choose Hell."

A few months pass. St. Peter is making the rounds and he happens by the place in Hell where he dropped off Bill Gates. Gates is wrapped in barbed wire, suspended head-down in a pool of boiling diarrhea, with demons poking his nether regions with red-hot pitchforks. Peter motions them away and raises Gates up for a moment.

"St. Peter!" gasps Gates. "I don't understand. What happened? Where are the women? The food? The music?"

"Oh!" answers St. Peter. "That was just a limited demo."

Super Dave 4 years ago

[quote user="ClemSnide"] Gates is wrapped in barbed wire, suspended head-down in a pool of boiling diarrhea, with demons poking his nether regions with red-hot pitchforks.[/quote]

SurpriseBoiling diarrhea? Poor Billy G.

recoveringknowitall 4 years ago

rofl @ the images of the player holding a big sword then a lil puny 1!

rapid1 4 years ago

Thats a great one Clem, rofl.

Joel H 4 years ago


Feature lockout is not the same thing as feature erosion.

Schmich 4 years ago

Are you guys crying that they would release close to full demos that would degrade over time instead of starting with a crappy demo from the start like we have today?

Imagine BF:Bad Company 2 where you get to try out the full multiplayer and as time passes you get less maps, weapons, game-modes etc. until you find yourself with one just one map and one game-mode like the beta.

michael.prescott 4 years ago

There is nothing new, innovative, or inspirational about this idea. Shareware developers and most major software development houses have offered trial versions of software with EXACTLY the same behavior, diminishing features after trial period. Who cares if a sword gets smaller, the interface turns greyer, buttons become disabled, or the application times out. It is all diminshing features over time and it is silly to even waste time trying to patent self-proclaimed "innovations"

realneil 4 years ago

It's typical for them and Sony is full of $hit as usual. I wonder if they have any more RootKits around the next corner for us and our computers,...........

They have too many people working for them who believe that they're so much smarter than their customers. Their boardroom is full of the same attitude too. I try not to enrich them anymore, and this just reinforces that notion.

rapid1 4 years ago

I will second that realneil in general even though I have been involved in some things with them. They are in the best sense just stupid when it comes to some things.

m-manla 4 years ago

I mean, a demo is a demo. How do you progress? unless it is suppose to be like the first level of a game and you can save it.

3vi1 4 years ago

>> Feature lockout is not the same thing as feature erosion.

Many shareware apps locked out different features at multiple dates/uses "eroding" the functionality of their apps. Locking out levels/races over time/uses is exactly the same thing (in fact, I'm sure we could find a shareware game that locked out levels if we looked hard enough). If not exactly - then at least so analogous as to be obvious to anyone skilled in the field - I don't see any "invention" here to patent.

For the features that you might say aren't analogous (like the shortening sword), here's the real kicker: That's an aspect of every game since before Space Invaders. The vast majority of arcade games increase difficulty over time - with no regard to player performance. Saving the difficulty level between sessions is no more novel than saving the graphic/audio levels between sessions - most games implement this as the 'continue' feature.

If games go out of their way to announce exactly when/why the erosion's happening - it's even more like the Shareware (which commonly announced the reduced functionality). And, it will entirely P.O. a certain percentage of their potential customers; I know I'll simply stop playing the demo when it first happens.

I think the real purpose of this patent is so that someone could get a raise by putting more patents on their resume.

realneil 4 years ago

I expect a demo of a game to cripple the 'save' option and limit itself to the first level of the game. That's normal and expected.

But playing around with your customer's computers by secretly installing a rootkit virus when they BUY your music instead of Ripping them off by illegally downloading it is as low as it gets. They targeted the ones who actually payed for their product. They are to be shunned.

Super Dave 4 years ago

[quote user="realneil"] They are to be shunned.[/quote]

^Agreed. Companies that treat their customers like poop need to be avoided like the plague!

3vi1 4 years ago

^ Agree x2.

ClemSnide 4 years ago

Something that hasn't been mentioned here is the fact that this will result in lower sales, especially to hardcore gamers.

I'm sure you guys install a lot of demos. I'm also sure you have other things to do. Many a time have I installed a program and forgotten about it until I need it a month later-- only to be told "You have been using MyApp for 30 days now and the features have been disabled. Purchase or uninstall." Well... uninstall, genius. I never got a chance to actually use your bloody program.

Games will work the same way if the feature degradation is based on the system clock instead of a play-time factor. (I know programmers. It's easier to calculate based on current minus installed date, so that's what will happen.) So by the time you weed through the other demos and play a Sony game, your phallic symbol starts out small-- no way to sell games to adolescent males.

Honestly! What on earth is wrong with the tried-and-true "To unlock the rest of the levels, buy the full game" method?

amrando 4 years ago

For all of you griping and saying whats the harm??

..replace the word DEMO with RETAIL VERSION in every instance.

You know that's what they really want.

3vi1 4 years ago

Now *that's* a scary thought Amrando. Games that wear out over time: The final step in Imaginary Property.

recoveringknowitall 4 years ago

Or what if it was like an arcade where you pay for lives. $50 gets you 100 so if you can't beat the game with 100 lives you gotta cough up some more dough.

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