EA Explores Charging For Premium Game Demos

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News Posted: Tue, Mar 23 2010 3:54 PM
A report from videogame industry analyst Michael Pachter indicates that EA is investigating new revenue streams, particularly digital revenues that might entice players to buy into an extended game demo and follow up with a full game purchase once the title was available. That's the noninflammatory version of this story's lede; the inflammatory version is that EA wants to charge users $10-$15 for traditional downloadable game demos. EA has clarified that this is not in the cards; EA's Jeff Brown told Kotaku that "EA SPORTS, EA Games and EA Play are each experimenting with download strategies that deliver fresh game content in formats players want to experience...None of the proposals call for charging consumers for traditionally free game demos." Hopefully we can quash the original rumor by acknowledging it and moving on to what EA is actually considering.


Sure, Battlefield 1943 is fun—but would you pay $15 for it with a $60 full title in the pipe?

The concept is something like this: EA would release an extended/premium test version of a game for $10-$15. Pachter describes the concept as "essentially be a very long game demo, along the lines of 2009's Battlefield 1943." The goal of the program, according to EA Group general manager Nick Earl, would be to reduce the cost of marketing the full title; the extended demo would "serve as a low cost marketing tool." Scratch out "marketing tool" and replace it with "revenue stream," since that's what the company is trying to create.

Well, It's Not A Completely Terrible Idea...

This is an idea that could either succeed brilliantly or explode in EA's face. Which of these occurs will depend on how EA designs its program and what it offers potential gamers for their $10-$15. The company has already figured out that it needs a bigger carrot than what would be included in a traditional demo, but the "buy it now, then buy it again," price model isn't going to be popular. Gamers who shell out $75 ($15 for the demo, $60 for the title) are going to feel like chumps for essentially buying the same content twice. Stuffing more content into a demo would only exacerbate the problem. 

There are several ways EA could deal with this. The simplest would be to give early adopters a proportional discount on the final game should they desire to purchase it. If they don't, that's fine—they retain access to whatever section of the title EA previously sold them. The second option would be to sell this feature as a monthly or yearly pass; gamers who up for the service receive access to the early premium versions of all the relevant titles. The advantage here is that it increases the chance that gamers will play multiple titles (thus reducing marketing costs), but avoids the risk that buyers will end up feeling cheated or nickel-and-dimed to death. The third and most complex solution would be to offer eligible players a handful of carrots that carry perceived value. Possibilities include special skins, weapons, a guaranteed spot in beta tests for other EA games, or the opportunity to compete in a prize-winning tournament (open only to other premium demo owners) to be held just before the title launches.


Not Pictured: Grace, Agility

Spun right, this sort of service could actually drive customers towards EA's Online Store and digital distribution system and away from that "other" service you might have heard of. Spun wrong, it'll soar with the grace of a possum meeting a MAC truck. Given the fact that EA's CEO, John Riccitello, told Pachter that it was his intent to "exploit all of its packaged games with ancillary digital revenue streams," we're not betting on the former—but Riccitello may have found a soulmate in Activision CEO Bobby Kotick.
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If they want me to pay to try the game then by all means go ahead. I just won't be trying the game.  Gaming is becoming more expensive for me all the time. I don't even like paying $50 for a game and they keep moving toward $60! Plus payed for DLC. If me and Jen wanna play a game together that's $120 plus any add on stuff. I sure as hell am not paying for a demo. They wonder why people pirate. It's not because they wanna stick it to the company. It's because a kid gamer does not have that kind of money. Heck I am a adult with a good job and I find it harder and harder to justify the price of new games. Skipping out on more and more games and spending more time with cheap indie stuff and games that we have owned for some time.

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Norton replied on Tue, Mar 23 2010 4:46 PM

This is a terrible idea and I can't imagine many getting on board , I rarely play demo's anymore and if I do it's just to see how it will run on my rig.

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Inspector replied on Tue, Mar 23 2010 5:15 PM

HA love the second picture there :)

Thats kinda stupid, The point of a DEMO is to try the game out to see if you want the full retail game. They should instead give those DEMOS to people pre-ordering it Smile

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3vi1 replied on Tue, Mar 23 2010 5:55 PM

Haven't they already been doing this, except somewhat reversed? $60 for the game, then another $5 for the "downloadable content" (now already on the disk for BioShock2 fans!) that should have been part of the original game?

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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JoelB replied on Tue, Mar 23 2010 6:15 PM

It's things like this that are fulfilling the idea of the "drive to the bottom". We as consumers want quality experiences, but when something like this comes along, it means we pay less and get less of a game. (Yes, I realize that you could shell out the full price for the game, but if $15 gets you half a game, why spend 4x the price?). That, and it'll drive people away from even trying the demo and buying the full version. Instead they'll go play indie games, like bob suggested.

You want to attract people and get them to buy your product? Produce a good product. Spend a few extra months in the testing/refining phase of things to get it right before you get it out the door. Then, when you do get it out the door, don't be greedy and charge $15 for more downloadable content.

I see this being a bad idea from their side as well - the extra cost of creating and maintaining two separate demos as well as the full game probably won't be worth the payoff.

I could maybe see this succeeding if the cost of the demo is subtracted from the game if you buy the full version (ie: paid $15 for the demo? Knock $15 off the $60 price).

(On a side note, HH - Please stop it with the page refreshes. It's severely annoying when trying to post a proper sized rant).

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JoelB replied on Tue, Mar 23 2010 6:19 PM

One of the interesting things discussed at the Game Developer's Conference was metrics. Maybe EA should ask their customers directly if they thing this is a good/bad idea. It'd be interesting to see the results. Either that, or try it with a game first. If it fails miserably (assuming it was a good game, which is perhaps a stretch), then can the idea and don't ever do it again.

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Inspector replied on Tue, Mar 23 2010 6:19 PM

LOL Joel on he refresh part :P (its worst when ur watching a video and get half way though it only :(...

But one thing... If they did this with starcraft 2 i bet you everyone (most of everyone) that plays starcraft will get it even if they have to pay... i know i will O.o. Its just some games that i really think is worth it i will actually pay for a demo :)

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AKwyn replied on Tue, Mar 23 2010 6:33 PM

I don't know. I think people who purchased the demo should at least be able to buy the rest of the game for $40 dollars. That way we don't have to pay some sort of outrageous fortune if we don't like the game and they'll get the rest of the money from us if we decide to buy it.

And I slightly agree with bob_on_the_cob. The DLC is expensive but I don't even download most of it, only the stuff that's actually worth my Microsoft Points.

 

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la_guy_10 replied on Tue, Mar 23 2010 8:21 PM

I guess if you are just estatic about a particular release and could not wait a single second more it was keeping you up at night, you would bite on this deal. I like to wait and read some reviews and watch some youtube game footage videos and then make my decision on wether or not to purchase a title. I bet all those people who pre-ordered Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 only to realize that there was no dedicated servers if they would have been patient they would not have been bummed out from their pre-order.

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I don't think it's a fantastic idea at all. The whole point of a demo is to give people a taste of the game so they buy it. But you always risk giving them so much they have time to get tired of it. When it's free you can just give them enough to get hooked, but people paying fifteen bucks for a demo are going to expect something a bit more substantial. I think this is going to cost them sales if it does anything.

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There is absolutely no potential for a profit margin in this idea at all. Paying money for a demo, no matter how much of an "exclusive" demo it is, this will not get the fans reeling for more. 

Demo = Demonstration

Those are free. 

 

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Kyouya replied on Tue, Mar 23 2010 11:57 PM

As a gamer, this is a terrible idea. As a future business analyst, this is a terrible idea. Looking through both perspectives, this is a lose-lose scenario. With the ongoing recession, do corporations believe that gamers have luxury to blow money on extended demos? They would rather wait for the game to be a 'PS3 greatest hits or 360 platinum' in order to experience the full game in al discount price. Gamers can be very patient at times. Look at the development cycle on high profile games. If they can wait that long for a game to be developed, they can sure wait couple months more for a discount price to get the full version of the game rather than feeling ripped off on buying a extended demo that is full of restriction.

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Ha! EA is desperately trying to get more and more money. "Preorder (insert game name) and get the (insert game mode) mode one month before everyone else!" What a deal! I can't wait until they have an idea that flops and they end up losing money, it may teach them a lesson. (While looking at this idea, this idea may do the trick)

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RyuGTX replied on Wed, Mar 24 2010 2:54 AM

I think the main problem here is that the return on investment for game companies are too long. I mean, think how long the average game takes to develop. There is no incoming cash and they have to hope that it is a big hit when the game releases.

There are a few things they could try to see how well it works:

1) Charge a small fee for a set amount of beta keys that will be released way earlier than the regular open beta. Like if Blizzard did this for Starcraft 2 and a few people were able to pay to play the game half a year ago, they could make some cash. Only problem with this is leaks/cracks way too early.

2) Charge for an extended demo and get a discount on the full retail game. This would mean that companies get some portion of the money sooner. Customers wouldn't have to pay extra (demo plus full retail version).

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realneil replied on Wed, Mar 24 2010 9:27 AM

I wouldn't consider paying money for a game Demo. They're the ones trying to get me to buy their game, so let me try it, and if I like it, I will save for it and buy it. Without the FREE demo they can forget it. I know I'll still breath air without the honor of owning their game.

And another thing,....I would NEVER buy a game that jacks me for more cash later on either. (downloadable content my eye!)

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Dave_HH replied on Wed, Mar 24 2010 1:09 PM

Hi JoelB, we're looking into a fix for this. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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in my honest opinion, i think charging for a demo and not giving the customer a partial discount from the full release after the demo purchase is a rip-off. i just another way for game-sellers & developers to pick more money out of its customers pockets.

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Zestia replied on Wed, Mar 24 2010 1:47 PM

I'm happy to see that so far no one on this thread is willing to pay for the demo. We're not the only ones voicing our opinion on this matter and hopefully EA is listening. I don't think we should pay for a demo any more than we should pay for the trailers we view at the movies. Imagine going to your cineplex and being asked to pay an additional $2 to watch the trailers that are shown 10 minutes before your feature begins. What, you don't want to pay the $2? Ok, please wait here, we'll let you in after the trailers are done. Would you like more popcorn while you wait?

If we allow this precedent to be set, it's just a matter of time before they start charging us for bonus packs that in the past have been issued gratis. Soon after that they'll begin selling games a la carte. $40 gets you the basic package, additional maps cost $5 a piece, skins are $3 each and so on. I say, don't buy the demos, games are expensive enough as it is.

 

PS - great 'possum picture.

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If i am playing a demo then I am paying the company with my time to try their game out. if i like it i'll buy it, if i never get to try it then more than likely i wont buy it... 

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AKwyn replied on Wed, Mar 24 2010 6:24 PM

Devil_Dante:
Ha! EA is desperately trying to get more and more money. "Preorder (insert game name) and get the (insert game mode) mode one month before everyone else!" What a deal! I can't wait until they have an idea that flops and they end up losing money, it may teach them a lesson. (While looking at this idea, this idea may do the trick)

It's not just EA. Other publishers are doing this for the money by including something special if you preorder it from GameSpot or Best Buy.

Even BioShock 2 had 2 exclusive characters for multiplayer and it was published by 2K Games, so don't assume EA's the only one doing the preorder thing.

Also I haven't thought about it hard but I think this is the beginning of a trend where people are trying to make more money off of game demo's. (sony's degrading demo's patent for example.)

 

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I know that nearly every company does preorder bonuses, but EA is the only company I know that gives you something that should be available to everybody from launch day. I don't mind not getting a new skin, or maybe miss out on a couple guns that will give me an easier start in a game, but to remove a gameplay mode from people who did not preorder for one month is a pretty stupid move in my opinion. Besides that, they only have a certain amount of those little cards that have the code that lets you obtain the exclusive, so even if you did preorder, there is still a small chance that you may not be getting the exclusive, whether it be a simple character skin, or something as big as a gameplay mode.

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AKwyn replied on Thu, Mar 25 2010 7:36 AM

Devil_Dante:

I know that nearly every company does preorder bonuses, but EA is the only company I know that gives you something that should be available to everybody from launch day. I don't mind not getting a new skin, or maybe miss out on a couple guns that will give me an easier start in a game, but to remove a gameplay mode from people who did not preorder for one month is a pretty stupid move in my opinion. Besides that, they only have a certain amount of those little cards that have the code that lets you obtain the exclusive, so even if you did preorder, there is still a small chance that you may not be getting the exclusive, whether it be a simple character skin, or something as big as a gameplay mode.

I have mixed opinions. On one hand that game mode might have a few bugs that haven't been ironed out on launch day, or it could be for the money. I don't know. Particularly another reason why EA might do this is because of the hype it'll be building. They expect people that preordered to post gameplay videos of that new mode on YouTube and brag about how awesome that is, then many more people would use the mode then expected because the people who played it first gave out their honest opinions.

Think of it this way, do you know how many multiplayer modes go unused. Especially in GTA4, everybody's playing Deathmatch or Race. I tried to look for players in the other game modes (Cops vs. Robbers) but they were barely any players. I feel your anger and your reason but, I don't know exactly whether it's good or bad.

 

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The thing most people don't tell you is that $60 price tag is really set by the console manufacturers.

They have a set price that they charge developers to actually use the development computers and burners. As well as the software and engines. It begins with a really shady practice. and the developers really cant say much to the gamers, because they don't want to ruin the illusion that the game is actually worth that much, and 90% of the profit goes to Sony or MS. So they have to work even harder to make them look as good as they can. Or Sony and Microsoft will take those developers consoles and give them to another company. This is why you don't really see the price tag dropping on many of the new games.

The main problem is when a company like EA puts the game into a PC format. That is really where they are making their money. If that price tag stays at $60 like its PS3 and Xbox counterparts then the company has a better chance at a profit. Then they can make more games. Or pay their executives more:P And a company as big as EA needs every penny they can get.

Although I have never really seen a scheme as blatant as this. Why don't they charge you to view a preview of the game as well. It is the same dumb stuff as all that "lets charge for downloadable content" garbage. I understand something like an expansion pack. If someone loves a game and payed sixty for it and are still playing it, it should be worth more to them to know that. Then they can show how much everyone loves it and want more.

Blizzard is very good at that! But I have never seen them charge for a demo? At least one that couldn't be integrated into the final? I could be wrong.

Here's an idea, if you want to charge for a demo. Then make it an unavailable level of the game that can be integrated into it when you buy the full version. Maybe like a Prequel or a prelude! Maybe with something like two unique levels that when complete give you some different armor or cool weapons to start the real game with.

Then again, they could just straight forward charge. That really worked out for Stargate, Didn't it?

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"Here's an idea, if you want to charge for a demo. Then make it an unavailable level of the game that can be integrated into it when you buy the full version. Maybe like a Prequel or a prelude! Maybe with something like two unique levels that when complete give you some different armor or cool weapons to start the real game with."

Now there's an idea. Since I know this charging scheme bring people more and more to piracy, there should be a perk as Tom mentioned. What seems to be a trend is that things that give people an edge will always be a justified price for them. I'm not saying everyone here, but if you go through the xbox live downloadable content you'll find some bizarre type cheat. NHL 09 for instance has downloadable points for your characters. Basically you have to play less and you get more points to allocate, for a small fee.

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Yeah I also won't be paying for a premium demo.   If I pay money for a game, it better be there... not disappear in a short amount of time

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