Game demos are coming to PlayStation 5. Like a grand return to the 1990s, Sony are set to enforce a new standard in which all game developers must make time limited game demos available to PlayStation gamers. That sounds wonderful! However there are some considerable caveats.
Firstly, let’s get into the details of the report. Originating on Game Developer, the report suggests that games with a wholesale price of $34 USD are set to be required to create time-limited game trials. These must at least two hours long, and will be included in the upcoming PlayStation Plus Premium tier. For the uninitiated, that $34 wholesale price point translates into games retailing at $59.99+. Essentially, all AAA games.
Could a Game Demo Have Prevented the Cyberpunk 2077 Fiasco?
Given 2020’s Cyberpunk 2077 debacle, this can only be a good thing for consumers. It could potentially have a significant impact on the worryingly increasing ‘launch broken, fix later’ philosophy in the industry. And for Sony, some might assume this is a vote of no confidence in the self-policing of independent studios. This may well have been part of Sony’s inspiration. However, the reality is far more complicated. The availability of demos could be seen as pro-consumer, but it could also be ammunition to support a no-refund policy.
Just seven days after launch, Sony had to backtrack on their refund policy for Cyberpunk 2077. Then was famously removed from the PlayStation Store after launch due to the multitude of issues with the game, only to return in June 2021 – some six months later. Launching time-limited demos of games may well be a way to prevent such issues occurring in the future. Not just because consumers can play the game prior to launch. But also because Sony could well use the argument that they had the opportunity to ‘try before buy’. Thus, any request for a refund would have no basis.
PlayStation Plus Premium vs. Xbox Game Pass
PlayStation Plus is undergoing an overhaul this summer. In a move to compete with Xbox Game Pass, Sony announced a restructuring of the programme that adds in new tiers and new features. It’s widely believed that – although a step in the right direction – PlayStation Plus Premium is still going to struggle against Xbox Game Pass as Sony hasn’t yet committed to launching first-party titles day one on the service. However, enforcing all AAA titles to offer game demos on the platform could well be an alternative.
No longer is it only a curated selection of titles that players can go hands-on with. They can literally choose from any new release and play for a limited amount of time before upgrading their purchase. This is surely going to be very appealing to a great many gamers, and could potentially result in increased sales of those titles. However, it should also be noted that if a studio is mandated to create a demo version of their game for PlayStation formats, what’s to stop them also creating a demo for the Xbox version of the game?
The Fine Print
According to the original report, developers would not need to deliver the demo on day one of a game’s launch. Instead, it should arrive within three months from that date. This in itself mitigates some of the pro-consumer arguments made in this article. Furthermore, the fact that the demo has to provide a minimum of two hours gameplay could be fairly damaging to some titles – could you battle through the Arcade mode in Street Fighter 6 in that time? Most certainly. Get your fill of violent football in a few matches of Mutant Football League 2? The argument that gamers could be persuaded to make purchases they may otherwise not have been works in two ways: they could also feel they’ve had the milk, so why buy the cow?
Ultimately, such a policy can both benefit and harm game developers and consumers alike. The additional resources required to make the game demos may be a stretch too far, and we could well see some smaller studios adjusting their pricing plan to avoid the additional taxation.
It’s not yet known when the new policy, shared via an update to Sony’s developer portal, will come into effect. Nor how intensely Sony will police it. However, whenever it comes to fruition it certainly won’t look the same as those 1990s front cover demo discs.