While ‘opening hour demos’ aren’t new, they’re certainly more prevalent. And from a gamer’s perspective, I couldn’t think of a worse way to get into a game.
I know what people are going to say. Hell, I’m half expecting a comment from someone who’s only read the headline. I’m well aware that I don’t have to play ‘opening hour’ demos. I have in the past, but I typically avoid them. This is written as more of an observation of why these are weakening a games’ artistic merit. The very thing it’s trying to sell.
Gamers at large tend to consume every morsel of information, video, demo, alpha, beta of the games they’re really excited for. We’ve all seen it and we’ve all been there. It’s the hype train, baby woo woo! It’s only natural that you’d want to take a bite out of the dangling, proverbial carrot, right?
I wasn’t always this way, but I fall in the spectrum of people who hate spoilers or knowing too much about a game’s features or mechanics before playing. Being surprised has a powerful, lasting effect that I feel improves the game. “But isn’t that a risky thing to do?” I hear you ask. You bet it is. I’ve been burned so many times that I’ve grown a fondness for Aloe vera gel. To me, the notion of playing a game’s intro, waiting a few weeks, and then having to play it again does not sound at all appealing.
Publishers are finding a measure of success with these demos and it’s definitely converting to sales. Seeing the marketing machine ramping up on them is proof of that. But, as a gamer, they ruin the whole experience for me. They turn that opening hour into an impatient plod that lacks any punch. And I know, an opening hour demo or any sort of access to a game can help your purchasing decision, which is important. It also allows developers and publishers to get a read on their product. But, does it really have to be the introduction? Ultimately yes. It’s their goal to get you invested.
You have to admit that the intro to Prey would have been more gripping if they didn’t reveal everything to us before hand. It could’ve been an unveiling that blew us away, but it wasn’t because we already knew what was going to happen. To tell the truth (and to rant a little), its marketing was so relentless that it ruined a few other surprises. Could you imagine the discussion and furore around Prey if they didn’t tell us about things like the mimic ability and we had simply discovered this stuff for ourselves?
Ok, it’s not all bad.
There are some developers that have veered off the track a little. Take Resident Evil 7 for example. They released their Beginning Hour demo which was an alteration of a moment during the first act. There were certainly some spoilery reveals, like puzzles and jump scares, but it left the real introduction well alone. What it certainly does spoil though, is the feeling of entering the Baker’s estate for the first time.
Personally, I never played the Beginning Hour, I wanted all of the surprises to be fresh when I played the real deal. I would consider myself somewhat of a horror veteran and I found those opening hours absolutely butt-clenching. If I played Resident Evil 7’s legitimate opening and then played it a second time on my real play through, then it wouldn’t have the punch that carried itself through the rest of the game.
Red Barrels also did something similar when they released their demo for Outlast 2. It was vastly different from the real opening hour and really threw me for a loop. To my surprise, everything was actually in a different order and there was a lot more to see. They held off on some of these moments and I think it paid off as it felt fresh on my second go around.
No end in sight?
Ooh, that heading makes things sound awfully bleak, doesn’t it? Fear not, friend, I’m just being overdramatic. I just think that the first hour of a game is arguably one of the most important parts. I’d even go as far to say that it’s more important than its ending. It can be fatiguing to repeat an intro and can potentially have a knock-on effect. You have to wonder if this affects review scores too. Of course, I’ve no doubt that most critics (who, arguably, are overexposed to a lot of games before they play them) do not let this sort of thing affect their judgement. It probably washes over them like a soothing layer of Aloe vera gel. But, surely there must be an impact on a subconscious level.
At the end the of the day it’s a safety net for developers and publishers. Their bottom line is the bottom line. If it’s proving to sell their games then we’ll continue seeing them. This all makes me seem overly cynical but it’s true, dammit! I encourage readers to avoid these god awful things whenever possible. Once your sold, avoid all marketing like the plague. Your experiences will be all the better for it.
Do you know what’s less appealing than playing an opening hour demo? Playing that opening hour again. Do you know what does get me excited for a game? A demo that provides a vertical slice somewhere else in the game. You know, like they used to make. Now get off my porch!
Do you avoid opening hour demos like me, or do you think they help? How much Aloe vera gel do you apply to your body after sick burns from bad games? Let us know in the comments below.