Charging for game demos - Good idea or boneheaded idea?

It seems that game publisher Electronic Arts is gearing up to begin selling "premium downloadable content" (PDLC) demo versions of games before a packaged title is release.

It seems that game publisher Electronic Arts is gearing up to begin selling "premium downloadable content" (PDLC) demo versions of games before a packaged title is release.

Details are kinda sketchy but Gamasutra has some of the details:

Pachter [tech analyst Michael Pachter] wrote, "The PDLC would be sold for $10 or $15 through Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, and would essentially be a very long game demo, along the lines of 2009’s Battlefield 1943."

He added, "A full-blown packaged game would follow shortly after the release of the PDLC, bearing a full retail price. Mr. Earl believes that the release of the PDLC first limits the risk of completing and marketing the full packaged version, and serves as a low-cost marketing tool."

Pachter separately told Gamasutra in an email, "I think that the plan is to release PDLC at $15 that has 3-4 hours of gameplay, so [it has] a very high perceived value, then [EA will] take the feedback from the community (press and players) to tweak the follow-on full game that will be released at a normal packaged price point."

I can't figure out if this is a really good idea, or a monumentally boneheaded idea.. The idea of paying say $15 for a three-hour demo is kinda compelling because it would give you a feel for the game before putting down a pile of cash for the final game. I could test drive the game in advance and figure out if it was a game I'd be likely to invest more time in.

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However, that said, the whole thing could backfire. Let's say that I'd paid $15 for a three hour demo on the wildly popular Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, liked it and then shelled out the $60 for the full game. I completed that came is something like 8 hours, so I've had a bad deal.

The there's the whole issue of replaying the first three hours again - just the thought of that might put me off buying the full game.

Then there's the bugs. I'm assuming that the PDLC demo would be a pre-release, so bugs are likely. All of a sudden, I'm paying for the privilege of being a beta tester. That just sucks.

I think that the PDLC idea could work, but would need incentives. For example, giving the buyer credit towards the purchase of the final game would be a start, especially if the PDLC was of pre-release quality.

Bottom line, this could work, but not if game publishers just look at it as a new way to squeeze more cash from gamers.

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