Skyrim–The Death of the Demo?

July 14, 2011 § 5 Comments


RockPaperShotgun recently posted an article about an interview with Bethesda’s Craig Lafferty, who is the lead producer on the rather spiffy looking Skyrim. He covers a few bits and bobs regarding how awesome dragons are, and how the game plays.

However, he also reveals that, like a terminally large number of games recently, Skyrim will not have a demo.


Its not a major thing; I mean, we all know its going to be fantastic. Oblivion was great (if a little easy), and this can only be better, right? But a demo would have given us a taster, a little chunk of the cake to whet our appetite. Now, the decision to buy is going to have to come solely from reviews, and our gut. This is bad marketing, chaps.

On almost every level, this makes little to no sense. You have three targets when releasing a game; those who are fans, those looking for something different, and those who are entering the genre for the first time and think your brand of leather-bound adventuring looks like a good place to start. The trick is swaying the latter two, either by justifying the hype (how many times have we heard the “Most Immersive RPG” claim?), or by offering something unique.

And Skyrim, while looking great, certainly doesn’t look particularly unique to me.

It chugs on the same engine Oblivion did, albeit with far better fidelity and some really nice high-end effects. But its a bit like comparing Modern Warfare 2 to Black Ops in terms of shininess – its a guy, shooting a gun, how much shinier can you make a man shooting a gun?

The world, while still shrouded in anticipatory fog (through which you can just make out dragons… woo…), is going to be immense and detailed, just like Oblivion and Morrowind before it. Although, I reverently hope it tunes to Morrowind’s frequency more so than Oblivion’s; Cyrodiil was nice, but Morrowind was a place I simply couldn’t stop exploring.

I’m being a bit overly critical, but so far I’ve yet to see anything that makes Skyrim appeal to anyone who either missed Oblivion, or simply didn’t like it. Its like a hole in the advertising, and its demo shaped…

Another reason for demos these days, and certainly the most relevant to me, is hardware. Its all very good and well chanting about your game’s vastness, and how great it is to yell random gibberish at various dragons; but if it requires a PC so powerful it borders on quantum… well, those of us with middle to low end PC’s wont be buying it.

Yeah yeah, I know its hardly a fair statement to make, but for a game as tech-hungry as Skyrim, I honestly don’t know whether or not my gaming PC will run it effectively. And don’t start mumbling about minimum specifications either; the recommended specs for Oblivion barely ran the game at medium settings. Minimum specification lists are about as helpful as braille road-signs, and I certainly wouldn’t risk thirty to forty quid on them being accurate.

See? Another hole that a demo would fit almost perfectly. A demo would let me see how the game ran on my very modest rig, and it would guarantee a purchase from me.

One of the reasons citied for the lack of a demo was the games size, both in world complexity and in file size. I find that a bit of a hollow statement, to be perfectly frank; you’re not obliged to show everything the game has to offer in a bite-size chunk, you know? A dungeon, a section of the tutorial, a timer – all easy ways to avoid giving away the farm. And with most of us gamers having access to high-speed connections, a 10 to 20 gig download is hardly a huge issue – for a game like Skyrim, I doubt many people would mind.

Look at Just Cause 2 – a world substantially bigger than Oblivion’s (if not as interesting), and they gave us a demo which consisted of a 100 meter square patch of sand with a few shacks and explosive barrels scattered around… and gave you a time-limit on top of that.  Did it sell copies? Of course it did: it gave you a feel for the grapple hook, it let you parachute around the desert area you were in, it actually gave you more time to play by blowing shit up! It sold the game, and gave us a glimpse of what we would be doing in the full game.

It also ran perfectly on my ageing PC. Sold.

Skyrim looks great, and if it plays half as good as the videos released, it will be great. Will I buy it?

Only when I know it will run on my PC.


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§ 5 Responses to Skyrim–The Death of the Demo?

  • Souranply says:

    Freeform RPGs such as Skyrim and the Elderscrolls series as a whole do not really recieve demos. Due to the point that you rebuttled, the world is too large. So you said that they should make a timer or smaller game world. A smaller game world for demo purposes would be a waste of time and resources as it would require coding and mapping which they would not recieve enough reward from. A timer trial doesn’t really sell, look at Mount&Blade.

    Elderscrolls games, like all Bethesda games, do not need demos as they have proven themselves. You don’t see GTA or Call of Duty demos, as people know what they are getting. The developers know this and know they will not have release a demo or even rely on reviews as they are an enough cultists out there to buy the game and make it a success.

  • Stev3 says:

    I agree, for the most part. Elder Scrolls games are pretty safe financially. My point was simply that, as game demos become scarcer and people are being egged on to preorder games early, with extra items, maps and content; our ability to judge whether a game is worth buying at release or not is becoming very difficult.

    And as someone with a rather weedy PC, and rather tight gaming-fund, buying a game at full price is a luxury. Buying Skyrim on release is a risk, on my part, because of my inability to make sure it will work on my system.

    As I said in the article, I’m being deliberately critical, but I think developers are missing a large chunk of untapped market by ignoring those of us for whom a demo would make or break a purchase.

  • Maxim says:

    I just hope you can be evil and still be able to complete the main quest. In Oblivion if you started mass murdering you couldn’t beat the game!

  • Stev3 says:

    Really? My iron-clad conscience would punish every attempt by me to be a nasty bugger, so I tended towards being the noble hero.

    Seems a bit naff if it screws up the main quest though.

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