For unproven video game properties, demos can be wonderful, quality-establishing appetizers meant to provide players with a raw slice of gameplay – proving that the pre-release hype was correct, or that a player is best sitting it out. In fact, it was the demo of THQ’s UFC Undisputed 2009 that helped usher in the first MMA simulation game that gave gamers a reason to invest in something other than the arcade-y WWE series, or the sometimes tepid rigidity of EA’s Fight Night.
The ‘proof is in the pudding’ guideline would be followed again by EA, as this year’s EA Sports UFC had to prove it was worthy of the UFC name (after EA acquired them following THQ’s bankruptcy). Many looked at the EA Sports UFC demo that was released in June asking just one question: will it be as good as EA Sports MMA and the other UFC games before it?
For critics, the answer to that appears to be ‘mostly yes,’ but combined with middling reviews of the full game, plenty of players have been turning to the game’s demo for a free chance to form their own opinion. Yet gaining access to the demo proved more difficult than expected earlier today, when it suddenly stopped being free.
The change in price (as chronicled by VG24/7)came early July 4 to not just the EA Sports UFC demo, but demos for other EA Sports games such as FIFA 14. The demos were listed on the Xbox One store in Australia as $6.65 and $4.99, up from the previous price of… $0. Documented in users’ tweets, it appeared that the demos also cost £3.99 on Xbox One consoles in the UK, leading people to wonder if EA was actually switching their business model in an incredibly concerning way.
Particular credence was given to that theory as an instance of EA’s other free to play content – iOS title Dungeon Keeper – drew ire earlier this year for not being as free as the advertisements stated. So flawed was the game’s micro-transaction system (the game became almost impossible to play without paid for boosts), that it forced EA to apologize and were unable to advertise the game as ‘free to play’ any longer.
However, despite the suggestion that their EA Sports demos would be headed the way of the aforementioned title, EA did eventually clear everything up a few hours later, explaining what went wrong:
“The price associated with the FIFA 14 and EA SPORTS UFC demos was due to a technical error. Both demos have now been fixed in the Microsoft store.”
Although EA appear to have waved the concern away, many questions do still remain with some asking — in a slightly ‘conspiracy theory’ fashion — if it really was an error, then wouldn’t the prices (across a region at least) be the same?
Meanwhile, others have made a strong case as to why EA would want to see their demos become paid-for, citing a 2009 article from unigamesity which helped explain that successful demos don’t always lead to successful games as publishers might hope. In fact, they can actually have the reverse effect in some cases, as people who don’t feel like paying for the full game can simply take their fill of the free content and move on.
There’s also the fact that producing demos doesn’t come cheap; not in a day and age when games are as big as they are (the EA Sports UFC demo is almost a 2GB download on PS4 despite offering just one match between two fighters). The dollars will start to add up when continuing to maintain that year in and year out, as EA’s yearly sports franchises would mandate.
Hopefully, EA have noted the concern from gamers surrounding the paid-for demos and will hold off on plans (if they really do have them in the pipeline). If not for many years into the future, then altogether.