Why Not to Run a Demo

PHD Games writer Chris Strecker wrote up a little editorial on why running a demo for a game might not be a good idea. Though having read the article, titling it “When Not to Run a Demo” would be a bit more appropriate, as the “why” is pretty much, “you don’t have your full attention devoted to the demo because you’re busy.” But it’s a good, quick read. So check it out.

Do you have any demo horror stories? I know I’ve had a few. Share yours below.


From the article:

Most game store owners know why running an in-store demo is a good thing. Running a good demo of a game will generate better sell through for that game and build consumer confidence. Running a demo is not a fire and forget type of thing, however. Just because you run a demo, does not mean that you will have more sales. If the demo is run poorly, it can have the opposite effect and in fact turn customers away from that game or they may lose confidence in your vast gaming knowledge all together.

  • So I’ll start.
    Just for the sake of non-biased-ness, names of games and people involved will be removed.

    But anyway, a good friend of mine was trying to teach me a game that he really loved and had been excited about for a while. The game was still relatively new, and he was big on evangelizing new people to it. So I gave it a shot. So starter armies were set up and I take the first turn, moving my biggest piece forward a little bit. My friend moves a couple of his pieces forward and goes, “well, looks like I can take an extreme long range shot at your model there. So an attack works like *explanation of attacks*” Ok, it sounded fine, so he picked up some dice and then proceeded to basically wreck my piece that was more than 1/3 of my army’s points (remember, small, starter armies). At that point, I basically “checked out.” I realized then and there that if such a thing were possible right away in the game, it wasn’t the one for me. Unfortunately, my friend was still in “upbeat, demo-giver mode” and couldn’t quite read my expression of “I’m done with this game. Thanks, but no thanks.” I even tried with, “Well, looks like things are pretty much wrapped up for me,” but he just countered with “well, but you could potentially do the same back to me!” Which, of course, wasn’t really possible, considering what I had left on the table. And he just continued to be just so… happy and excited. It’d be like kicking a puppy if I said, “dude, this game’s terrible. Just stop.” So I was looking for any other way to let him know I was finished. Things like, “oh… well… you take your turn, I guess. I’m going to watch this other game over here. Lemme know when you’re done. I’ll just be at the next table over.”

    So yeah, the demo continued with me being wiped off the board while I did merely superficial damage to his stuff.
    Needless to say, I didn’t end up buying into the game. And I only partially blame my friend for running the bad demo. It was really the game mechanics that killed the game for me. But yeah, my friend not realizing that I was finished, but wanted to continue to press on certainly didn’t help any.

    • ejazzyjeff

      I’ve been through a few game demos like that. I don’t expect you to hold my hand and let me win, but at least give me a chance. When I have done demos, I explain my moves/actions and I will give the player their options of what they can do and what would probably be the best one for them. I try to give the advantage of the player winning, without just handing it to them.

      • Yeah. I wasn’t expecting him to just roll over. He was a good friend of mine and I did want a bit of a “real game” demo out of it. It’s just that the game mechanics messed that up by having it be so an opening salvo shot could spiral into a “well, that just won me the game right there with that single roll” sort of thing.

        • CrazyFish

          He didn’t fail the demo by crushing your model. He failed because he didn’t pull the “woops, I nuked your model, let’s do a re-roll”, especially if it took really hot dice to do what he did. However, if it’s pretty common place to see damage like you got, then yeah… that’s a bad system.

          • Naw- the demo was successful, unless the demo-er screwed up the rules. It expressed some things about the game’s mechanics to Polar Bear. PB just wasn’t interested in it.

            And that’s ok.

            I remember my first demo of a game I still play often I got wiped out pretty bad. But I knew things about the game, and decided that I liked them (I got a starter box, and beat the same player the next week).

  • diehard4adventure

    Now, the way I see it, were I to have been running that demo, at the time you moved that big model I’d have said hey bud, you might want to reconsider that as if you were to move there I could potentially nuke that model in my next turn. But having run more than a few demos myself I will admit it’s never a cut and dry thing and really does require your full attention (and often more than a little tact!)