A few months ago, I praised Ubisoft (yes, it does happen occasionally) for launching the Xbox version of Anno 1800 with a one-week free trial. While not an all-new game, it was new to that console, and it was cool to see gamers given a good, healthy amount of time with a game before deciding if they wanted to take the plunge. I feel that if more new games came with time-limited trials on launch, it’d make publishers more accountable for the state they launch their games in.
Now, Steam (which, full disclosure, I’m a shameless shill for) has taken a little step towards that trial-filled utopia, announcing that it would start doing game trials. All this kicks off with this year’s remake of Dead Space, which will have a sizable 90-minute trial for players to enjoy. That’s almost enough time to complete the whole game (well, if you’re a speedrunner, so get to work)!
As the game’s publisher, EA deserves a bit of credit here too, and the publisher has been offering multi-hour trials of some of its online games for quite a few years now. Say what you will about Battlefield 2042, but the fact that I got to play it for eight hours with a Game Pass subscription was plenty enough time for me to realise that it’s a god-awful mess that I want nothing to do with. So cheers for the heads-up, EA. Sadly, that also is a good illustration of why more publishers don’t offer Day One trials.
What’s new about Steam offering trials is that they’re not tied to a subscription service like they are with EA Access and PlayStation Plus, so no money is being handed over to the company behind the game before you get to properly try it. So that’s nice, but there are still a couple of caveats here that hopefully future games will dare to address.
First of all, the trial is only active until May 29, putting a bit of pressure on you to play it, and incentivising a full purchase of the game with a 20% discount. Hopefully in the future these trials can become a more permanent fixture, because really why should every game not have a ‘try before you buy’ policy? Well, probably because too many games these days are a broken mess on launch and publishers want to have that money in the bank with preorders, but that’s not exactly a very consumer-friendly principle, is it?
The second caveat is that Dead Space has been out for four months now. The amount of revenue a game—especially a majorly marketed triple-A one like this—usually makes in its lifetime is disproportionately skewed towards the first week, with that dropping off massively already by the end of the first month, let alone by the end of Year 1 (here are some graphs and stats from a 2021 Steam Dev Survey, if that’s your kind of thing).
Dead Space Remake’s main sales run is already long over, and it seems it didn’t go all that well (via GamesIndustry.biz), so its trial period is an attempt to boost the sales of a game that’s by most accounts, including our own, very good, but underperformed commercially. That’s a very different context from EA being so confident in the game’s playability and quality, that they release a free trial with it the day it launches (which, in this case, probably would’ve helped rather than harmed the game’s sales!).
These recent dabbles in game trials are a step in the right direction, but there’s a long way to go before they make the impact that they’re capable of making. If certain publishers dare to start launching their games with comprehensive trials, the pressure will be on others to do the same, and in turn the pressure will increase to launch games in a high-quality state.
NEXT: Steam Needs To Start Doing Its Own Quality Control