Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire: A Blueprint for Game Demos

In just a few days, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire will release for the Nintendo 3DS and once again fans all over the world will be able to Catch ‘Em All.  Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are Nintendo’s third set of remakes from previous generations, this time taking on the Game Boy Advance titles, Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald.  These releases are hardly a surprise to anyone who has been playing Pokemon for a long time as the company’s two previous handhelds, the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS saw remakes of Red/Blue and Gold/Silver/Crystal respectively.  With these two games, the Hoenn Region has been fully re-imagined in 3-D and unsurprisingly looks and plays almost exactly the same as Pokemon X and Y, even down to the UI.

The demo picks up in Mossdeep City, one of the towns you visit relatively late into the adventure.  You meet Steven Stone, a Master of Steel-Type Pokemon, who happens to have one of the game’s Legendary Pokemon, Latios with him.  When you speak to him, he offers to take you on an adventure and gives you the option to choose between the three starters who are leveled up to 35 and are closing in on their final stage. Once you choose one, Steven whisks you away on the back of his Latios and you land near a volcano.  Here you get a brief introduction to the battle mechanics, the villains, and Mega Evolution once your starter reaches level 36.  The adventure ends when you encounter and capture a “special Pokemon that can Mega Evolve”.  This Pokemon (kind of) varies by region, so unless you live in Japan, you encounter a Glalie that is holding a Mega Stone.  Glalie is a Pokemon that did not have Mega Evolution in X and Y, so fans of the series are sure to be excited.

Since I’ve had time to digest the demo, I find there are some things that Nintendo did brilliantly, that other developors need to take heed of and other things that Nintendo needs to learn from.  First and foremost, the Mega-Evolving Glalie that you encounter and capture in the demo can be tranferred directly to the main game. This is a big deal (contextually), because this is the only way that you can acquire the Mega Stone to Mega-Evolve Glalie.  What is so compelling about this is the way that Nintendo has found a way to encourage people to simply try their game, by offering a tangible and unique in-game reward.

It may seem trivial to those who are not fans of the games, but you don’t have to like Pokemon to appreciate what has happened here and why it should happen for every game.  Demos these days are rare, unless you are a smaller independent studio trying to get your game out there.  As a result, there is a lot of mistrust between the average consumer and the bigger developers and review scores end up being the primary method a consumer uses to determine whether or not a game is worth spending their money on.  These reviews are not always accurate, especially by virtue of the fact that opinions vary from person to person.  However, what Nintendo has done is reward players simply for taking 20 minutes out of their day just to try the next installment in their famed Pokemon franchise.

This small moment of brilliance for Nintendo is not without its question marks. Consumers had to jump through a few hoops (I joined the Pokemon Trainers Club website) just to obtain a code to access the demo.  My big issue here is that the logic of having consumers acquire a code conflicts with the fundamental purpose of having a demo in the first place.  Demos are released so that people can try before they buy and the most sensible way to do that is to release it in an avenue that will attract the most people.  In theory, the more people that try your game, the more likely they are to buy it, particularly if you are rewarding them for doing so, which Nintendo is doing here.  The best avenue in this case, is the Nintendo eShop’s Demo section, which is littered with hundreds of free and easily accesible demos that do not require any special input to obtain.

As mentioned earlier, Demos are a rarity these days, and in their place, some developers have chosen to release Alphas and Betas, as evidenced by recent games like Destiny and Evolve.  These strategies do work in their own right, and Bungie did reward players for participating by giving them a special icon to stick in their profile, that was there to “to help you prove that you were there when the record for concurrent players was set before the launch of the game”.  However, this nameplate was ultimately superfluous (unless you really cared that much about proving you were there) as it had no effect on anything the player did in-game.

The difference in relevance between something like the Destiny Beta nameplate and the Mega Glalie from the Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire Demo should be obvious.  While an argument could be made for getting unique game-affecting items/weapons by pre-order, that requires a financial commitment before having all of the facts about the game before the final product hits the store shelves.  Most, if not all of the time, you can’t get these benefits if you wait until after launch to pick up the game.  With Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, I can wait as long as I want as the data for Mega Glalie is sitting directly on my 3DS.

The Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire Demo was above all things, a consumer friendly demo.  It did not require any sort of financial commitment ahead of the game’s official release and it was concise and to-the-point, wrapping up the core Pokemon experience into a 20 minute timeframe.  While it’s method of acquisition was questionable (though hardcore fans would likely attribute that to the developers maintaining the game’s trade market), it’s refreshing to be rewarded just for trying something and knowing that my efforts weren’t thought of as the video game equivalent of a cheesy sticker with the phrase “I’m valued”, and expecting me to feel it.

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