Difference between shareware and modern downloadable games

Wow, that’s a long title, I hope it doesn’t screw up the formatting 😉

Anyway, a discussion has been going on the Indiegamer forums about shareware vs time-limited demos, which most downloadable games are these days. Shareware was popular 10-15 years ago and the shareware model was to give away an “episode” of the game (e.g. Doom episode 1) for free and then charge for two more episodes if the player liked the game and wanted to upgrade. Also, shareware was not time-limited so you could play it over and over. By comparision, most downloadable games these days are limited to 60 minutes of play before the demo expires.

So I guess the main differences between shareware and time-limited demos are: a) once a time-limited demo expires you can’t play it anymore whereas you could with a shareware game b) depending on your skill you may only complete a few levels in a time-limited demo, or maybe you’ll finish half the game whereas a shareware game has a fixed number of levels that you can play.

However, I can imagine that the old shareware model failed in cases where the first free episode was too hard or too long and people didn’t want to buy the next part. The big portals have done a lot of testing with time-limited demos before settling on the 60 minute trial, so maybe it is a pretty good model for making sales…?

I’m also wondering if the current state of the Internet versus how it was 10 years ago has something to do with the lack of shareware. For example, 10-15 years ago, computer shops used to have shareware games in them on disk (1-2 disks) that you could buy really cheaply. Also people used to copy disks for their friends, and people used bulletin boards to download stuff. These days you wouldn’t want to make your friend a copy of say Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst on CD because it would be a pain in the arse, so you just tell them where they can download it. Also there is less “invested”, in terms of time, when you download a game from the Internet vs buying a disk from a shop or getting a demo from a BBS. In fact some studies show that 56K modem users actually have a higher conversion rate because they’ve invested more time in locating and downloading the demo.

So I’m pretty sure that time-limited demos are the way forward, and that the shareware model is dead, at least until the next new selling model comes along; for example there’s been talk of pay per minute games being a way forward – although I personally wouldn’t like that business model.

2 Responses to “Difference between shareware and modern downloadable games”

  1. joe Says:

    For our 2D-Shooting-Game Absolute Blue we are using a demo that has no time limit but only 2 levels (out of 12). For portals we had to create a 60-minute-trial and guess what: The conversion rate on portals is MUCH lower than from our own site.

  2. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Very interesting Joe. I’m wondering if the conversion rate on your site is also higher because people have gone specifically there to look for your game (like a specialist shop) whereas people downloading from a portal (like a supermarket) are getting downloads with less purpose and are therefore less likely to buy?