Gamers putting money where the demos are

During an early november earnings meeting, Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata explained how the company wants to get more people to visit the Wii and DSi Shop Channels and browse around, instead of going in already knowing what they want to get. Iwata then announced the company’s plans to roll out a temporary WiiWare demo service to see if they could spur sales.

So far, the experimental demo program has gotten a lot of people to take a swing at the new freebies, occupying the top chart spots in the US, UK and Japan. No surprises there; people like free stuff.

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In the US and UK, demo versions were made available for World of Goo, Bit.Trip Beat, NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits, Pokemon Rumble and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord. Japan received Rumble, Darklord, Goo and Pokemon Fantasy Dungeon Ikuzo!: The Adventures of Storm.

Sneakily, players who reach the end of said demos are automatically whisked away to the game’s Shop Channel page. A lot of our forum members expressed increased interest in these games, but how many people are actually taking the plunge on the full versions?

Quite a few, it would seem.

In Japan, Darklord jumped from barely-in-there 20th place to 6th this past week, the second full week of available demos. Considering there are four demos occupying the top four spots on the chart, it’s actually sitting pretty in 2nd place, right behind Pokemon Rumble in 5th/1st.

The UK saw increased sales of the psychedelic Bit.Trip Beat, jumping from 19th to 15th, or 10th when removing the five demos from the chart. World of Goo hopped up to 11th in the week immediately after but has since slid to 14th. Darklord’s demo took the top spot while the full version re-emerged in 17th place, or 12th among paid downloads.

World of Goo climbed to 9th/4th place on the US chart this past week after sitting in 13th/7th. Bit.Trip Beat returned to the chart in 19th/14th place as well after a period of non-appearance.

NyxQuest did not crack any of the Top 20s, but five slots normally reserved for paid downloads are occupied by freebies. It’s entirely possible that the game is sitting in 16th place.

Pokemon Rumble was released alongside its demo and has stayed at or near the top spot in all three territories.

As one of the most successful WiiWare releases, both critically and commercially, World of Goo is no stranger to the top of the charts. While it doesn’t enjoy that luxury as often anymore, 2D Boy’s Kyle Gabler noted that the demo service was a nice boost.

“I haven't looked at the demo numbers in detail, but at a glance, and having heard from two other developers with new demos, we've all seen a definite increase in sales,” he said.

Alex Neuse of Gaijin Games, the studio behind the Bit.Trip series, would love to see the demo service extend beyond its experimental nature.

“I think that the WiiWare service has so much to offer that any amount of marketing effort that The Big N puts behind it is very well spent,” he said. “I would love to see Nintendo flex its marketing muscle more on the downloadable services.”

Demos may be a nice first step for the advertising-starved service, but in order for the service to really take off like developers and Nintendo want it to, greater awareness should be raised outside of gaming circles to hit the very market that made the Wii and DS so successful in the first place.

“When I tell non-tech-savvy friends ‘Hey, I made a game and it's for Wii! You can download it from WiiWare!’, it would be nice if they didn't respond ‘So that means I can buy it at Target? In a box? What? I can connect the Wii and download the internet into it?’,” Gabler said. “With however many millions of Wii's out there, it sure seems like a small percentage actually knows they can get games that aren't on a disc, or even that non-disc games exist. It might be easier if consoles were ‘always connected’ with magic like the Kindle.”