PAX East and the fallacy of the 40-minute demo

Would you wait 11 hours in line for just a chance to play a game?  Not for a guaranteed session, just a chance?

This is the question that PAX East attendees have to ask themselves today, as the final day of PAX East soldiers on.  It’s been a good convention, although there’s a certain fun factor that’s missing for me that I think boils down to “too many people trying to do too few activities.”

Lines are a part of these conventions, but it’s practically obscene how everything you may possibly want to do here has a huge line attached.  My patience for lines is generally in the 30 minute range, more or less depending on what we’re waiting for.  But when there’s a line to play Q-bert at the classic arcade?  Methinks Penny Arcade organizers either let too many people come or didn’t plan for enough things for us to do.

This is most apparent on the exhibit floor, which is the centerpiece of the convention for many gamers hoping to take a look at the next big upcoming titles.  It’s about half the size, maybe less, than the show floor at PAX Prime, and at least for MMO companies there are relatively few attendees — BioWare, Turbine, ArenaNet and Nexon are pretty much it.

Of course, everyone and their mother has been swarming to The Old Republic booth with hopes of getting their hands on the demo.  I’ll give BioWare this: Events like PAX East definitely show the immense attraction and popularity this game already has.  The booth looked great, the giant screen showed off the space combat (which looks super-duper sweet), and plenty of devs swarmed all over the place answering questions.

The problem?  BioWare set up 25 demo stations — half doing the intro experiences and half doing a flashpoint — and then set the timer for the demos at a mind-boggling 40 minutes each.  So in the space of two hours, they could accommodate perhaps 75 people, 75 out of hundreds if not well into the thousands of gamers trying to get a peek at the game.  Literally minutes after the doors opened any hopeful players had to contend with 4, 6, even 11-hour lines.

Yesterday evening I was there as the show floor closed and saw one gentleman who’d been waiting in line since noon — for six hours — be turned away before he got to play the demo.  Six hours of a convention down the drain for nothing, for just a chance.  It honestly was kind of sad.

And as much as I understand the devs wanting to give TOR fans and prospective players a full demo experience for their PAX buck, this was ludicrous.  PAX Prime had the same issue with Guild Wars 2 because ArenaNet did the same thing by giving players 40 minutes for demos.  It’s basic math: you either make a few people happy and many people upset, or you cut the demo time down and channel more people through your exhibit.  After all, it’s not like they can all come back next week for another shot — this is their only chance, and that’s all you’re  giving them is a slim chance to play.

I don’t get why BioWare didn’t see this problem on the first day and readjust the demo time to something a little more sane — perhaps a 15-minute demo, or perhaps creating two lines, one for a short demo and one for the long one.  If you look at how theme parks manage their queue, it’s all about funneling people through a fun experience as quickly as possible so that everyone gets a chance and doesn’t have to wait long.

I just feel really bad for people who made the trip out here with the sole purpose of seeing TOR and having that denied to them, and I really hope MMO studios learn from the lessons of these conventions and cut out ridiculously long demos when there are so many people trying to cram in.

13 thoughts on “PAX East and the fallacy of the 40-minute demo

  1. paeroka March 13, 2011 / 10:49 am

    Well said!

    Back at gamescom we (my boyfriend and I) had decided not to keep standing in the queue for the Guild Wars 2 demo. We only had a wait time of around two hours or so but it was SO loud in that hall that we decided not to risk hurting our ears (we’ll bring earplugs next time).

    But we’d also seen the time of the demo and would have just “shared” it. I also wonder whether it’s possible to quit the demo before the time’s up in case you don’t even want to continue and just wanted to get a feeling for movement/control and how the combat feels. At least, that’s what I’d wanted to get out of the demo. Everything else I could see on the big screens. 😉

  2. Werit March 13, 2011 / 10:57 am

    Yikes, that sounds brutal. I would not fare well at PAX, as I really don’t like lines. Although, I am content to watch other people play, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for me.

  3. Green Armadillo March 13, 2011 / 12:16 pm

    Ironically, once upon a time Arenanet had probably the best solution I’ve seen to this problem – back in 2004 when the original GW was in beta, they actually put the E3 demo online for the general public. This way, you didn’t have to kill yourself waiting to try the thing on the show floor.

    http://www.guildwars.com/events/ingame/e3foreveryone.php

  4. We Fly Spitfires March 13, 2011 / 1:54 pm

    Unfortunately it’s in the interests of the developer to make the demos as immersive and fantastic as possible even if that sacrifices the number of folk who can play it. Ultimately it’s better for them that some people get turned away and the rest think the demo was utterly amazing than everyone getting a chance to play and thinking it was just ok.

  5. Galaji March 13, 2011 / 2:37 pm

    The demand is almost always going to outweigh whatever supply they can create at such a limited venue. I’m fine with them setting the length at whatever they choose.

    I do wonder why they didn’t implement a “FastPass” type system. One where you show up and claim a pass to play the demo at a set time.
    They already know how many 40 min demos they can fit into one day, and once the passes are gone, they’re gone.
    I’m sure you could put an optional line of “fill-in” players who are hoping that somebody misses their scheduled show time.

    With that type of system, I do not feel a bit sorry for the ones who see the length of the line, know that all the time slots are filled and still choose to stand there.

    It also allows BioWare to keep their area free of cluttered lines and gives demo players the chance to experience the convention before they play.

    Downsides?

  6. Thade March 13, 2011 / 2:48 pm

    I’m with Galiji…that does sound far better. Sadly it would also take far more organization than perhaps a vendor would be willing to muster. As Spitfires says, the dev’s interests are served by the current model. Anything more would only serve to be polite to the patrons.

    Yea, I don’t see that happening either.

  7. Pid March 13, 2011 / 4:20 pm

    I was amazed at the queues for this event, and put a little more blame on PAX for not limiting the number of people attending this event. The fact that i had to stand in 1 hour plus lines just to attend the panel discussions was amazing to me.

    I personally decided not to bother standing in line at the BioWare booth simply because there was just too much to do and I couldn’t justify spending all my time standing in line for one thing.

  8. expostninja March 13, 2011 / 11:06 pm

    You know, the only game I actually played while there was TOR during the press event? I gave up on every other game demo I had looked forward to, because it wasn’t going to be worth it. PAX East is still far, far too big in terms of attendees versus content.

  9. Brian 'Psychochild' Green March 14, 2011 / 12:13 am

    Why did they do that? Because it’s classic marketing.

    For people who got to do the demo, they had enough time to soak it all in and give a great review to others. To those who were denied the chance to play the demo, it’s the forbidden fruit; they are bummed that they didn’t get a chance, but that likely whets their appetite all the more when there’s some demo thing they can participate in.

    Really, is anyone going to not play SW:tOR because they couldn’t play the demo at PAX East? Probably not. So, it makes the most sense to give those who can play it time to soak it up so they can rave about it instead of feeling like they got only part of the experience. The rest will still be eagerly awaiting the next scrap proffered to them some other time.

  10. 32ndlaw March 14, 2011 / 1:35 am

    This is why I read the blogs of people who go, so I don’t have to go myself! 🙂

  11. Capn John March 14, 2011 / 11:25 am

    This sounds like a Mastercard meme waiting to happen.

    Return airfare to Boston: $350
    3 nights at Best Western: $255
    PAX ticket: $55
    Standing in line all day and not playing a single game? Priceless

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