Wander into the online store on the Sony PlayStation Network and you'll find a wide array of demos for available video games. These demos typically come in two flavors: small samples taken from the full game in which the content has a definitive end and time-limited versions of the full game in which the entire experience is available to the player for a preset period of time. Both versions meet most players' needs, but Sony is looking to take demos to the next level by introducing a third variation in which the full experience is available to the player, but that experience degrades as time passes. For instance, imagine playing a racing game demo in which all of the title's tracks are available for the first hour, but only 80% are available for the second hour. Then, during the third hour, only half of the tracks are up for grabs. Eventually at the fifth hour, you're left with a single track to try until you get out your credit card and pay for the full version. Siliconera has the details on Sony's new patent for degradable demos.
A patent filed by SCEA details a system that gives users a full or nearly complete game to play with, but slowly removes features until you buy it. The software has customizable triggers that disable features after a set number of plays or lapsed play time. Let’s see some theoretical examples of how this could work. In one scenario your weapon is weakened or replaced with a less powerful one after so many hours playing the game. Think of it as a timed level down.
Removing weapons and playable characters are on the table too. Sony’s patent also lists subtle ideas such as softening sound effects, changing color depth, and/or brightness as other ways to encourage players to purchase a full version. In all cases, you can still play the game, just a limited version of it.
This could be a valuable tool if used properly. Imagine being able to try all of Bejeweled 2's game modes for a brief while before buying the full version or getting to truly choose which Robot Master level in Mega Man 10 to attempt before seven-eighths of them are locked out. Like any other new technology, however, it should not become the new standard for demos. I don't want Sonic the Hedgehog slowing to a crawl after an hour of playing the Sonic the Hedgehog 4 demo, nor do I want Kratos to become exclusively armed with the Toothpicks of Chaos in the God of War III demo. It's important to know where to draw the line on using this degradable concept, as nothing is more frustrating than to be unable to finish something meant for informational and evaluation purposes before the system decides that you've seen enough.