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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Glorified Demos Like Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Posted on Thursday, February 6 @ 15:10:00 PST by

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes will release on Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, and PS4 in March, and Konami and Kojima Productions hope it's a large enough slice to give fans the kind of taste they need to really drum up excitement for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. With the fifth mainline MGS game taking an open-world approach to the stealth-action genre established by renowned industry visionary Hideo Kojima, it's no wonder that the business side of things would like a shot in the arm in order to fund the rest of development.

Consider that Kojima Productions hasn't really released a full-blown console game since Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. There were several ports and mobile games, but Kojima's bread and butter has always been the mainline series. It's what the fans want.

Still, I think that the famed designer (who shouldn't have to keep making Metal Gear games if he doesn't want to...) is about to set a precendent that will likely last this console generation and next. With ballooning development costs and many publishers forced to reengineer coding and rendering software that powers every game we play, glorified demos like Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes are about to get a lot more popular.

Obviously not every genre contributes itself to this kind of piecemeal project-splitting and selling. Not every publisher is going to want to market, print, and retail release a four-hour chunk of gameplay from their 50-100-hour epic. Sometimes it might make more sense to finish development and bet big on the studio talent.

With Konami and Hideo Kojima, I think there's a mututal respect driving the decision to separate Ground Zeroes for release. While I'm sure Kojima has had ideas for games and experiences outside of the Metal Gear universe, Konami has been extremely supportive of his studio. It'd be my guess that Konami offered Kojima the freedom to develop his own engine from the ground up, to take the controversial step in making Metal Gear open-world and therefore make a much bigger technical mountain to climb. It'd be my second guess that Kojima felt obligated to make the company some money while The Phantom Pain finishes development.

Rather than stubbornly clinging to a complete package, Kojima embraced the more business-oriented side of things and came up with a compromise. Thus, we've got new Metal Gear to enjoy next month. That's not a bad thing. Lots of gamers are anticipating their favorite franchise on next-gen consoles and the release certainly adds some excitement to March's already fairly entertaining calendar.

Still, there are positives and negatives to each new trend in gaming, and next-gen demos like this certainly have their share.

The Good

Gamers always seem so hungry for the next-big-thing no matter how far away it is. Demos like Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes will allow both players and creators to engage with each other and allow for greater feedback and more opportunities for tweaks in the finished products.

Publishers love selling you games way before release with pre-order bonuses, like a special gun or a special outfit. Now they'll get two chances at that, and I'm sure there's already a statistic where a high percentage of people who pre-order a demo have also pre-ordered the main game. You can pay slightly less than you would for a full game and get a pretty decent look at how the action, story, characters, music, world, mechanics, abilities, and more feel in the main game.

You'll be able to check out (at least in this example) open-world Metal Gear gameplay well before the main release, meaning you can decide now if you want to spend the next two years in fever-pitched excitment or if you'd rather just ignore the series from now on.

The Bad

Money has to be spent marketing, testing, and printing the demo which means that even greater pressure is put on both products to succeed. If the demo doesn't succeed, will the main game be canceled?

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes costs $30 on last-gen consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, while next-gen versions on Xbox One and PS4 cost $40. That's quite a bit of cash for a two-hour story mission and five optional misisons, plus leaderboards. A $20 digital release probably would have scored another point for Ground Zeroes in The Good category. (Reader TheBigRedPyramid corrected me. Current-gen versions of the game purchased digitally will cost $20, next-gen digital versions will cost $30. I'll still leave this under The Bad category as I think even the next-gen versions should be $20 digitally if the full The Phantom Pain game will cost $60. In the end, my point might be rendered moot as Ground Zeroes will certainly be discounted in the months following release).

The Ugly

Kojima still hasn't gotten a chance to revisit Zone of the Enders or an entirely new game or intellectual property, while Metal Gear Solid has a new game coming out next month and another that will take up all of Kojima's time for the next two to three years.

Exactly how much of The Phantom Pain has been completed? How was work interrupted by polishing and shipping a demo like Ground Zeroes?

Will we have to wait that much longer for The Phantom Pain to be released? I don't think a two-hour story mission and a handful of optional "quests" will hold off the rabid fandom surrounding Metal Gear Solid's twisting plot.

We never got a chance to interview Joakim Mogren.
Should more game companies release larger than normal demos in order to keep fans interested in brands that might take longer to develop next-generation experiences? How would a Mass Effect: Ground Zeroes work? One thing's for sure: If Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes does well, other publishers will follow suit.

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