League of Legends
So I'll start with what I consider the strongest, League of Legends. Here, you are allowed to test drive 10 heroes per week; the heroes are selected by the developer and follow a semi-consistent cycle.
|What you see each week; taken from LoL's website.|
So while this system gives you a "taste" of each hero, tailored so that new heroes show up 2-3 weeks after release, the inability to choose can make it hard to tell if you like a hero before you buy. However this works in favor of the developer, in encouraging people to buy heroes that are new to have them first, or to buy heroes because they enjoyed them during the trial rather than making targeted choices. In an ideal world, once per week or month a player would be able to test a specific hero for a period of time...perhaps a day. Otherwise though, the system works very well, so I hold it up as a good example.
Taking a page out of League of Legend's book, Hawken allows players to, in a limited capacity, "test drive" 2 of their 11 (soon to be 12) mechs. There are some limitations of course. In Hawken, players earn experience by playing which they can use to optimize and tweak their mech.
|Had my cursor over the raider when I took the screenshot...oh that sweet delicious Corsair...|
I consider this the worst of the lot, because while their "trial" system is noble in intent, it falls on its face quickly on. In Planetside 2, a player can test a single weapon every 24 hours, with a delay on how often you can re-test a specific weapon. You have 30 minutes to use this weapon. You cannot spend any certs on it...and there's the rub. Most weapons are vastly inferior without having certs spent on them. Sniper rifles? Enjoy the 3x (or whatever the default was...4x?) scope; when most players likely use the 8-12x's. Assault rifles and carbines tend not to be used without some form of scope and attachments. So really the "trial" becomes "What this gun will be like in the 3 minutes before you upgrade it." I know that it is on the Roadmap, but it seems like it would be a relatively easy change to let people "sample" certs with their trial equipment (just give them ALL the certs for it, that would entice players even more because now they'd see the weapon at full potential). The game has somewhat improved this with the VR Training area, but that only gives you a feel for how the weapon handles against stationary targets, not against human opponents.