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The Death of the Demo

Back when gaming magazines ruled the games journalism space you would often receive a free gift with your purchase of a videogames publication. That free gift, more often than not, would be a demo disc.

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Okami

These discs would contain anything from 10 to 15 demos for upcoming titles. Recently however, with the rapid decline of video game magazine sales, it has become less and less common to find a good demo disc. In fact, it isn’t just demo discs that appear to be dying, demos in general are becoming more and more of a tragic rarity.

Why is this?

A good demo should get a player interested and excited in your game. Now that games are so expensive they have will have to be convinced that a game is worth the high entrance fee. Sometimes a pre-rendered gameplay demo that you can watch in awe isn’t enough. Sometimes a player will need to physically play the title that they are considering. Not everybody has the privilege of attending industry events such as E3 in order to play upcoming titles.

This ultimately means that the player will have to put their faith in what someone else thinks about a specific title. What demos used to do is give players just enough of a tease that they would want to purchase the full experience. A demo would spend its short time building up the player’s excitement, before ending on a cliffhanger that would leave the them desperate for more.

Understandably, demo discs are dying along with gaming magazines, but why is it that downloadable demos are now rare? It can’t be because of the extra work that is needed to create a demo, as all the developer needs to do is choose a small section of an already completed game and isolate it for the player to experience.

Is it perhaps the case that developers, or indeed publishers, are so greedy that they don’t want to give anything to consumers without getting some money in return? It seems to be a very smart business decision to give the player something that excites them about your game, otherwise the only chance you have of getting any publicity is through television adverts, posters, trailers, and advertisements on well known websites. Those things don’t come cheaply.

Indeed the lack of a demo could be a sign that the developer isn’t confident enough in their game. For example, you didn’t see a playable demo for Aliens: Colonial Marines for a very good reason – the game wasn’t good in any sense of the word. However Level-5 had no problem releasing one for Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, as they knew that their game was fantastic.

In a recent trend publishers have decided to use demos, or indeed early access to games, in an interesting way. A few have promoted their game by throwing in a free demo for another upcoming title that they are also publishing. Case in point, Medal of Honor: Warfighter. EA bundled in a closed BETA key for a game that, at that moment in time, hadn’t been officially been announced: Battlefield 4. This is just another example of a publisher not having confidence in its product and feeling as though they have to include something that they know people will get excited for.

Sometimes however publishers will include a demo for an eagerly anticipated title with their game in order to get people to talking about their product. A couple of examples of this happening are the most recent Wolfenstein game, which came bundled with the previously unannounced Doom reboot.  Perhaps more importantly, God of War: Ascension came with a demo for Naughty Dog’s masterpiece, The Last of Us. Ascension was not a bad game by any means, although it had relatively little hype for a God of War title. I have no doubt that at a good number of consumers bought the game just to get their hands on The Last of Us.

If the demo is dying a slow death I would like to give it a salute, an expression of gratitude for many years of entertainment, and protection from terrible games. You introduced me to brilliant games like Okami, and shielded me from the truly dreadful games like Bad Boys: Miami Takedown. For that I am truly grateful. So farewell my old friend, I hope to see you again someday, but until then, thank you.


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Games. Games. Games! Gaming is perhaps the only thing that I dedicate more than an hour a day to, and that includes sleeping and eating! Whether it’s on-the-go on my Playstation Vita, or at home in the comfort of my room I pretty much always have a device capable of gaming in my hands.