Demos In A Digital World

Firstly, Happy New Year to all you lovely readers! Sorry for the long breaks between posts, all three of the authors here (myself included) have been mega busy for various reasons. Hopefully as we get into the swing of 2014, we’ll get back on track. As for now, it’s been my turn to write for a long while, so here we go.

How many of you remember a time when your brand new console came with a demo disc? And until you could buy (or persuade someone else to) a game for you to play, demos were the one things you could do with that console. With the advent of digital games, demos seemed to disappear only to the realm of the PC (and Mac if you swing that way), and restricted to occasional magazines. As consoles were connected to the internet all over the world, and places like YouTube became popular, there was a lack of demos to play on those shiny new machines sat under your television. Nothing to try out or attempt, to see if your hard earned cash would be well spent. I’m sure we’ve all spent our last bits of change on a game that looked good but was terrible, something we only found out when we got home. Instead we’ve become reliant on either watching someone else play, or on what criticize and reviewers wrote.

Obviously there were still demos kicking around, but with the release of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, they had all but disappeared into the ether. Neither console shipped with a demo disc, at least as far as I know. Did they have a place in gaming with the ability to watch trailers, watch playthroughs and read strategy guides all on the internet? What use are they now?

Due to time and energy constraints of late, I’ve been spending a few hours getting my gaming cravings fixed with demos. I didn’t have the hours free to sit making weapons in the Wasteland, throwing all my caps away in New Vegas or stealing sweetrolls in Skyrim. Instead I was tormenting the monkeys in Zoo Tycoon’s demo, bashing hints around the head in Diablo 3’s and shouting at Toad in the brief demo for The Wolf  Among Us. Short, maybe 3 hours long at the longest, but good enough to get the gist of the game, how it plays and ultimately whether it interests me enough long term for me to purchase or borrow. When the vast majority of games now cost almost £50, purchasing because the back looks good isn’t an option anymore. I need to know whether it’s going to be something I’ll enjoy 2, 6 and 10 hours in. Demos can, of course, only provide so much information, but something is better than nothing.

Xbox 360 - Best selling demos so far
Xbox 360 – Best selling demos so far

So, when the world seems to be online only, where do demos fit in? Xbox is doing much better than it used to in providing demos, and even short episodic games have them. There’s not a demo for every game on the Marketplace, but there’s enough to get grip with the basics of most genres and some of the more unique games out there. I can’t speak for PSN, it’s not something I’m familiar with, but I’m sure the idea is the same.

Why demos faded from the forefront for many years, I don’t know. The cost of producing them versus the revenue they then brought in was probably a key factor. The expansion of the number of systems, types of media and cost of doing a demo for every system also likely played a part.  Digital media is still an area hotly debated; many people, myself included, prefer physical copies of games and other media, and the future of digital is a subject area often mentioned on television and in print. So perhaps demos were seen as an unnecessary avenue for gaming companies to go down. Who knows? I’ve certainly noticed a comeback of sorts, a return to the days of getting the same demo disc with your Happy Meal for the third time, only minus the happy meal and the disc.

One of the 4 demo discs you could get. Image belongs to its respective owner, I searched Google Images

Demos surely have their earned their place in the digital markets, opening many more pepole to games they wouldn’t otherwise look at twice, are much more economic to produce, and more likely to bring in more revenue. How many more people bought Kingdoms of Amalur after playing the demo than would have before? How many people realised that Diablo 3 for consoles was a good idea? After 2 hours of the Diablo 3 demo, I decided that maybe I should have looked at it as a series long ago. And after the disaster that was Zoo Tycoon on the DS, I thought that playing it on Xbox was never going to work. It has it’s flaws, and it’s far too expensive at £40-50 (depending where you go), but it’s a game I would happily while away hours poking the lions.

Demos, despite their mysterious disappearance for a few years, seem here to stay.  And on my Xbox at least, they are welcome.


  1. For me personally, demos have been made useless by Let’s Play videos. Watching someone play a game on Twitch or YouTube provides enough information for me to determine whether or not I’ll like a game. Demos used to be nice, but you can see more of the final, unlocked game in a Let’s Play video.

    • Whilst I agree that Let’s Plays have their place, and I spend far too many hours watching them, I think it depends what you view them as. Many of the games I play are story centric, and as such watching someone play through a game would ruin it for me. Good demos give me enough of the plot and gameplay to know if I like it, want to know more and would keep playing, without spoilering too much.

      I think my best example here would be for Saints Row 3. It was never a game I would have ever considered liking (for whatever reason), even when watching other people playing it. But (as my brother had a copy at the time) I took the plunge, fired up the game and enjoyed it. To me, there’s always a distance in watching someone else play a game, and trying a new thing out.

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