Demo-lished: The state of play before you pay

The era of the CD in console gaming brought us many new experiences as console gamers; FMV’s, loading screens, scratch management and so much shovel-wear that many of us still have nightmares to do this day (thank you Jumping Flash), however there’s one that brought joy each and every month…demo’s.


Prior to this era we, as gamers, were forced to become reliant on friends, family and Blockbuster Video to get a glimpse of games that didn’t sit on our own shelves. No matter what the official magazine would show or tell you it was almost impossible to know what kind of game you were getting until you booted it up and so that network and nearby rental shop was a lifeline to the world of gaming. Renting or borrowing a copy off a friend were great means to play a whole game at least, though it would usually be for a limited time, but there was never a guarantee they’d have the latest and greatest as well.

That’s Blockbusters..

And so we get to CD’s and demo discs.

Thanks to Sony we could test a variety of games before buying them, all for the price of a 2 night rental from Blockbusters and packed with the latest official magazine (the UK version was a solid piece of one-system journalism). Games ranging from Tomb Raider to Gran Turismo were jammed into a single disk that could entertain for hours, these were great as they would get you hyped for a game and for those with money in their pockets the incentive would be there to buy when released. There were also plenty of duds but the “AAA” titles helped outweigh them and for a large portion of us it would mean the demo discs would actually sit in with the rest of our collections.

A pinnacle was reached with Metal Gear Solid where we were allowed to play the first full segment of the game, leading up to the infiltration of the Shadow Moses base. It gave a completely true experience of the game, one of the best of that generation and arguably ever, all for £5. It truly was a gift from Konami and Sony, and for a lot of people built up a lot of loyalty points at the time,

6878-468x-Metal Gear Solid - Title Screen. jpg
Metal Gear?!

Thanks to the PSone and Playstation2 gaming was experiencing a massive surge in popularity and was finally maturing beyond the “just for kids” tag that the media deemed appropriate for years. Using CD’s and subsequently DVD’s made it cheaper for games to be produced on mass and Sony were seemingly happy for anyone to develop games for their consoles, it was open season and everyone was invited to the party. With an install base of 55 million PS2’s by the end of 2002 they could afford to take risks and put out games people hadn’t had a chance to play. If it was a good game chances are you knew 2 or even 3 people who had it so you could try it before buying it yourself, demo’s had become largely unnecessary.


Console gaming was still lagging behind its older brother, the PC, in terms of one aspect however, the internet. It took until around 2006 before we started seeing the internet being accessible through consoles and this seemingly opened the door to demo’s once again. The internet was slowly killing off magazines and their demo discs but publishers now had direct links into gamers homes and since 2006 we have once again been able to download demo’s of title.

However the internet didn’t usher in a new/old era of getting demo’s of the latest and greatest for they became too important to let people try. Companies were starting to sink more money (millions) into development, talent and quality to ensure a premium product was available to gamers, the “triple A” tag was becoming more and more prominent with each passing month. Suddenly there were an elite band of games from elite developers that we were aware of years ahead of release so to release a demo of an unfinished product could actually undo a lot of the hard work, and so PR and marketing was becoming even more important than in the past.


Websites such as IGN, whilst being a great source of information and content, were starting to promote games on their site based seemingly purely on the highest bidder for months on end, and quite often some time before release date and a review. Even if at the end a game received a mediocre or poor score all the PR work and brown-nosing at events like E3 ensured gamers are repeatedly bombarded with advertising that can heavily influence decisions. This is nothing new in the world of media and capitalism however gamers were being given limited options to actually help build an informed choice of how to spend their money.

A prime example of this is Aliens: Colonial Marines from Sega, which annoyed a lot of people as the game was nothing like what had been advertised and promised and caused a lot of negative spin in gaming media.

Known for all the wrong reasons

Another element that’s become commonplace in gaming is the overabundance of Limited/Special editions. Be it a steel bookcase, Amiibo bundle, book-ends, figurine, art book, DLC or CD soundtrack we’re now seeing plenty of incentives to put our money down on the counter months ahead of release date. Whilst not everyone is interested in these editions it’s clearly a tactic that works, almost any new release from an established gaming series (of which there are many these days) comes with some kind of incentive to make the most of its established fan base. This all ultimately means companies are securing money up front and are ensuring even if the game is a failure they have a good proportion of sales already secured.

Admittedly this is a slightly cynical view to take as I’m a big fan of these myself (I currently have 3 special editions on pre-order), but it still leaves me with a feeling that gamers are being given less and less opportunity to make an informed decision leading up to thereleaseof a game.


zelda TP
Added value?  Nice box though…

Taking a step back it’s clear that all things change and there are some positive signs to how we’re seeing demo’s do this in the modern era. One of those are the release of “beta’s” which give gamers a brief period of intense gameplay that help the developer make necessary tweaks prior to release, examples recently being The Division and Star Wars Battlefront. This is basically what companies used to pay people to do, find the glitches and help fix bugs, but now they’re getting gamers to do the work for free. It’s basically two birds with one stone, but at least it’s giving those who are interested an insight into the game and helping create an informed decision.

Get the gamers involved.

A second example is all based purely on one console, a console that’s trying to do things a little differently. One who’s rewarding players for not only downloading demo’s but also for those who complete it. One who regularly offers demo’s of in-house and 2nd party developers. That someone is the Nintendo 3DS.

Whilst many decisions made by the big N can be called into question, quite a few can also be praised and how they handle demo’s on their handheld is definitely one of them. JRPG’s are a big part of the handhelds success in Japan though in the West they have a small but loyal following, so giving some incentive to encourage adopters to a great title in the form on a demo that has far reaching consequences is a great idea.

Bravely Second, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Bravely Default, has set a standard in appeasing current fans and in tempting in new comers and hopefully other companies will sit up and take notice. Breaking it down:

  1. Anyone who downloads the demo before a deadline got an immediate 10% discount if they purchased a digital copy of the game.
  2. Progress made within the game will move over to the full game, levelling up jobs and items being two example.
  3. A separate story from the main game that sets up two of the main characters, taking up to 4 hours to complete.
  4. A limited edition also available to those who want to put their money down up front.


What’s important to note here is choice. The publisher obviously deemed it a title that they needed to get behind, to give as much exposure as possible to it beyond the sphere or gaming websites, and they’ve done this with fore-thought and consideration.

Hopefully it’ll push the title to even greater success than the first instalment and other companies will consider to do the same going forward.



This all leaves me asking where we’re heading towards with the idea of demo’s. Will beta’s continue to be used for shooters and multiplayers in general, will we continue to see new thinking being used in the handheld and lesser known titles that have been popular in Japan? Perhaps the limited editions will continue to encourage us to make a decision ahead of time or perhaps in the end we, the gaming community, have to be smarter in how to make our decisions. Read up and watch as many video’s as possible to get the most well rounded decision if you’re undecided on a game, perhaps get off the couch and try a game at the local store (if possible). There’s more content out there than ever before so do we really need to play every game for 5 minutes before making a decision?


For me I understand not every game needs a demo and it’s a bonus if a game you’re interested in does get some sort of pre-release of some sort. However, and this is a massive discussion point, I’m not particularly enamoured by the amount of pre-release bonuses that are being used to entice people to pay for a game up front. With the combination of this and the over exposure on the big gaming websites I’m finding it hard to know whether an upcoming AAA will actually be good or not. Thankfully I’m an adult now and no longer reliant on my parents to give me money, though I do need permission from my girlfriend but that’s another story.



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