The upcoming game Prey, has just announced a playable demo for the 27th April. However, this seems to be a rare thing for developers to do, is this signalling the death of the demo?
Try before you buy
Now I have been a gamer for a very long time and my first real recollection of demos was with my Atari ST back in the late 80s. The Atari ST magazine came with a nice disc that contained all sorts of applications as well as game demos. I remember going to a girlfriend’s house and popping the disc into her brothers ST, his machine had a double sided disc drive (mine didn’t) and we discovered on side B a brilliant 2D/RPG platformer called Elf. As a result, I immediately upgraded to a double disc drive so I could play it. Without the good old demo disc, I wouldn’t have discovered one of my favourite games of that generation.
Cover Disc Demise
Once I moved on from Atari to my beloved PS1, I became a subscriber to Official UK PlayStation Magazine. £5.00 a month for cool articles and most importantly, the cover disc. As a result, I discovered many fantastic games. Ico, Final Fantasy VIII, Tomb Raider 3, Ratchet and Clank 3, InFAMOUS all playable from the demo disc.
Just have a look at the images below to get an idea of the huge number and variety of games available. It was how we used to make informed decisions about buying games in the days before the internet. Reviews only existed in magazines and you can never get a real feel for a game via text. Demo discs gave the reviews context and were a very important part of gaming culture. It also gave you a load of free gaming if money was short and you couldn’t afford a brand new game.
Downloading Beats Down Physical
Then came the PS3, to begin with, the demo disc still held sway. However then came the birth if PlayStation Store and the downloadable demo. Now instead of stumping up £6 a month for my copy of OPM3, I could simply download the demo to my PS3 for free! It is a no brainer really, bye bye disc hello download. This was the future, about a year after I got my PS3 (launch day and backwards compatible!) I cancelled my subscription to OPM and relied on downloads for Demos and the burgeoning might of the internet for reviews, who needed magazines and discs.
Optimisation and Bugs
Then came the PS4 and suddenly demos started disappearing. Currently, after over 3 years on the market, there are 54 demos available on the PlayStation 4 (6 are Lego games). Not many considering you sometimes got 17 a month on cover discs. WHY? In some cases this, I think, is due to games not really being complete until they are released. We are all only too aware of big day one patches for games and games that are released in a buggy poorly optimised state.
This started on the PS3 with games like Skyrim performing badly to begin with. In the days of the PS1 and 2, there was no way to patch a game, so they were generally properly finished before release. These days we almost expect big patches not only day one, but ongoing. Therefore if you provide a demo it may perform badly and could well affect sales. Better to have the optimal performance patch on day one and not bother with demos. And it is this, in my view, that started the Death of the Demo.
The Death of the Demo
But probably the principle reason for the death of the demo is the internet and particularly YouTube. YouTube hit the internet back on 14th February 2005 and was acquired by Google November 13th 2006 and gave rise to the YouTube Gamer. Rather than playing demos, we could look at other people playing the game which helped to inform our purchasing decisions.
I have been an avid follower of a number of gaming channels, I have one of my own, and in many cases watching gameplay has helped decide if I wanted the game. I didn’t invest in the original Final Fantasy 14 after seeing gameplay from Lewis and Simon of the Yogscast. However, I picked up XCom Enemy Unknown, a game I had no interest in, after watching gameplay from Total Biscuit. Gameplay videos, trailers, teasers and playthroughs have replaced the demo and developers have no problem with this as is saves a potentially unfinished game from getting bad feedback from a poor demo.
But I Still Long for a Demo
The Death of the Demo may well be a natural extinction, inevitable and essential in the growth of this dynamic media we all love. However, as an old school gamer, I get a little thrill everytime I see the rare delight of a demo hit PSN. I will certainly play the Prey demo just as I did with Nier Automata and Gravity Rush recently. And who knows if I like it I may just buy it.
Have a fantastic gaming week.