The Slow, Strange Death Of The Demo

By Alec Meer on May 26th, 2011 at 1:41 pm.

Floppies are cool, and you know it

I miss demos. I miss them so much. I wouldn’t be here, writing these words, if it weren’t for demos: how else could a sport-fearing, skinny young misery with only the slightest pittance for pocketmoney have found his way into playing video games? Once, my bedroom was littered with floppy discs, each and every one of which had at some point led to me standing outside a game shop, counting pennies with a quivering hand, praying I had enough.

Granted, magazines were the gateway drug back then, when there was no way to watch a trailer or scour Facebook for new screenshots, but later in life the web too seemed an infinite fount of sampled digital delights, and led to any number of purchases of those games that seemed the most absorbing – or simply because the demo ended, apparently expertly, at a point which left me urgently hungry for more. Those days are gone.

Demos still exist and probably always will, but they’ve become the exception rather than the rule. Even in the last couple of years, the decline has been rapid – it’s a relative rarity to post about one on RPS now. Publishers seem to have settled on marketing and heavy, heavy promotion (often including bewildering ARGs) as the alternative – a surer way to drum up interest in and expectation for the game, and one that does so without the dread risk of a gamer discovering that, actually, they don’t like this all that much. For some really big games, the norm even seems to be not releasing a demo until weeks or months after the full release, presumably to help drum up those few stragglers who somehow resisted the pervasive trailers and advertisements. (Not PC-related, but I noticed a demo for Halo: Reach came out earlier this week. Timely, eh?)

Adverts and trailers don’t tell you the truth, but so often they’re all we get to go on until embargoes lift and launch-day reviews land. In a very fundamental way, such marketing lies about the experience you’re going to have. The camera angles are rarely those you’ll see yourself, while the checkpoints and the chokepoints and the guy named CockLord12 and all the minor irritations (and indeed minor, personal pleasures) you’d experience bear no mention. It sells an idealised version of the game experience, and one that leans far too closely to the movie model – nothing at all to do with the act of playing a videogame. I couldn’t buy a game based on promotion alone, and to be honest I probably couldn’t buy it on reviews alone – I need to try it myself, see whether it lights up those strange pathways in my brain that entail not just passing enjoyment but complete fixation upon the experience at hand. I need a demo.

This has happened in my recent as well as distant past. King’s Bounty: The Legend is a game I would probably never have encountered were it not for its demo. It’s certainly not a game I would have ended up evangelising while most of the rest of the games industry studiously ignored it. There’s any amount of weird and wonderful and terrible and indecipherable games out there that we may never hear of, because there wasn’t a demo than anyone could play right away. Even for mainstream games the perks are there: while Bioshock may have ultimately struggled to live up to its hype in some ways, let’s not forget the sheer excitement around its pre-release demo. It was a happy frenzy, a global gamer’s talking point in a way that a trailer or a pre-order incentive could never be.

The value and the interest that can stem from a good demo launched at the right time (right at the point where you can go on to spend money on the full thing) is surely incalculable, but its perception seems severely diminished of late. Marketing can be controlled, but a demo, an increasing refrain goes, is simply giving away precious content for free. In my stint working for GamesIndustry.biz, I heard any number of publishers and developers claiming that there were too many gamers out there somehow assembling a fully gaming diet simply by bouncing from demo to demo and never buying anything. If they bounced, that was surely either because they couldn’t find anything they really, truly wanted to stick to, or that they simply didn’t feel they could afford many games anyway. Nothing is lost – but a resultant sale to those who are suitably enraptured is that much more likely.

The decline of demos probably too stems from the budgets and manhours necessary to turn out a modern, high-end video game – to pour yet more resources into a tailored slice of interactive demonstration is no doubt unappealing to a team beaten down by crunchtime. I’m deeply worried that publishers are calling the shots though, worried that a demo undermines marketing efforts – worried about gamers actually seeing the game, for fear a different message is sold. Call of Duty is an easy example – the hype and sense of event around what it’s going to be, what’s going to happen would perhaps be deflated by a demo’s concrete proof that beneath the clamour it’s just another high-budget shooter very similar to the last one. Which is not actually to malign CoD, but to comment on the fact that the promotion makes it into something almost mystical, something far beyond any possible reality. Bringing expectations down to Earth is probably the last thing the publisher wants.

Selling a different reality and avoiding exposing the reality can happen in more direct fashion too – take Brink’s splendid-looking TV adverts, for example. They suggest something very action movie, very glossy and very narrative-driven, rather than the solid, tactical and clever team shooter the game really is. As a result, we have a mixed message, but I’m convinced a demo finding its way to curious gamers would serve to strengthen their sense of, and hopefully interest in, Splash Damage’s thoughtful multiplayer game.

The other side of the coin is making the increasing rareness of a demo a promotional event in itself – the Duke Nukem Forever demo got its own announcement video, and will for a while be made exclusive to people who bought specific editions of Borderlands. It’s not about promoting the game, about letting people establish whether or not they’re interested in the game, but instead it’s treated as a reward to be fought and paid for, a product in itself: the polar opposite of the traditional demo. I don’t like having to beg to be marketed at. See also: Facebook Likes unlocking screenshots. Promotion becomes the reward, one we plead for rather than one we choose to assess.

Many indies know better, or at least know that because they lack the option of brute-force, high-spend marketing they have to use other means of letting people know what their game is like. Take a look at demo-hub GamersHell and there are so, so few game demos listed there – and of those that are, the vast majority are indie. Yet still so many indies resist – even most of the mails we get from indie devs simply contain a link to a trailer, with the lack of anything playable both complicating what we can usefully say about the game and the possibility of it capturing the affections of our readers. Frozen Synapse is out today, for instance. It’s ace, you should try it and see if you like it as much as I do. Oh, you can’t. Watch a trailer, I guess. Quite obviously, I have no empirical figures for any of my grandiose claims and if the industry’s moving away from demos they’ve probably found very convincing business reasons for it, but I can’t shake the nagging gut feeling that the loss of yesterday’s means of talking point leaves a huge hole in our gaming lives.

Of course, the rise of free to play may turn things more demo-wards in a way. The first hit’s free, kids, but cough up now if you want to play the rest. I’m actually more than fine with that model – it’s when you have to seperately pay for features or an advantage that the F2P concept makes me ill at ease. Have a go, work out if it’s for you, pay to unlock the rest has forever seemed an eminently sensible way to market a game. Unless it’s a game with a really boring beginning that’s mostly tutorial and exposition, of course, but that’s a whole other kettle of silly design decisions. (Which reminds me of an earlier post about demos, and why they’re so often very wrong and even misleading to focus on the first chunk of a game).

Demos: come back. They’re why we found games, why we experienced so much, and why we spent so damned much. You are not a relic of a more naive age, but the key to future discovery. We need you. The industry needs you.

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181 Comments »

  1. Inigo says:

    I find file size to be the biggest problem.
    I remember the simpler times of PC Gamer, where 1 CD could provide you with dozens of games that would otherwise go unnoticed. Then DVDs became commonplace to match the increasing size of games and their subsequent demos – but what of now? Games have become gargantuan for better or worse – the few demos for that can fit onto a DVD nowadays are often frustratingly short; barely enough for one to gain a favourable impression of the game itself. Even downloads fail to alleviate the problem – I have had a 1.5mb connection for years, but to download a simple demo of a modern game requires me to spend hours, if not days of uninterrupted use just to get the damn thing (even worse if I decide to use the internet for something else and consume precious bandwidth).

  2. fugo says:

    Sometimes I’ll buy a game based on hype or reviews, but generally only when I have experience with the game (most recently Portal 2 and Crysis 2). Sometimes I will buy a game based on reviews or word of mouth, but often if I’m unsure about it I’ll pirate it first.

    Where I can I try to be ‘fair’ when pirating games – If I end up finishing it I’ll most probably buy it, and will definately buy it if I want to play the multiplayer.

    @NunianVonFuch well said on the streaming game services, I’d not considered that! And like you say its great for developers, as long as they are not producing demos because of developer time and not because they are worried people won’t like it.

  3. Daiv says:

    I have difficulty seeing this as anything more than an utterly cynical move to separate customers from money regardless of quality of game, which is a diminishing returns activity.

    Do not allow critical opinions of your game prior to release (Review embargo). Do not allow customers to try before they buy (No demo). Wheedle customers to buy with no real way of determining quality (Buy the pre-order and get an in-game moustache!). Keep their money in a death-grip (No refunds. Because PIRACY, that’s why.)

    Customer plonks down money, and on release day is shipped a shiny turd. No refunds. Customer throws hands up in air dramatically and gives up on gaming and goes to live in a cave under a waterfall wrapped in buffalo hide.

  4. Syrion says:

    On the topic of Frozen Synapse, a demo is actually underway :) I guessed that it would be released with the game on Steam today, though there is no official word on that.

  5. airtekh says:

    Off the top of my head, a random list of some games I have bought in the last year or so mostly on the strength of their demos:

    Just Cause 2
    Batman: Arkham Asylum
    Magicka
    SpaceChem
    Dirt 2
    VVVVVV
    Braid
    Left 4 Dead 2 (demo was only out for a week, stupidly, but still)

    I have also played countless other demos of games that I’m either not going to buy, or am waiting for a reasonable price drop.

    Our medium involves the PLAYING of games, not watching gameplay trailers.

    • thegooseking says:

      It’s interesting you should say that, since the five of those eight games I’ve bought, I bought in ludicrous sales. I didn’t even play their demos.

      I have played the demo of VVVVVV, but it’s still languishing in “been meaning to buy at some point” territory.

      And then there was Dragon Age II, which I bought not because of the demo but in spite of the demo. I was one of those people who actually liked the game, but I hated the demo.

      I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make here, since it sounds like I’m being very negative about demos, when in fact I’m overall rather positive about them.

    • Gormongous says:

      I liked the Dragon Age II demo, but only because it gave me a chance to peek under Bioware’s wrapping paper at the mechanics of the game that they desperately tried to hide with a stilted and incoherent demo.

    • Chaz says:

      I still buy games on the strength of a demo, that had there been no demo I probably wouldn’t have considered buying. Batman: AA is one of those and more recently than that Divinity 2: DKS has been another. Oh and Enslaved on the 360, which generally is the sort of game I’d never usually contemplate buying, but the demo just blew away all my lackluster expectations for it and made it a purchase for me. For that reason I tend to download most demos and give them a go, even a good few of the indie ones, because you never really know whether you’re going to like something until you give it a try, and there’s always the odd few demo’s that take you by surprise and confound your expectations.

      It can work the other way of course and there have been a good few games I thought were going to be a potential purchase until playing a demo that left me cold.

  6. HeavyStorm says:

    I’ve bought Relentless (Twinsen’s “The First”) because of a very well crafted demo. The game lived up to it too.

    And id software only is id software because of Shareware.

    However, those were the 90th. Today, many people will buy games without playing, which hurts players way more than it does publishers and studios. Then again, I’m pretty sure most of the sucky games I believe would sell less if people got to play it would sell the same — the big market isn’t as intelligent as us, hardcore gamers. Most don’t even read reviews, just look at Metacritic or ask a friend. Which is probably why CoD still sells like it does.

    Talking about hype, I’ve made few pre-buys in my life. Black & White and Witcher 2.

    I haven’t started playing Witcher, but back in the day (2001, wasn’t it?) if I could, I would send B&W back. But it took me playing two weeks of the game to discover it was an exercise in frustration, a grand idea scaled down to fit a certain schedule and budget, so a demo wouldn’t have made a difference.

    Tough subject, but all in all I hope demos do come back. They seem very present at consoles, for instance.

  7. Dubbill says:

    My favourite demo was Lords of Chaos on Atari ST (came on a Zero coverdisc, iirc). Randomised loot and a random wizard to fight against each time made it supremely replayable. The demo also featured a map that was not included in the full game so it retained its interest even after release.

    • cluddles says:

      Lords of Chaos! That was probably my favourite demo too. I only had the speccy version, but it had a similar replayability thing going on. I’d never played a game like that before, so I like to think that demo was heavily responsible for me ending up liking turn based strategy games as much as I do.

  8. Arithon says:

    Carmageddon was the best demo I ever played. Even the game wasn’t as good because it had fallen under the censor’s axe.
    The lack of demos offered are reflected by my lack of purchases. I buy less because I try less.

  9. Dworgi says:

    The Battlefield 1942 Wake Island demo sold that game to me more than any number of reviews could. I was addicted within a day, played the hell out of it for a good 2 months, then bought the game on release day.

    Reading the reviews probably wouldn’t have convinced me, because they all focused on how gritty and immersive it was while completely missing how ludicrously FUN it was to play.

  10. RagingLion says:

    I pretty much never play demos btw.

  11. Blackberries says:

    I probably wouldn’t have bought SpaceChem this year had there not been a demo to try. There was, and I’m incredibly thankful for it: the game is amazing.

    When I was far too young and penniless to afford games, my PS1 demo discs would tide me over between birthdays and Christmas. My friends, siblings and I were first exposed to the delight of Crash Team Racing this way.

    I remember convincing my mother to buy me a PC gaming magazine around Christmastime one year.. It was some sort of round up-up of the best games of the year, or all-time or something. It included a demo disc with Age of Empires, Conflict: FreeSpace, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, Grand Theft Auto and a few more besides. I went on to buy/receive as presents those first 3, all of which I associate strongly with m’ childhood.

    I miss demos.

  12. StevoIRL says:

    Demos in todays Modern day AAA environment just simply aren’t doable with significant risks.

    Games these days are becoming some of the most complex pieces of code there is around, trying to then cut 1/20th of a games code and fit it into the constraints of what a demo is (A first level, a tutorial etc). is very expensive to implement.

    It’s cost a devlopment team MUCH more to make a demo then release a trailer which chances are has been done by a 3rd party or by a different division within a company. Making a demo involves the whole product team having to divert their time to working on the full game to get a functional demo out available.

    And then there are the negatives about releasing a demo. If the quality is poor (IE your demo contains a lot of bugs which they undoubtedly will because NO team will spend the amount of money to do enough testing to ensure a demo meets the requirements in quailtiy that a full game would.) you’ll be destroyed by the gaming community and no amount of promises and wishes will save your game.

    If the quaility of the game ends up being different to the final release.

    I played the Arma demo to death when it came out and was counting down to the full release. On full release i had crazy graphically and performance issues that weren’t present in the demo. Now surely that’s false advertisement if i play a demo with flawless performance and then find out for the real release it’s unplayable.

    Demos will be more of a niche with smaller games that aren’t millions of code in depth and are much easier and cost effective at releasing.

    • Berzee says:

      It’s hard to hack off bits of a game and make a demo at the last minute, sure. But if you design your game with modularity in mind from the beginning, it should be a simple matter of removing unneeded content files and tweaking some config files … but only if you were thinking of that when you designed the program architecture.

  13. Faxmachinen says:

    “It’s not about promoting the game, about letting people establish whether or not they’re interested in the game, but instead it’s treated as a reward to be fought and paid for, a product in itself: the polar opposite of the traditional demo.”

    My dad bought me a demo of Entombed on a single floppy, back when we had a 486. It cost 11£.

  14. Frank says:

    Deus Ex: HR sure needs a demo for me to buy it before xmas or a complete edition (whichever comes later).

  15. slpk says:

    Demos still exist, they’re just called torrents, and work the same way as before. Get it, try it, buy it if you like.

  16. Lambchops says:

    It’s time for my obligatory mention of the brilliant Starlancer demo.

    Oh and the equally excellent second Darwinia demo (the first one was a slice of out of context game and worked absolutely terribly).

  17. geoffreyk says:

    On the topic of the Halo: Reach demo, I think it has more to do with the game becoming available as a downloadable title, which is a pattern they’ve followed before. Release at retail, let it ride for a while, then make it available as a “Game on Demand”, at a discount, along with a demo so that you can try it out, then get the little “BUY ME NOW” button when you quit. Similarly, at launch, for a game like Reach, the diehards had the “Beta” or were buying it anyway; a demo as a calculated risk might discourage more otherwise likely buyers than it was to encourage those on the fence.

  18. Scandalon says:

    Commander Keen.
    Wolfenstein.
    Doom.
    Quake (Test.)
    None of these would have been purchased were it not for their “Episode 1″.

    (Not to mention Kingdom of Kroz and ZZT!)

  19. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I want more demos, not just to see whether a game will be to my liking, but also to see if it works properly on my computer. For some games I find a demo to be necessary (although it’s relative since it depends on whether I think it has a chance not to be playable). Hence.. no demo, no purchase (in some cases).

    For me that includes the Witcher 2 and Deus Ex HR at the moment.

  20. Megadyptes says:

    I used to have hundreds of demo floppies and cds back in the days of slow internet and gaming magazines being the only real news around. I miss demos as well.

  21. Carra says:

    Ah yes, back in the days I spent weeks with the Return to Castle Wolfenstein multiplayer demo. Of course I bought the game when it came out.

    Games like starcraft even had an unique mini campaign demo. It was even worth it for people who bought the game.

    These days however my steam catalogue is so full of games that I don’t even have the time to play them all. Let alone play the demos.

  22. Droniac says:

    Sometimes it makes sense not to release a demo prior to the game’s release. I certainly wouldn’t have bought Homefront, or Star Wars: Battlefront, if those games had demos prior to release.

    In other cases it’s weird that there isn’t a demo. Games like Brink and Bulletstorm would really benefit from a demo that highlighted their respective qualities, because they’re both good games for specific audiences. Bulletstorm is all the more curious, because it has a – good – Xbox 360 demo, but no PC version of that demo.

    I still sometimes buy a game based on the demo. I wouldn’t have bought Just Cause 2 or Shogun 2: Total War if it weren’t for their respective demos. Similarly I might have waited a little on Dragon Age 2 or Mafia 2 if it weren’t for their pre-release demos. (yes, despite the popular hate for Dragon Age 2, its demo did convince me that it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated, and as a result I rather enjoyed the full game, which got a lot better towards the end)

    • _Jackalope_ says:

      Battlefront did have a demo, I think it was originally meant to have come with the Star Wars DVD boxset but was available on the net too. In fact, I think I downloaded it before I got it with the DVDs. Wish I’d tried a demo of Battlefront II because I hated it in comparison with the original.

  23. Pointless Puppies says:

    My shining moments of demo nostalgia include:

    1) RollerCoaster Tycoon. I was ADDICTED to this demo as if it were a real game. It was unbelievably amazing despite the no-save limit, only 3 scenarios to choose from and a hard-coded 1-hour playing limit. Pretty restrictive for a demo back in the day, but the game was that good that I kept coming back over and over again.

    2) Age of Empires demo. Had the entirety of the Egypt tutorial campaign (which was like 2 hours long total) and was surprisingly robust. Again, I kept playing this little bugger until I got the full version and wholee shit. Got seriously excited when I first heard the first song of the soundtrack of the full game, especially considering the fact that the demo only had tingy MIDI songs.

    3) 3D Movie Maker. Anyone remember this game? Not really a “game” so much as it was a “OMG IT’S THREE DEE!!”. Framerate was horrible and choices were limited even in the full version but man oh man did I spend hours making movies over and over and over. Couldn’t save them but unlike RCT the game didn’t kick you out after a while, so you could tinker away at your movie until the end of time.

  24. malkav11 says:

    I can’t say as I miss demos. A tiny snippet of gameplay that may not show the parts I was interested in to begin with, now often as big as the game itself, with no progress carryover? Not useful to me. I’ve a computer that will run any game you care to name just fine, even if I won’t necessarily be able to run it maxed out, and I get a sufficient idea of whether I’m interested from developer pedigree, prerelease information, and word of mouth to lay down a preorder (usually not). And if I don’t preorder it? Well then there’s -plenty- of time to get word of mouth and review information to gauge my ideal price point and plenty of sales to pick up marginal items at dirt cheap prices. There are so many games on my backlog it’s not like I’m hurting for things to play.

    Also, game rental works far better than any demo, something which alas is not available for PC games (though piracy can be made to function much the same way if one can resist the lure of simply sticking with the pirate copy when one has made one’s decision).

    The one place where I really agree a demo is needed is the MMO genre. I cannot be expected to shell out $50-60 plus an ongoing monthly fee just to see if I’m going to like an MMO enough to make the necessary time commitment to really get the most out of it. Yet somehow each new MMO still gets away with months and months without a free trial of any kind.

    • phlebas says:

      How would that work, though? Surely most of the interest in an MMO has to do with the player base rather than the bare mechanics? (NB playing Shades in the 1980s is as close as I’ve come to an MMO, so I could be wildly mistaken here)

  25. OctaneHugo says:

    Screw demos. I want to receive games in my cereal boxes.

  26. MD says:

    Nice article, Alec. I think you may have hit the nail on the head with your paragraph about demos undermining marketing campaigns. It’s got to the point where they’re not quite selling us games, they’re selling us dreams. That probably sounds overblown, but I reckon it’s just the way games marketing has evolved to catch up with all sorts of other forms of marketing. Lynx aren’t selling me deodorant, they’re selling me sex appeal. Cleaning spray manufacturers are selling a clean, ordered, sparkling lifestyle. Games publishers are also selling us a bit more than they can deliver, not just because the games are shit but because they’re really only games. If we played a demo, there’s a risk we’d snap out of our trance and realise that, before handing over our money.

  27. Tams80 says:

    RuneScape has a pretty good demo. Yes, I know it’s more a F2P game, but the free game has a large amount of content. Of course the P2P game has many times more content, but that provides a great incentive and other benefits which are really useful.

  28. _Jackalope_ says:

    Bitmap Brothers “Z” was a good demo. It was full of fitlhy swearing which wasn’t in the full version. A quick copy of the sound files from the demo fixed that. The Carmageddon demo allowed a fix of the censored gore until the offical patch was released.

  29. MultiVaC says:

    I don’t remember the BioShock demo being accompanied by a “happy frenzy”. I remember 2K announcing a “surprise” which ended up being the release of an Xbox 360 demo with no mention of that other platform the game was supposed to come out on. And when people asked them about the PC demo they would refuse to respond, lock threads, and generally act surprised that PC gamers were expecting to be included. I think they eventually announced that the PC demo was coming “later” at an unspecified date, which ended up being the day before the game came out. It was a pretty shitty thing, and set it the tone for the past few years of PC content being either the lowest priority, or arbitrarily excluded/delayed.

  30. Melf_Himself says:

    Piracy has risen.
    Demos have declined.

    Correlation? I think so.

    Does this mean I think it’s OK to pirate a game “just to try it out”? No, but it tells us that people (other people; mean, nasty people…. hiss) are doing it anyway.

    Bringing back the demo is something that game developers can do to drive down money lost through piracy, as opposed to the current practice of gnashing their teeth and inventing new ways to make us endure flagellation at the hands of the dreaded Digital Rights Monster.

  31. viverravid says:

    Remember the Deus Ex: Invisible War demo?

    Reaction to that really put a dampener on what was a highly anticipated title. There were defenders of the game seriously claiming that the demo must be based on a year old beta build, and was not representative of the current state of the game.

    That’s the first example I can think of where dev’s might have started thinking that releasing demos was not a good idea.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Sounds more like releasing badly done demos is a bad idea.

      What’s wrong with e.g. just giving people the first 30-60 minutes of 1:1 real game gameplay as a demo?

      Okay, maybe games like COD or Homefront that only HAVE 240 minutes will have a problem then, but that’s their issue..as for others like MOO like games or Civ, simply make it the first 100 turns as has been done before.

      Unaltered, actual game experience, just limited enough to not be the full game, but long enough to kick in the addiction. That’s how you do demos.

    • viverravid says:

      What’s wrong with e.g. just giving people the first 30-60 minutes of 1:1 real game gameplay as a demo?

      That’s basically what the DX:IW demo was (though it started about an hour in). Apart from one or two weapon changes and some locked doors, it was straight from the release version.

      The issue is the game was very disappointing to lots of people, and the demo let them know about that early. Lots of people who would have been day 1 purchasers changed their minds. Without the demo, they would have bought it and THEN been disappointed.

      Understandable if afterwards the devs wished they’d just never done it.

  32. stillwater says:

    Yes, demos are good. But then again, when we were kids in the 90s, there was nothing anywhere near as monumentally convenient and accessible as typing “[game of your choice] gameplay” into youtube. So I’m not going to lose sleep if the demo dies.

    • belgand says:

      Perhaps its just me, but this just doesn’t sate the same need or really tell me what I want to know. It’s an interactive medium and I really need to play the game myself to tell how I feel about it.

      It’s rather a bit like pornography. Sure you have the slick, well-produced commercial bits much akin to the trailers the publisher puts out, and you have the amateur productions such as you reference that tend to show things a bit more realistically, but neither is really quite the same as when you’re trying it out for yourself.

  33. RegisteredUser says:

    More pro-piracy arguments for many I guess, as others already pointed out.

    No idea why the devs/publishers are getting more and more messed up in a field that used to live and thrive on magazine demo CDs, shareware, trialware, time limit demo etc.

    Shooped screens of a game that in motion looks 9000 times worse are not exactly a reliable source of gameplay estimation, and as for reviews, well, let’s just point to the Kane&Lynch fiasco.

    I’d sooner put the 50 EUR into gambling money for online poker than hope something that looks and sounds pretty in theory is hopefully also enjoyable to ME, personally, once I purchased it.

  34. Substandard says:

    I actually really, really like the OnLive approach with time limited 1 hour trials. I know they don’t have the biggest game catalog out there, but it’s great to be able to play through the first hour of something and see if it’s worth shelling out the cash for. I’ve kind of been using this as my “demo” fix recently.

  35. psyc0lops says:

    I have to say the most epic time I have had with a demo was the Age of Empires 2 demo. I played this shit out of this thing. I remember downloading the 50mb demo over dial up and playing on the MSN Network. There were usually about 60~ game lobbies available, even when the full game was out. The most fun was in the multiplayer, where you were limited to only doing random map games but you could glitch the drop down box to select deathmatch and when you got in the game you were stuck in a map with nothing in it but grass. It was usually 2vs2 and the two people on the team would build markets and trade for gold to buy the resources they needed. Epic fun times until Microsoft patched it and ended the deathmatch games and I got the full version for my birthday (I was 12).

  36. anduin1 says:

    The new demo: Piracy of the full game. Just sayin

  37. icarussc says:

    All I have to say is QFT. Quite a few games owned because of demos, including ALL the ones mentioned in this article that had demos.

  38. Mutak says:

    Good games’ sales are helped by demos. Bad games’ sales are hurt by them. That’s all you need to know about why demos are disappearing.

  39. pertusaria says:

    Does anyone else remember when you could play part of a game at your friendly local games store? This seems like a sensible, piracy-proof idea to me, although of course it’s a bit of an expense to the shop owner. I don’t know why I haven’t seen it recently, but on the other hand maybe I’m just unlucky and it’s thriving elsewhere.

  40. belgand says:

    The demo for Darksiders was surprisingly well done. Not just a tiny bit of gameplay, but a full, rather lengthy level from the game including a mini-boss and a boss fight at the end. Sadly it was also the best level in the game and the one with the largest Zelda influence, but it’s as rare as it is to see a demo these days it’s even rarer to get to sink a full two hours into one.

    The Just Cause 2 demo was also a notable personal highlight. It was time-limited to something like 15 minutes, but otherwise included a ridiculously large area to mess around in. Considering it threw you into the action rather quickly and the sandbox nature of the game playing it over and over and over and just trying different crazy things each time gave a rather good impression of the game. Hell, considering that one of the game’s biggest problems is how repetitive it can be (and thus, a great reason to keep trying even crazier things) it did an even better job of showing off the full game experience.

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