Bethesda has announced, during their E3 press conference, that the first level of DOOM will be free on Steam! For a week! Because demos died a few years ago! And shareware is a concept that feels like a dream we once had! Sad face emoji.
It is a pretty mess when it’s a major announcement at a flashy expensive stage show that your game is to have a ridiculously short time-limited demo. This is, sadly, emblematic of the death of the demo – something that was so normal and commonplace ten years ago, and now apparently a headline. And that’s before you even remember that the first third of the original Doom was free, from launch, forever.
So it shall be that at some point today you’ll be able to play level one from off of DOOM, via Steam, until the end of the week, at which point Bethesda will once more scoop it up in their jealous arms and lock it in their cupboard. Rather than, oh I don’t know, releasing an official demo like you’d imagine would be appropriate for a game so steeped in sharing culture.
Shareware seems so alien and outdated now that I realise anyone under the age of 30 probably needs an explanation. It was, in the mid-90s, perfectly normal for games to release large chunks of themselves for free, with the expectation that those who enjoyed them would pay for the full version. In fact, a system not unlike it is pretty common on iOS and Android these days (usually drawing the ire of telephone users for “tricking” them into thinking it was free, then “demanding” money to be allowed to carry on playing). Huge ambassadors of this concept were Apogee, and later, Doom creators Id Software, who recognised the burgeoning nature of shared floppies, bulletin board downloads, and magazine cover discs, and offered up a full third of Doom for no fee. There are many who will tell you they only ever played that first third, over and over. There are probably more who’ll tell you they got the rest of the game on copied floppies with “DOOM FULL” scrawled on the label in felt tip, borrowed from a friend at school. And there’s me who can tell you that my dad bought the boxed copy of the full game. He wasn’t alone. It was a system that worked.
Eventually the notion dwindled as gaming became more ubiquitous, but congealed into the normality of the demo that lasted until about a decade ago. When RPS launched in 2007, demo posts were still very common. Now the tag gets wheeled out maybe once a week, and almost invariably for indie games. And here we are today apparently asked to be excited that there’s a notional demo of a game that came out a month ago, that only lasts for a week. It’s demoralising.
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