DOOM’s Time-Limited Demo Is A Mockery Of Shareware

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Shareware seems so alien and outdated now that I realise anyone under the age of 30 probably needs an explanation.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.

You can follow all our E3 2016 news if you want, if you can still be bothered.

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55 Comments

  1. Spacewalk says:

    So it’s time limited as in availability not in that it gives you an in-game time limit like in Carmageddon and GTA? What the heck exactly.

    • jonfitt says:

      Yes it was an odd choice of words. Time-limited demo has a specific meaning. This is a demo available for a limited time.

  2. Raoul Duke says:

    It would still work on me, too. I am old, and back in the day played many games for the first time on a shareware/demo disk, usually obtained via PC Format or similar.

    For example, I have fond memories of playing X-COM (1) on a demo disk. You got to play one mission in the desert at night… that sparked a lifelong obsession with that game for me.

    This new Doom is a good example of a game I honestly wouldn’t buy without playing a bit. So if they let me have a few levels as a shareware/demo deal, then assuming it’s actually good I’d probably end up buying it.

    • muptup says:

      Hah, reading the article I was just thinking how much time I wasted on that X-Com demo. Playing the same level over and over again!

      • Maxheadroom says:

        remember Paradroid 90? I sunk hours into the coverdisk demo of that and couldn’t finish it (assuming it was the demo, wouldn’t be the first time a publisher accidently put the full game on a cover disk) and as such never felt the need to buy it

  3. sabrage says:

    Does the concept of a “vertical slice” just pale to the vertiginous amount of people working on these damned things? Three guns, one level, and one minute should be all I need to judge a first-person shooter.

  4. mike2R says:

    I remember shareware disks! You used to get them on these things called ‘computer games magazines’, back in the days where journalism used to cost something called ‘money’.

    I wonder why we don’t get them anymore…?

  5. Premium User Badge

    ffordesoon says:

    Yeah, that announcement was inadvertently depressing. That the existence of a free demo for a major videogame is now notable enough to be announced onstage at E3 makes me feel old and sad.

    The comparison to shareware was also ill-judged; it’s like saying, “Boy, chocolate cake sure is great, huh? Here, have a cookie.” I like cookies as much as anyone, but when you imply that you’re about to give me chocolate cake, a cookie’s going to be a disappointment. Lead with the cookie.

    Then again, with the time limit, the demo is less a cookie than a breath mint. I can’t fathom who it would hurt if they just, you know, put out a demo with no strings attached. It’s not like the contents of the full game are a closely guarded secret; the thing is already available and very successful. Why play it close to the chest?

    • Mags says:

      Are you saying that cake is better than biscuits? Because you are wrong.

      • gunny1993 says:

        Are you saying that cookies are the same thing as biscuits? Because that gets you shot in some of the more right wing tea houses

        • Emeraude says:

          You know what? Curse you all, I didn’t know what to do of my afternoon, now I’m making cake and cookies.

          My niece will be happy.

  6. Zanchito says:

    Whatever happened to demos? I’m eyeing some AAA games I am willing to pay for full price, but I won’t because I don’t want to spend that kind of money without personal assurance of quality and compatibility. As things are now, it’s their loss, as I’m forced by the publishers to stop my fan-impulse buy and wait for the inevitable GOTY / 50%+ sale (which in turn means I won’t buy any expansions at full price either). It’s like they want you to access their game through som other mean.

    • Sihoiba says:

      Extra Credits did a good explanation of why no more demos:

      link to extra-credits.net

      Basically the odds are you’ll hurt sales.

      • Jetsetlemming says:

        Hahaha holy shit this is a bad argument. “People are less likely to buy something they get a taste of if the taste is bad, THIS IS THE CONSUMER’S FAULT WE NEED TO CHANGE CONSUMERS”
        It’s an incredibly short sighted and “The corporations that control the sources of our entertainment are always right” view. The same argument could apply to trailers, tons of good games get trailers that look worse than the game itself is, should we stop making trailers? Those also cost money!
        It’s completely missing so many important points, like how on PC tons of people use demos purely as a benchmark to see how the game performs on their machine. This, 100%, is the reason I haven’t bought Doom, and why I’m glad they’re making a demo and I just so happened to be lucky enough to catch this bit of news in the torrent of posts coming from e3. The game looks just a bit too fancy in the footage I’ve seen for me to put up cash only to find my gtx550ti can’t handle it.

        • Jetsetlemming says:

          Well the demo appears to be broken, because it just closes silently as soon as I launch it, and when trying to access the “community” for the demo it just gives me an error code. Good job Bethesda and Valve. You done played yourself. Back to playing Overwatch, which I bought without a demo because I knew I could trust Blizzard to heavily focus on backwards compatibility with weaker hardware!

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yep. The absence of a demo just means I’m going to be a more cautious buyer, and you’ll get less money out of me, and at a later date, assuming I buy it at all. It’s awful for the publisher on every axis, plus anyone who tries it by “other means” then ends up not bothering to legitimize that copy even though they might have paid to keep playing past a demo.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Although, hey, DOOM 2016 specifically has third-party Denuvo DRM, brought to you by ex-Sony “let’s just silently rootkit people’s computers, that’s an acceptable thing to do to” developers, so that’s a blacklist mark right there.

        • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

          Yep, and no mention of it on the Steam page. I only found out about it having DRM after buying it, and regret the purchase as a result.

          • LionsPhil says:

            You really can’t trust Valve for that. I’m having to lean on PCGW these days. Even then, for some reason they seem to give Denuvo a footnote, rather than an actual icon.

            Which is horrible, because if it were Origin or UPlay or something, that sucks for account-based DRM reasons, which is at least the same way as Steam in the first place. Denuvo sucks for “realistic expectation it’s actually going to compromise the security and stability of my machine” reasons.

        • BlueTemplar says:

          Let’s be *reasonable*, it’s not DRM if Denuvo says it isn’t! It’s _merely_ an “anti-tamper” technology that uses Steam DRM to online-validate your game, by scanning your hardware to check if it’s still installed on the same computer! /sarcasm
          link to arstechnica.com

        • Person of Interest says:

          I also refuse to download any demos (and obviously, will never purchase any games) if I know they use Denuvo, a.k.a. this decade’s Securom. I’m not okay with running or supporting DRM so invasive that it actually consumes a noticeable amount of resources compared to the game itself. Or hinders modding. Or makes it impossible to play the game when the DRM servers are unresponsive.

    • Unsheep says:

      They don’t have to anymore. All they have to do is:
      1. send a Beta or preview to mainstream media channels, famous youtubers and popular Twitch streamers
      2. wait for consumers to be hypnotized by the visuals, or enthralled by the unison excitement of said media, youtubers and streamers
      3. watch the pre-orders flood in

      So why the need for a demo ?! It’s not as if media and popular content creators are going to complain about it, they get a tonne of views thanks to the absence of demos.

      The devs & pubs releasing demos today are predominantly makers of very specific niche titles and genres, such as MotoGP, Euro Truck Simulator and X-Rebirth.

      The no-demo system is unethical because it takes advantage of the inherent naivety of our younger gamers, who simply don’t have the discipline and patience to wait.

  7. Atomica says:

    Shareware is great and should be even easier to work into digital distribution systems.

    I remember playing to death the Deus Ex demo, which sucked me into buying the full game. Same with Mount and Blade, which offered (pre-Steam days) basically the full game only limited to a set level-cap. I bought it too.

    Limiting a game to a level and putting a time limit almost advertises that there isn’t much else to offer. If your game is good, show it off.

    • ceptri says:

      One big problem for people who would like to do a shareware scheme (like myself) is that your app is marked as “in-app purchase” which scares away a lot of people. They need to add something to the app stores which signifies a one-time purchase option versus consumables. Most people try to get around it by making two apps, but that’s just a mess.

  8. Unruly says:

    Man, shareware is easy to explain. You just compare it to a demo, and people tend to get the basic concept pretty quick. “It’s a demo, but it gives you the chance to buy the next part of the game by itself, or the full game all at once if you want to, once you finish the demo section.”

    Try doing that with spawn copies. “It’s like a demo, but it requires someone to have the full game already. You have to install it from the full game’s disk, and then it lets you play parts of the game, only the multiplayer parts but you get to play all of those, and only if one of the people you’re playing with has the full game. And sometimes it lets you play over a modem connection, but a lot only let you do LAN. And some of them make it so you can only play your spawn version with the person who’s full game disk you used to install it, but others let you play with anyone who has the full game. Oh, and some do have a single player demo as part of them too.”

    But damn, I loved spawn installs. For all their confusing nature when it comes to trying to explain them now, they were wonderful things.

  9. AeonicButterfly says:

    I grew up on shareware demo disks, I didn’t even play Jill or Crystal Caves fully til I was an adult. I could beat Jill of the Jungle in my sleep, though.

    I did a similar thing with the OPM cover disc that had Dynasty Warriors 3 X-Treme, til I managed to pick it up from a dying Blockbuster a decade later, and later, the original DW3. I seriously couldn’t get enough of that game.

  10. bit.bat says:

    I wonder if easier exposure to games now via online video content makes publishers feel like demos are not as important. You definitely get more than just looking at small images on a magazine page which was how it was when the original Doom came out. Of course its no replacement for actually playing.

    Even in its limited form though, I’m glad for the demo (granted in a time when any demo feels like a luxury) as performance was my biggest worry with the game so its a good way to test.

  11. FeepingCreature says:

    The rage-inducing thing about mobile phone “demos” is that they don’t tell you they’re demos.

  12. zeep says:

    Not to forget my 2 life changing demo’s, Unreal Tournament 99 and Quake 3 Test. Fully functioning multiplayer demo’s. Both led me to BUY the full versions.

    • Unruly says:

      I could never get the Quake 3 demo that came with my copy of Computer Gaming World to run. But the UT99 one did, and led to me begging for UT99 instead. My begging netted me a burned copy of the game that my dad got from one of his friends, which then resulted in a bunch of my friends buying their own copies because I didn’t have a CD burner to make more copies.

      Eventually, I bought my own, but years later. I did buy UT3 twice to make up for it though.

  13. BlueTemplar says:

    Why is there no mention in this article that demos have always (or at least since the rise in popularity of the World Wide Web) had this issue that most developers didn’t bother (or weren’t given money) to update them (or even do them properly in the first place), so the demo quickly diverged from the game… which would inevitably badly reflect on the game itself!

    • BTAxis says:

      The Stanley Parable demo springs to mind as an exception to that.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        Sure, there were plenty of exceptions…
        (also SP is recent, mod-derived and having a demo was one of many things in which it is exceptional)
        but my point is that in general demos seemed to be poorly made.
        I have too glorious memories of a summer spent playing the 100 demos coming with a single magazine issue, but I also wouldn’t trust my nostalgic memories of that time for determining the quality of said demos…

  14. Unsheep says:

    Wow, how generous.

    And to think of all those smaller developers and publishers who make demos freely accessible with no time limit. How on earth can THEY manage to do it while big studios like Bethesda can’t ?!

  15. thelastpointer says:

    “Publisher releases demo” = “emblematic of the death of the demo, mockery of shareware”

    Oh for fuck’s sake. How did you make this logic leap?

    Do you really think you should be entitled to the third of the game, for free, for forever? And every other option is an emblematic death?

    This kind of thing should be encouraged instead. Yes, give us demos! That’s a nice start! Go on! Did you see that, Mister Other Publisher? We like it! Do this more! It pays off!

    Personally, I’ll install this on every computer I can get my hands on to see if it runs properly. The multiplayer beta ran very slow for me, and I’m hoping the full version has more settings.

    • Einsammler says:

      Best do all your demo-ing before friday, or it will evaporate and you will have to make a decision without information!

      • thelastpointer says:

        Yeah, I will. The time limit is an inconvenience (and feels like an arbitrary one), but still, I’m glad I have the chance.

  16. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    To be fair, wonderful as shareware was, it was done because it made business sense. Doom being the classic example of how successful it could be. It wasnt because everyone was nicer and wanted everyone to play their game no matter what.

    It doesn’t work in a world where whole games are a couple of quid or bundled just months after release, meaning everyone has a backlog of unplayed games they own never mind trying out all these free shareware titles. It’s a shame but totally understandable.

  17. Turkey says:

    I remember coming home from school and playing shareware. Oh, what a wonderful time I had playing shareware. One shareware I had was particularly good.

  18. Greg Wild says:

    One of the key problems is that 1/3 of an old game was probably about as long as many new game single player campaigns.

  19. Wulfram says:

    No quibbles refunds are pretty close to being demos anyway.

  20. aircool says:

    Before the internet was all pervading as it is now, demo’s were really the only way for people to see the gameplay.

    These days, developers seem to think that posting some gameplay video’s (not representative of actual gameplay) is enough…

  21. Day0ne says:

    my DOOM time felt like a demo anyway, when I opened the Hell portal the game locked up and spat me out. thought it was a Romero joke at first :(

  22. Aldwin says:

    The best bit about some demos were the custom levels they had. I remember the Jedi Outcast one as being particularly fun and had me excited to get the full game (it also honed my ability to do the “force choke and flick to release over a long drop” technique)

    • BlueTemplar says:

      Remember the Half-Life 1 demo, which WASN’T part of the main game?

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        Half-Life Uplink, no? I think I played it, but I might be thinking of the training mode, if there was one. One which was a separate menu option and separate part of the game, like with Deus Ex. I really liked those things, too, looking back.

        • Unruly says:

          The training mode in HL1 was awesome. I loved it. I used to spend a lot of time trying to get into the room in the lounge area. The door would open, but there was an auto turret that would shred the crap out of you if you just ran in, so you had to do things like run all the way to the grenade range and stock up so you could bomb the room, or play peek-a-boo forever and plink away with your smg…

          • Premium User Badge

            particlese says:

            Hey, that sounds right up my alley! All I remember from Half-Life’s was the crouching long jump section with the cool hologram person, and the grenade (launcher? attachment?) practice range for some reason. Sounds like I need to go back for a refresher!

        • BlueTemplar says:

          Yeah, Uplink :
          link to half-life.wikia.com
          Looks like it was the SECOND demo of the game (the first one being more conventional first-parts-of-the-game… but which wasn’t freely available! link to half-life.wikia.com ), made from levels that were cut from the main game.
          And it featured the training mode too!

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      Yes! I loved this. Just…not the way Rise of the Triad did it. Teenage me called up an Electronics Boutique or Babbages or something back in the day to ask if they had the full version of “RotT: The HUNT Begins” (which came on my PC Gamer CD), but all they had was “RotT: Dark War”. >:

      I loved the shareware version to death, with its full episode of awesome levels, unique credits sequence, and nearly full set of >100 cheat codes (which I had dedicated to memory for a few years); but sometimes I wonder what my childhood would have been like had I not been an idiot about that subtitle.

      Happier is that I did eventually get the full Full Throttle after playing its demo which was custom-cut from chunks of the full game. The story felt different, but still coherent, and I played the demo so much I still can’t remember where some of the demo’s scenes fit in to the full game. Loved the whole game, too, of course, but man, those custom demos! :)

  23. albertino says:

    I’ve always liked the style of writing on RPS – depends on the writer of course but this is trying a bit too hard that it’s difficult to read in places.

    “So it shall be that at some point today you’ll be able to play level one from off of DOOM”…come on…

  24. botty says:

    Torrent is the new demo
    For people who actually still care about trying a game before spending money anyway

  25. Huckjam says:

    Does anyone remember the quake shareware CD that came with full versions of ID’s entire catalogue on it that you had to call the 1800# and give them a card number and they would give the unlock code for whatever game you wanted? And does anyone remember the crack that came out for that disk on all the BBS’s almost overnight it was my first run-in with actually cracking software rather than just copying it. Right after that CD keys started.