Are Demos Still Important?

A quick thought and even quicker post - are demos still important? Not a massively important debate, but wondering do others actively seek out demos to help with purchases?

I’m just exercising a thought this morning as I tidy up a review: do demos matter anymore?

Back in the 1800s, our internet used to be printed on tree slices, stripped down of all sepia tones, and instead, static images and letters, often in full colour. CV+GMean MachinesAmiga Format… these were just some of the artefacts you might have seen in a meme on Twitter.

Big boys like Sega and Nintendo did everything on a cartridge in the 90s, which was expensive, but for the computer boys, we used to get cover disks, then discs, with public domain titles, software work £/$1000’s but now FREE, but more importantly: demos. Rather than just read about the games, we could now play a level or two and had zero worries about specs.

You’d play a demo like Myth, look it up, then your mate Daryl would put it on X-COPY for you. Fast-forward a little to the PlayStation and Xbox, and the official mags had coverdiscs. Consoles were harder to pirate by Daryl, so now we’d play a demo, save up our £40 and then buy a new game quarterly. It was a lot of money, so it had to be worth it – there wasn’t a CEX to repurchase it for £1.

Before YouTube became about streaming (that’s not ridiculously long ago before you cry “Grandad!”), gameplay videos were mostly fanboy long plays and Let’s Play! with Swedish screamers named after that bird from Sylvester, the cat. So demos mattered. Yes, the review scores mattered more as there were fewer reviews to look at, but you could also play the games.

Timeshift. The PS3 had a good deal of demos at the time. I lived in Japan when I got mine, and not being good enough at Japanese, I had to go out of town to get the US imports, so playing new games was a bit of reliance on PSN. But, in my opinion, the PS4 dwindled, and there wasn’t much on offer (demos). Instead, I’d go into my local game shop and buy the games with little to no buzz.

I can’t comment too much on Steam as I’ve only been back on it for the past year, but the choice is great – a little too great at times, but the demos often get removed. So let’s switch to the Switch. Last night I had a look at the demos on offer and played Samurai Warriors 5, then Little Nightmares II, and I loved both. I was going to write a post about each, but couldn’t be bothered and instead did this.

Little Nightmares II
Not a scene from the demo. Source: PR

This wasn’t the first time I attempted Little Nightmares II and threw my toys out the cot when I had to read through a ridiculous EULA – for a demo. Well, a beer or two does lower your inhibitions, so I downloaded it and skipped the EULA – I admit it – it was nonsense. Man, I missed out. A mixture of InsideFlicker of Hope and A Tale of Paper, it’s fantastic, and so impressed with the lighting and overall ambience. In short, I’m going to buy this, though debating which platform.

I haven’t read any reviews or bought into any of the write-ups for it. It wasn’t a game that appealed to me in terms of concept, but if it weren’t for the demo, I’d never have considered it. Have I ever bought a game for next-gen where I’d buy the full game? Plenty of times. Those ‘free-to-play’ titles where you can unlock the game at the menu and others that promoted a game that I thought was too run of the mill, but a free demo for 20 minutes changes that up. 

Are demos still important, or are they there to fill up a console until something good comes out? Besides Bugsnax and Astro’s Playroom, there isn’t anything to play on the PS5 for free, just PS4 games – which isn’t bad, but we want ray-tracing. Don’t we?

So, are demos still important? Do they push you into buying a game, or do you download them for something to do? Just a thought.