Why free game demos needs to make a return

Remember the days when you could try before you buy?

The demo is dead. Well maybe not entirely, but there's no question that putting out a demo for a game to get people interested has more or less become an archaic practice to developers outside of the indie scene. In this day and age of big and misleading Molyneaux-esque hype trains through vertical slices and social media, a lot of mistrust between developer/publisher and gamer has arisen.

A lot of mistrust between developer/publisher and gamer has arisen.

I feel that if the industry keeps going as it is, irreparable damage to the medium we love is sure to follow. I'm not talking strictly on the side of idealism, that lying is bad and we the people deserve to be treated better or whatever. But the financial interests of the industry may end up being at stake as well.  

If people get shafted and lied to enough times, common sense dictates that they will eventually stop paying money to play games. There is a little thing called piracy and free is the best value there is, no matter what kind of product we are talking about.

Why don't more studios put out game demos?
Free is the best value there is, no matter what kind of product we are talking about.

Well for one thing, development timelines have become smaller as games have become more advanced. Companies want to put out more games, quicker so that they can maximize their profits. As a result, there isn't enough flexibility for a development team to stop production just to create something completely separate from the final product. This isn't impossible to understand, but there are some undeniably positive effects that a good demo can have on an upcoming game that a vertical slice or social media poetry simply can't provide.

The Right Way to do a Demo

Do you want an example? Look no further than Konami's P.T.


Though it can be argued that P.T. has become somewhat of a detriment to Konami, albeit for reasons they inflicted upon themselves (namely, canceling Silent Hills), P.T.'s singular impact on the gaming community is undeniable and was highly effective at getting people to talk about the game it was demoing. And if you're a publisher trying to hype up a brand new game, isn't that what you want?

The Demo Drought 

To highlight how bare bones the demo scene is, here are the 5 most recent demos on some of the major platforms' online store pages:

Xbox One

  • NBA Live 16 Pro Am
  • FIFA 16
  • Forza Motorsport 6
  • Dying Light
  • PES 2016

PlayStation 4

  • Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance
  • NBA Live 16 Pro Am
  • FIFA 16
  • Destiny
  • PES 2016


  • Over the Hills and Far Away
  • The Universim
  • Impulse Revolution
  • Heroes of a Broken Land
  • Shift Happens

Xbox 360:

  • FIFA 16 
  • PES 2016 
  • ScreamRide 
  • Rabbids Invasion: The Interactive TV Show 
  • LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham 

PlayStation 3

  • FIFA 16 
  • PES 2016 
  • Monster Jam: Battlegrounds
  • NASCAR '15
  • Sparkle Unleashed

As you can see, there isn't a whole lot that is notable and a lot of the stores have the same games. While there are a few highlights like Disgaea 5 and Forza Motorsport 6, a lot of the other big games, like Destiny and Dying Light only got demos AFTER they released, which doesn't help the people who already bought the game at all.

The Wrong Way to do a Demo

On the flip side, there are some companies who do create demos and then charge a fee for them. Once again, we turn to Konami for an example.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes would have unquestionably been considered one of the greatest game demos of all time had Konami not slapped a $40 price tag on it on release. On Metacritic, it scored a very ordinary 75 overall, but that was not a reflection of the quality of the game itself, but rather that the amount of content did not justify the price.

If you've had PS Plus or Xbox Live in the past few months, you probably have a free copy of Ground Zeroes

Now, a year later, with The Phantom Pain now on store shelves, Ground Zeroes is pretty much worthless (money wise). If you've had PS Plus or Xbox Live in the past few months, you probably have a free copy of Ground Zeroes (or two, if you own both platforms) as it was one of the free monthly giveaways. Ground Zeroes was also packaged in as a freebie if you pre-ordered The Phantom Pain on Steam, so it became quite clear that it wasn't much more than a cash grab.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not blasting or picking on Konami (though it may seem like it), they certainly aren't the first to do this, and to be fair, it works because people bought it.

What is the solution?

All isn't and shouldn't be lost on the demo front, and there are things that publishers and developers can do to make them prominent pieces of advertising.

You know those stage demos at E3, Gamescom and the like? GIVE THEM TO US. Seriously, if you want people to lose their shit (even more than they already do) over a new game at a major conference, get a demo in their hands as quickly as possible. It shows confidence in the product and inspires people to want to play and eventually invest. And more importantly, it will get them talking.

If you want people to lose their shit (even more than they already do) over a new game at a major conference, get a demo in their hands as quickly as possible.

Sometimes demos don't even have to have any of the final game's content. They can be stand alone games or levels on their own, like P.T. or The Stanley Parable. In the case of The Stanley Parable, the final game is a commentary on the expectations of what a game is, so the demo took that same commentary logic and applied it to demos, creating a wholly different and self-contained experience that can't be found in the main game.

Game industry, please give us back our demos. There is so much potential, and we're tired of hearing the phrase "unlike anything you've ever seen before".

Published Sep. 18th 2015
View Comments
  • Carol Lane
    I have been in the game world since 1983 the first ship of Nes! The reason no demos is simple. I assume you are referring to console specific. Console sales are dogging! If Nintendo is in Mobile! Screams trouble. The great games are being worked on and the AAA's the minute its done SHIPS! Lastly ( not 100%) but Sony XBOX . They regulate everything. You must buy from them test from them thry can kick it vack fir awhile..,and Sony for a fact uses an encryption which you must pay a royalty on every disk that replicated! PC was easier faster. They choose the games and they choose who gets on! Maybe with mobile killing it they will lighten up but economy not that good to sell games like they use to! There are handful of retailers, Kickstart is funding games demos take time away from getting it done. Hope thst helped!? Not 100% if xbox and Sony still require you buy goods from them plus royalty the profit is minimal. Expendive to nake good games!! The sales model has been turned on its head! :) thats where Valve and Steam jump in!! My buds! Lol
  • Daniel R. Miller
    Featured Contributor
    I see where you're coming from. $$$ always wins in the end, and with the growing interest of games as a legitimate business, you're getting a bunch of non-gamers that want a piece of the pie. Thus, they reel back what's available to the consumer more and more.
  • topher339
    It would be nice to get more demos. It seems the only "demos" we get anymore are stress tests for technical data more than anything else.

    As far as Ground Zeroes, it was a great demo but they turned it into a stand alone feature. That, in itself, was not a bad thing but the $40 price tag was. I personally did not mind paying because I got it half off. I think if they had it down to $15 or $20 they would have been just fine.
  • Daniel R. Miller
    Featured Contributor
    Ground Zeroes in and of itself wasn't bad. It just seemed like one of those games where if you have a little patience, you can save some pretty big bucks (or pay nothing at all). Which turned out to be the case.
  • Elijah Beahm
    Featured Columnist
    As much as I agree about the lack of demos, and a personal wish more E3 demos were made publicly available, I can pretty much guarantee you a number of E3 demos are highly scripted and follow a specific flow. They're also in-progress builds, often running on specific hardware before being optimized. It would make E3 demos be an even greater drain on the developer than they are already. Still, regular demos absolutely need to come back as a thing. While Games with Gold and PS Plus have opened up a lot of new games to gamers, they're still limited in what they can do.
  • Daniel R. Miller
    Featured Contributor
    Yeah, I can tell that a lot of them are scripted. But there are still a number of demos that are playable in booths on the show floor. It seems feasible (at least to me) that those could be put out for everyone to try. I just remember the days where I could open up the Xbox Live/PSN demo pages and just go crazy downloading 5-10 different demos at once.

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