Demos have been around for a long time – they’ve been an integral part of the gaming community since way back when – who doesn’t remember picking up the latest gaming magazine with a free demo disc inside?

They’ve been a way for gamers to get a hands on experience of an unreleased game before deciding whether or not they want to spend their money on the full product. Good idea, right? Yeah. Maybe.

In the last few years demos, particularly for AAA game are becoming few and far between. The majority of people are annoyed by this, of course- people love to try before they buy and that holds true for every product across the board. Whether it’s test driving a new car or getting a look at a new television in store before you buy, people like to know what they’re getting for their money. Yet with them becoming increasingly difficult to find- if you’re a fan of demos and are browsing the Steam catalog you’re likely to be disappointed – the same holds true for both the Playstation and XBox stores.

It’s been a popular topic among gamers recently, with many people feeling that consumers have a right to see what they’re buying before they commit. Bethesda’s recent announcement that they’re shutting down early game reviews kind of goes hand in hand with the topic, and caused a stir among the gaming community, with people saying that it seems as though game dev studios are reluctant for gamers to get their opinion about games out pre-release. Go to any game forum and there’s likely to be a few threads asking where all the demos went, and though there’s no definite answer to such a broad question, there are a few logical reasons why studios may be more reluctant to release demos now than they were in the past.

So what’s going on?

Times have changed

Back in the day, the main source of our gaming news were magazines. We’d be able to check out all the early game reviews and sneak peaks there. Problem is, seeing an early review and a few screenshots of a game wasn’t necessarily enough for us to be willing to pay out the big bucks for the game. We only got to see what the magazine printed, and we had no real way to check it out for ourselves and make a decision. Demos were useful. Now we have the internet, things are entirely different. We get to see so much more than we did before- from trailers to screenshots to gameplay videos we get to all but experience the game for ourselves from our computer screen. Depending on how much a studio feels like sharing, we can even see work in progress shots and learn about how development’s going in general. From an advertising point of view, it can be argued that demos just aren’t necessary anymore. We may complain when we can’t try the game first hand before buying, but if we’re interested there’s more than enough online to give us a pretty good idea of whether we’re going to want it or not.


Gamers can be pretty unforgiving


It’s not something that many of us are willing to admit to, but some gamers can be sort of unforgiving. The second that a highly anticipated AAA game is released, Sites from WordPress to Youtube are flooded with people leaving reviews that leave something to be desired. In the internet page people can get their opinions everywhere, even if they aren’t particularly fair. We’ve all seen games getting terrible reviews before release based on demos purely because “This isn’t exactly what I wanted it to be” or because “I could have made that game better than that by myself.” Despite the fact these types of reviews are still going to rear their heads after release, when they’re floating around the internet in vast numbers before pre-orders are even up it can seriously damage sales figures. Though many, many gamers will leave fair and balanced reviews whether they’re positive or negative ones it isn’t always enough to fix the immediate damage done. “Any press is good press.” isn’t necessarily true when it comes to unreleased games.

Early reviews of Doom left people questioning the game's quality. Image Credit: Bethesda

Early reviews of Doom left people questioning the game’s quality.
Image Credit: Bethesda

Some Demos are just bad

For whatever reason, some demos are just bad. Whether it’s time constraints, the fact that picking the perfect point from the game to let people try or something else entirely is debatable, but it’s not surprising that many studios seem to be of the opinion that no demo at all is better than a bad one. No matter how good the full game might be, you’re always going to face the risk of making a truly terrible demo, and if gamers are wanting to try before they buy, if they don’t like what they try- they’re not going to buy and if it’s just not a true representation of the full game then it poses problems for both the studio and the gamers who might love it if they had never gotten their hands on a bad demo.

The Pokemon Sun & Moon demo put me off buying the game at release. Image Credit: Nintendo

The Pokemon Sun & Moon demo put me off buying the game at release.
Image Credit: Nintendo

Anyone who read my Pokémon article recently will know that I’m a huge Pokémon fan. I’ve loved the games since my Parents accidentally bought me both Red and Blue thinking they were entirely different games. I was ready to buy Pokémon Moon the second it came out, then I played the Demo. I’m not saying it was a bad demo- it got most people I’ve spoken to excited, but there was something about it that I wasn’t a huge fan of. Whether it was the walking animation which seemed a little odd to me, or the fact that I felt the world was kind of empty it stopped me buying it as soon as it was available. I still will buy it, and I’ll probably play it for much longer than I’d be willing to admit to, but not enjoying the demo was enough for me to be content with continuing the games I’m currently playing instead of taking a pause from them to pick up Pokémon. That wasn’t even a demo I thought was bad. 

Some gamers are content to just play demos

This is why we can’t have nice things…

While browsing for opinions surrounding the recent lack of demos on gaming forums, I noticed that a surprising number of gamers were saying that they enjoyed downloading the demos, playing them and never bothering to buy a full game. Obviously if people are playing demos instead of buying the full game this poses a problem for studios. If people are abusing the demo system, it’s going to get taken away.

Obviously there are easy fixes to this, Nintendo often set their demos so you can only play them a limited number of times before you aren’t allowed to play it anymore. It seems like if this was the only issue, there would be an easy resolve.

Whether we like it or not, it seems as though AAA demos aren’t going to be as common as they were any time soon. With the information, trailers and gameplay videos made available to us on the internet and the fact that releasing a demo can be risky business, though it’s understandable that many people are frustrated it’s not particularly surprising that so many studios are opting not to release them.