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Once upon a time, video game demo was a big deal. Developers shipped CDs containing special demos of games often attached to magazines, available at game stores, or even strangely available in the oddest of places—including Pizza Hut. That era is long gone for obvious reasons. But why does it feel like the video game demo era is making a return?

Opinion: Is The Era Of Video Game Demos Making A Return? Why This Is A Win For Gamers

For a fact, making video game demos was expensive back in the day. Firstly, the company had to create a demo version of their games. In addition to that, they had to create physical copies in either cartridges or discs and ship them out.

Sometimes more than one game demo may be contained in a disc or cartridge. Perhaps, that happened when different developers teamed up to save cost. Back then, players often stumbled on demo discs for games that were already released.

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The problem with shipping video game demos on CDs was that there was no guarantee that everyone who got the free demo would eventually purchase the game. A post published by Game Industry News identified four types of gamers namely:

  • Those who will purchase a game regardless of reviews and demos
  • Players swayed by video game demos to purchase a game
  • Players who would have purchased the game but changed their mind after the demo
  • Those with no plans to purchase the game

The second category of gamers was usually the target while developers also dreaded the third. There was the risk of not appealing to the third group and eventually eliminating them from game sales. Therefore, a demo wasn’t something that should be shabbily done.

As the cost of game development soared, so did the cost of shipping physical demos of games. That, in addition to the risk of players refusing to purchase the game based on the demo, was too much risk. Developers had to ditch video game demos for a new form of PR.

The era of video game demos gave way to alpha and beta tests

Opinion: Is The Era Of Video Game Demos Making A Return? Why This Is A Win For Gamers

With the explosion of the Internet, developers devised a new way of allowing players to experience a portion of the game. Just like the physical demo, the goal remained the same—to get players excited enough to add the game to their Wishlist and eventually purchase it.

However, alpha and beta tests do more than just get players to add the game to their Wishlist. It presented a new opportunity for developers to test their games on as many platforms as possible and fix any issues that the game may face on different platforms before it is eventually released.

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To make sure that players don’t judge a game by its beta test, developers are often quick to mention that the game is still under development and that some features may change before the final release. However, what we have seen in many cases is a situation where there are little or no changes between the beta and the launch game. A recent example is Skull and Bones.

So, let’s assume that we shouldn’t judge a game by the beta, how then are players supposed to get a glimpse of the final product to help them decide if they should make a purchase or not? This alludes to the importance of having video game demos of the launch product.

Just like video game demos, beta tests are not a true representation of games. Most beta tests allow players to play the game up to a certain level or restrict the number of hours into the game gamers can play. Most demos and beta tests will end before the core of the game kicks in.

The era of review copies of games

While beta tests are still massively done to date, most developers have devised a new means of promoting their games. Today’s prevalent means of video game PR is sending out review copies to media houses and popular streamers with the hope that their readers and followers will be swayed to purchase the game if they positively review it.

Over the years, media houses have grown so powerful that a writeup can make or mar the sales of a game. Some media houses have even been accused of collecting incentives from developers to write rave reviews about their games—but it even gets worse.

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There are instances where a media house may not like a game for the most awkward reasons (something as insignificant as the skin color of the characters or the choice of setting) and end up giving great games bad reviews.

For example, let’s take a look at the spat between IGN and Warner Bros. before the launch of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. IGN reviewers didn’t like the fact that Rocksteady killed their favorite superheroes, a point they mentioned in one of their posts. That negative perception eventually went on to hurt the game’s sales (not saying that was the only reason).

Also, there is a growing phenomenon where gamers don’t form their own opinion on a game but would rather run away with an opinion put out by someone in a “reputable” media house. Should you blame them? Certainly not!

Video games are becoming more expensive, and the economy is becoming tougher. Therefore, every gamer wants to make sure that any game they invest in is worth every cent. So, if a media house they hold in high esteem thinks a game is not that good, they will rather not gamble with their scarce resources.

Return of video game demo era

Recently, more studios are returning to the era of offering demos of their titles and letting the players decide if they want to purchase the full game. Thanks to the Internet, it is now easier for developers to offer video game demos. The good thing is that players can carry over their progress into the game if they decide to invest in the full thing.

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In fact, offering video game demos should be the norm rather than the exception. In this case, the developer is not offering an unfinished version of the game, but rather the exact product that the player would get if they ever decide to open their wallet.

While most developers are still of the opinion that video game demos can hurt sales, putting the fate of their sales in the hands of media houses hasn’t helped either—especially recently. It’s interesting to see that video game demos are making a comeback.

Cyberpunk 2077 is getting a free trial on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S

Opinion: Is The Era Of Video Game Demos Making A Return? Why This Is A Win For Gamers

Although not a new game, CD Projekt Red is offering a free trial of Cyberpunk 2077 on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S. The free trial will start on March 28 at 8 am PDT/3 pm GMT and end on March 31 at 11:59 pm PDT or April 1 at 7:59 am BST. Players will enjoy 5 hours of unrestricted gameplay during the free trial.

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During this time, players will have access to the game without any additional fees or subscriptions. The essence here is undoubtedly to show the player what they are missing out. Also, the 5 hours seem to be ample time for the story to kick off, unlike the one hour or two usually offered by video game demos.

Shift Up is offering a Stellar Blade demo

Opinion: Is The Era Of Video Game Demos Making A Return? Why This Is A Win For Gamers

On Monday, March 25, 2024, Shift Up announced that a free Stellar Blade demo will be available on March 29, from 7 am PDT/2 pm GMT. The demo had previously appeared on the PlayStation Store earlier this month before it was taken down after spending around 30 minutes on the storefront.

“The demo takes place from the very beginning of the game when Eve, a member of the 7th Airborne Squad is sent to Earth on a mission to reclaim the planet from the Naytiba, up to the first boss fight,” wrote Kim Hyung Tae, director at Shift Up Corp.

“This first stage will include the tutorial phase to help you familiarize yourself with basic combat features as you explore post-war Eidos 7, a human city now infested by the Naytiba, giving you an early grasp of gameplay mechanics that will serve you throughout the game’s story.”

The future of video game demos

If any developer ever seeks my opinion, I will tell them without blinking to offer video game demos instead of sending free review copies to media houses. What if the reviewer just lost their cat and is feeling sour or simply doesn’t like the genre of your game? Their mood or personal preference will almost always rub off on their reviews.

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Offering demos may be risky but so also is handing out review copies to media houses. It is easier to offer video game demos now, unlike in the past where they have to be physically shipped. I strongly think it is a better gamble to let the end user have a taste and make their own decisions rather than having a few select media houses decide for millions of their readers or subscribers.

This will help gamers make a purchasing decision based on how they feel about the game rather than what someone else feels. Also, they can be sure they are committing to a game that they love and want to play, rather than a game that after purchase will become part of a library of games that will never be played.

What’s your thought on this? Do you prefer media houses reviewing games for you or you will prefer to play a demo and decide if you want to purchase it? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.


Anthony Emecheta

Anthony Emecheta has over a decade experience as a freelance writer. Gaming has always been a childhood hobby and he is excited to be collaborating with a gaming company as a content creator. It is like having all the things he loves in one place.

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