When I was a kid, my family wasn’t doing very well. I picked up my PlayStation from an uncle who was bored with Tomb Raider and its sequels, and most of my games have been inherited by family friends who “outgrew” Digimon or “didn’t have the patience” for Final Fantasy. Shame on you. In a small village somewhere on the edge of the grey, drizzly outback of Britain (read: Derby), I relied on games for entertainment. But there was no steady stream of it.
Enter Demo One. If you’re in your 30s or 40s and you’re from Europe, you’ll be familiar with Demo One: it was the very first PAL PlayStation demo disc, packaged with the original PlayStation launch model. It was everywhere in 1995 and remained a staple well into the early ’00s. The version I had contained a rather bizarre collection of Gran Turismo, Medieval, Kula World, Tekken 3 – as well as trailers for Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, Metal Gear Solid, Spice World and Spyro the Dragon. I’d bet the disc is what got me into Tekken – something I’ve since played in tournaments and made the pilgrimage to Japan to play arcades ever since.
The demos made an impression. My colleagues had various Demo One discs – maybe Warhawk, Twisted Metal, Ridge Racer or Wipeout – and to this day I see a similar imprint on them. Depending on which issue of Official PlayStation Magazine you’ve picked up – or which disc you’ve swiped from a mate – you’ll get another little window into PSOne’s extensive back catalogue.
Back when there was a new game available (at best) twice a year, being able to circulate demo discs and play small slices of games was life-saving. And, importantly for the devs, it would make me want to go out and buy the full title of everything I’ve played if I was able (thanks to a crappy paper round circuit giving me a massive 1.50 £ per day).
10 years later and I just traded in my PS2 and all of its games to buy an Xbox 360. I’m in love; It’s my first time playing an internet-connected console and for some reason I’m getting insulted on Halo 3. Cool! And what is that? There’s an entire section in this snazzy Xbox Marketplace app dedicated to demos. Fantastic!
My love affair with vertical cuts would continue here; to see what all the fuss is about in Just Cause 2, to check out Dead or Alive 4, to see if it scratches the Tekken itch, to wonder why everyone is excited about Lost Planet, to honestly believe that Too Human might be one of the best games I’ve ever played based on about 10 minutes of gameplay… those were the days! A job as a sous chef after school made me enough money to rent games through Lovefilm, so playing demos and renting discs of the final product was routine at the time – and being time rich and cash poor, it was routine Ideal.
As a consumer, demos allowed me to try out games for myself. Sure, official Xbox Magazine and gamesTM might tell me Kane & Lynch is good – but why should I have to believe the words of some stale old games journalists when I could download the game over a pathetic internet connection and try it (a bit of that) for myself? It was as if I was now at all the shows myself, cycling from stand to stand and playing a game for 10 minutes and forming a firm, ‘well-informed’ opinion on it. Some publishers have even jumped in and offered E3-specific demos (see Capcom here) to make you, the gamer, feel like part of the in-crowd.
Then something changed. Towards the end of the 360 era and into the sketchy launches of PS4 and Xbox One, game demos became increasingly rare. Fewer and fewer developers were uploading them to the various digital storefronts, and early access games or betas became the norm instead. Then we were all kind of tricked into paying for early access. At the moment the only demo I remember playing was of Final Fantasy Stranger of Paradise – and somehow that didn’t stop me from buying the final product.
Demos have been slowly dying out for a while, but rumors persist that PlayStation is essentially forcing developers to provide demos for games on the PlayStation Plus Premium service. In late April 2022, an update from the PlayStation developer portal stated that all games with a wholesale price of $34 or more include a two-hour trial for PS Plus Premium members. These won’t be quite the demos of days gone by, but it’s probably the closest we’ll get.
These demos must be available within three months of the game’s release – and be available to consumers for a year. And that’s what Sony says. If you want to buy a game, the platform owner argues, you have to be able to track it first. It’s a lot more work for developers (but hey, demos always have been – you can’t just take a piece of game out of the middle of your build, can you?), but it’s very good for customers.
Even though I can afford more games now than I could afford when I was a kid, I kind of have the opposite problem than I used to; I am now rich in money but poor in time. So to be able to browse through the proverbial PlayStation Plus shelves, pick an obscure Japanese game that rings up my street, and play it for about an hour before I decide… that sounds dreamy! It helps me choose which games to buy and which ones to throw away better than any discount or Steam sale would. And I’d bet a lot of other players are in the same boat.
Some of the initial reports of the PS Plus demo situation seemed to dictate that developers would have to manually create demos – proper vertical cuts a la Demo One or the Xbox Marketplace – for their games. But now that a few things are settled, it looks like simply giving you access to launch the game will be enough. This feels like a good middle ground between developers and consumers; It’s not all that much more work for beleaguered staff already pushing to meet an immovable Christmas deadline, and it also allows players to try a little before you buy.
My taste in games was influenced not insignificantly by demos. And I’ve found some absolute gems by playing demo discs and downloading fuck it why not games through digital storefronts too. I’ve been writing a dissertation on Soul Reaver, and I probably wouldn’t have become so obsessed with it if I hadn’t drilled the opening and an early portion of the doomed open world into my head through an overhauled, worn-out demo on sale.
I hope that Sony’s insistence on offering gamers premium demos via PS Plus will help other gamers find equally important games for themselves. And maybe even give them the chance to misjudge a game’s potential as much as I did in 2008, when I was convinced by a crappy but lovely demo that Too Human would be an honest all-timer.
https://www.vg247.com/ps-plus-premium-demos-are-good With PS+ Premium, I hope everyone can experience the joy of game demos again