2016 Saw the Long-Needed Return of the Video Game Demo

In the late 90's I subscribed to the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine a short while after getting my first PlayStation. I can't remember much about what was written in the magazines, but I was always excited to get one in the mail for one reason and one reason only: the demo discs.

Included with every magazine was a CD that contained brief demos for upward of eight games. While most of the games weren't particularly notable, several of the best games to ever come to PlayStation would arrive on these plastic discs, introducing titles like Silent Hill, The Legend of Dragoon, and Brave Fencer Musashi to the masses.

As with many other kids of my generation, I didn't have access to unlimited games. So, when I was looking for the next title to have my parents buy for me I had to be very careful about choosing something that would last me at least a couple weeks. Knowing this, my growing library of demo discs would serve as my most powerful instrument to make informed purchasing decisions.

We now live in a world where demo discs are unnecessary, or at least the physical medium, anyway. Instead, we can quickly download and play games to give them a try before the night is over,

This incredible accessibility is something you think publishers would have been taking advantage of since the dawn of Steam, Xbox Live, and PSN. Instead, gamers have had to suffer through a decade of having to decide whether or not to buy a game at launch based on marketing material and early impressions. For the past several years demos have been remarkably rare, and you can probably count how many AAA PS4/Xbox One titles received demos from 2013 – 2015 on two hands.

For one reason or another that changed in 2016. Publishers have become very open to sharing their creation in a free, albeit brief fashion with the belief that it'll sell consumers—literally—on the experience. The PlayStation Store in particular is now heavily populated with demos, enough that you could probably get a month's worth of entertainment from all of them. Xbox Live is a little behind, but makes a big splash when it introduces something (usually from the Forza series).

During the past 12 months we have seen demos for each of the following released and upcoming games:

  • Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
  • Resident Evil 7
  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Gravity Rush 2
  • Pokemon Sun & Moon
  • World of Final Fantasy
  • PaRappa The Rapper Remastered
  • ​Forza Horizon 3
  • Nioh: Automata

And that's just a sample as there are more than a dozen others.

In a lot of cases, these demos were enough to make us want to put down money to buy the game. In that way, it's a win/win where we as the gamer appreciate being able to play before buying, and publishers get some extra exposure for their game. In cases like with Nier: Automata and Final Fantasy XV, we are able to get hands-on time with the game months before launch, providing great insight into what we can expect.

Among all the gaming trends this year, this is the one that I most hope sticks around for the future. Demos are a great thing for the industry, and a nice change of pace from the pricey nature of modern games.