Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Video game demos used to be popular but fell out of fashion with the rise of digital gaming. However, the trend seems to be reversing now.
  • Demos allow players to try out a game before buying, which is especially important given the high cost of games in the current console generation.
  • Playable demos are becoming more accessible in the modern digital age, with a wide selection of developers offering free demos for download, even without a paid subscription service. It’s important for gamers to support these demos to ensure they continue to be available.

Video game demos used to be a staple of gaming, from discs and floppies included with magazines to downloadable trials that could be played indefinitely. But when the digital age came along, demos seemed to fall out of fashion. Fortunately, that trend seems to be reversing.

Old-School Demo Discs: The Start of Something Great

Early home computer magazines commonly featured floppy disks packed with demos. Later, PC magazines shifted to demo CDs which could store far more data. In the early days of the PlayStation 1 and 2 and the original Xbox, demo discs were a dime a dozen. You’d find them on store shelves at GameStop or even Walmart for dirt cheap, or sometimes you’d find them in cereal boxes.

Popping a demo disc into your PC or console would greet you with snippets of levels from upcoming video games, allowing you to sample them and see what you might want to play in the future.

Sometimes, publishers would even stick demos for other games as bonus content on a full-fledged title. I used to boot up my dad’s copy of Madden ’06 just to play the single level of Burnout Revenge that was in the game’s bonus features pretty frequently. Eventually, that prompted me to check out the series in full and discover one of my favorite childhood video games.

I remember playing these a lot as a kid, running through the same level of Aladdin on the PS1 over and over instead of playing any of the games I actually owned. It was like a gateway to a game I’d never otherwise play, carried by the reassurance that if I didn’t like it, there was little to no sunk cost to compel me to continue playing anyway.

Try Before You Buy

The loss of game demos made it harder for players to get a feel for a game before it was released. Sure, you had magazine previews, gameplay trailers and (maybe) YouTube playthroughs, but nothing can replace playing the game for yourself. Especially with the recent price hike in the current console generation, being able to try out a game before making the $70 commitment is more important than ever.

A free trial for God of War: Ragnarok accessible only through PlayStation Plus Premium.
Zachary Cimaglio/How-To Geek

While some games have free trials that let you play for a certain amount of time at no extra cost, these are often locked behind paid subscriptions such as PlayStation Plus. For a while, this has been the main method of “trying before you buy” as free demos were solely relegated to the occasional indie game most of the time.

Video Game Demos in the Modern Digital Age

With the PS3 and Xbox 360 came the rise of the digital marketplace, and more accessible distribution of video game demos. You no longer had to pick up a physical disc or spend any money at all to try new games. With just an internet connection, you could download demos for hundreds of different games and try them out entirely free of charge.

As this console generation died down, however, so too did the trend of playable demos. Demos became much less common by the time the PS4 and Xbox One took off, making way for a larger focus on subscription services and online multiplayer.

Browsing the PlayStation Store recently, though, I noticed something that sparked this whole nostalgia trip; a “Demos” section. I clicked through it a bit and saw demos for games like Resident Evil 4 VR Mode, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, and even Tekken 8. All of these are free to download and allow you to play a small section of the game without any limits or time restraints.

A portion of the demos currently free to download on the PS5 PlayStation Store.
Zachary Cimaglio/How-To Geek

Many of these same demos are available on Xbox and PC via Steam as well. Even the Nintendo Switch has its fair share of game demos these days.

Now, even without a paid subscription service, a wider selection of developers have started releasing playable demos for free. While it is also easier than ever these days to gauge your interest in an upcoming title, being able to try a game out for yourself can open up new perspectives that may change your mind about an upcoming title.

If avid consumers of video games want to keep themselves at the forefront of the gaming market, then we need to make sure these demos stick around. If there is a game you’re even vaguely interested in, see if it has a demo and check it out first. Keep the download stats high and hopefully this trend will stick around once more.

You’ll find demo lists on both the Xbox and PlayStation stores, on Steam, and on the Nintendo Switch (often in the “Coming Soon” section or simply by searching. If you’re looking for ways to save money on games? Check out our budget-friendly gaming guide.

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By John P.

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