I can’t believe I want to talk about game demos in 2016.
On the 13th of July 2016, or around then because, to be honest, I wasn’t keeping a super close eye on the Xbox store or on what demos were coming out, I heard that DOOM had a demo out. Already having a vague interest in the game from various news sites, I quite quickly hopped onto my Xbox One and downloaded it. What happened next was the best hour or so I had experienced on the Xbox One in a long time. What’s even better was that I didn’t spend a single penny on it, and it caused me to want to spend money on the title.
I got to experience the first level of the now lauded DOOM for no money at all and was convinced to buy the game; albeit not yet for financial reasons (I’m a uni student, gimme a break). Now that should be a convincing argument for demos and of this particular demo in and of itself, however, I do feel like there is a lot more to say about video game demos and their place in this medium we all hold close and dear. They were quite prevalent a few years ago but disappeared recently. I think it’s high time they made a comeback.
Now obviously I wanted to buy DOOM because it is, in fact, a really good game, but the demo is certainly a good chunk of why I wanted to do so. The reason why the demo convinced me was because the first level of the game that is available as the demo, is so fantastic. This first level of DOOM was designed perfectly to show all the good aspects of the title: a smidgen of the story, a nice bit of the environment and, most importantly, it showcased the wonderful combat.
I’m sure it might not be the case that id Software designed and planned the first level of the game to be released as a demo, but I certainly think if other developers adopted such a strategy, this would be quite beneficial for their games. This sort of design kills two birds with one stone: firstly, it is a great start to the full game, which in turn keeps the player interested through the rest of the game since the opening is so interesting. Secondly, it also creates a ready-made demo for the developers to release into the wild. If more developers and games copied this approach from DOOM, they could also benefit from the great opening pace and easily-made demo that this sort of design lends itself to.
But why are more demos a good thing? I’ve talked specifically about the DOOM demo and how good it is a lot so far, but what makes demos themselves such important and worthwhile things? Well, the most obvious reason is that they give a no-risk try at a game. They allow the more budget-conscious or skeptical players to try a game out without spending money. That is something I really wish developers and games did more of; there have been plenty of times where there have been games I sort of regretted buying in the end, and if I had tried out a demo, I would have not bought it in the first place (such as Watch Dogs or Syndicate).
But it also does the opposite in the sense that it drums up excitement in someone who may have never thought to get the game before because they weren’t convinced by marketing. The best way to gauge whether you like something is to experience it yourself, and demos are perfect for that. In fact, for PC gamers, demos can be EXTREMELY important things as they allow PC users to test the game out before buying it to see if their specs are up to snuff. For example, though not exactly a demo, Overwatch’s public beta was what convinced me to buy it on PC, thus allowing me to play with more of my friends. This is as I tried it out and found that it worked on my laptop. If I hadn’t had that chance to try it out, I wouldn’t have known my PC could handle it and would have been less enthusiastic to buy it.
So what’s really my point after all this? Well, it’s that the video game industry would benefit quite a bit from demos and that I hope beyond hope that they come back. They drum up more interest than trailers because you get to play the product (but there are a myriad of reasons why trailers are preferred over demos), they encourage good design/pacing within video games and they lead to smarter and more confident spending from consumers. All in all, demos are a fantastic thing, and I think the games industry and anyone involved in it would benefit greatly from their return/larger emphasis.