Return Of Game Demos?

Growing up it almost seemed uncommon for a game not to get a demo released before launch. Magazines came with demo disks strapped to the front of them and I would purposely buy the magazine to play just one of the countless games included. Gradually as consoles evolved and became more connected to the internet, the classic demo disk evolved too and we could download demos straight to our consoles.

As time went by though these demos became less and less common. This was partly due to a change in how games were designed. During the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 lifecycle, the open world genre took off and became the standard bearer for games just like 3D platformers had been in the past. This style of game is incredible hard to demo to a consumer unless it’s in a controller environment such as a conversion. By their very nature, open world games are open ended with various objectives and paths to take. Such freedom makes it nearly impossible for developers to craft a representative experience of their game while still limiting players from playing things they shouldn’t or encountering bugs that developers haven’t had time to fix pre-launch.

The other significant reason why we see less game demos is due to hackers. As technology has improved and social media has become more prevalent it is now even easier for those who want to, to hack a game and post spoilers for unreleased games. This is worsened when dealing with open games as any demo download will include information in its code for all the various options that may be presented in the full experience. Games such as Pokémon, who still provide demos for their latest games, suffer greatly from this with the most PokéDex of recent games being fully leaked before the games release.

While social media and games journalism help consumers greatly in deciding which games they might enjoy, there still is no real substitute for taking control of a game yourself. Something I think could change in the coming years thanks to video game streaming services.

Last November we saw the first major push of a game streaming service in the form of Google Stadia. This service functions in a similar way to how Netflix works with movies. You access the game via the Google servers and the image is streamed to your screen of choice while your inputs are streamed back to the server at such a speed to minimise input lag. You don’t download the game and you don’t get any of the games code stored on your devises, as made apparent by the ability to play games on a Google Chromecast.

It is because of you not actually downloading the game that I think we could potentially see access to more game demos be made available. If you don’t have access to the games code then people can’t hack the game and reveal things the developer doesn’t want you seeing yet. It would also allow developers to give access to demos for a limited time unlike currently, where if someone downloads a demo they can keep it on their system indefinitely just like the P.T. demo that many still have access to despite it being taken down from digital store fronts.

With Microsoft currently in beta of their own xCloud streaming platform and Sony surely looking to developer their PlayStation Now service further with the PlayStation 5, within the next 6 months we could have three video game streaming options for players to choose from.

While an increase in game demos may not sound that likely it is already taking place to some degree. When speaking to IGN last month, Bungie’s Patrick O’Kelley explained that they have partnered with Google Stadia during lockdown measures to allow play testers to still have access to updates and patches on a large scale.

IGN – Inside Bungie’s Rapid Response to the US COVID-19 Crisis

This approach could then, in theory, be extrapolated out to the general population to allow players to play a demo version of pre-release games. Other techniques already implemented in other demos could also feature too. Demos could be run on a timer that stops the users play session after ‘x’ amount of time to prevent players from accessing too much of a game.

A feature that Google touted during their reveal event could also play a key role in this kind of system. State Share on Google Stadia allows a player to launch a game and play the same moments that someone else just has under the same circumstances. Google says this could be used to challenge friends to the same level in speed runs or play the same moments in a procedurally generated game.

Stadia Blog – The Magic of State Share, Explained

This technology could then surely be used by developers to provide an experience that they feel would best highlight their game while choosing a section that avoids any significant spoilers.

Another interesting option is how this technology could be used in the next gen console wars. Many AAA games are now aligned with one of the console manufacturers for exclusive content, promotional rights and sometimes even complete platform exclusivity. Demos could therefore play into this with publishers giving demo access to their partnered platform.

With the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 launching later this year, and their respective game streaming services likely a key aspect to their ecosystems, we could very well see a version of game demoing at their launch. Console launches often have to come various hurdles though and as this style of demo is software based it could also be applied to their stores in the future without needing a change of hardware.

I for one would welcome a return of demos. With more and more games being developed and it would allow gamers to purchase games with a greater confidence that they will enjoy the experience they are buying into. This could very well increase game sales too as players demos can convince a player with its gameplay as much as its aesthetics.

The clock is ticking for when we will see more of the next generation consoles and what their UI’s and software features will be. Be sure to keep an eye out, as well as checking back here, to see if the game demo will in fact be making its return

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