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A Cry For Demos – why this generation of gamers needs demos more than ever

When was the last time you played a demo for a triple AAA title? It’s a question that I ask myself as I gaze upon the list of titles that were launched last year. 80 games demos were launched on Steam in 2011. Of those titles, the vast majority of them were indie games. Less than a handful of them were triple A titles.

This wouldn’t be so alarming if this hadn’t been the case the case thirteen years ago. Yes, thirteen years ago. Back when it was a war between the first PlayStation and the N64. This was back when demos were everywhere.

I’m, of course, referring to when you could go to your local Pizza Hut and there would be a free PlayStation disc on the counter right by the damned Parmesan cheese. The disc itself was a demo reel of the games that were coming out recently, or had just been released. With that disc, gamers could play the first couple levels of a game and get a genuine feel for the title. After playing this demo disc, gamers would feel properly educated as to what they wanted to put on their wish list for Christmas. Those same demo discs also helped Sony differentiate itself from Nintendo in the console war, as they gave Sony an easy way to market its games without fighting for advertisement space in gaming magazines.

Unfortunately, the time I’m describing has not only become a bygone era, but ones that developers seem to no longer remember. Aside from the occasional “multiplayer demo” this year’s Call of Duty will inevitably offer, there will be few demos from triple A titles. Do you know why?

Because we’re stupid.

While it’s partially the developer’s fault for not offering these demos, it’s mostly our fault. We stopped caring about the investment that a sixty dollar purchase should be. We don’t care. “Here Mr. Game Stop employee. Here’s sixty dollars for the ninth Cooking Mamma sequel. While you’re at it, could you take an extra five dollars to reserve me a copy of Dynasty Warriors Pokemon? That sure would be swell” (actually, Dynasty Warriors Pokemon sounds like a legit title).

Though a bit dramatized, my point stands. Demos don’t exist because developers don’t need them to. No one is demanding them. People are judging more content secondhand from someone else’s review, or staring at a high budget commercial until their money screams “spend me on that thing you just saw!” Most of us seem to have forgotten what quality titles are.

Look at the most recent video game sales. In January of this year (January 28th sale figures), games like Just Dance 3, Kinect Adventures, and Zumba Fitness were in the top ten games sold. These games, though probably not necessarily bad, are generally cheaply produced games that ride on easy marketing. It’s like when they sell twenty dollar swords to kids who like anime; I’m not saying that the marketing departments of these companies are to blame. It’s not even the fault of the parents who buy the games for the kids.

It’s our fault. We, the gamers who once held high PS1 demo discs as proof of the system’s superiority over N64 (which is debatable), have become purchasers of content without making sure it’s worthwhile.

We need demos. Don’t believe me? Would you have purchased Dragon Ball Z GT XVLMNOP if you had actually played the demo first? Probably not. If you had played the demo, you would have realized that Final Fantasy XVXVXCXXXL-4 was a terrible game and not have purchased it, thus saving you a trip to Game Stop where they would have offered you twenty five dollars on a game you paid sixty for. Granted, more and more companies are releasing downloadable demos of games on PSN and Xbox Live, but having to navigate multiple screens and promoted demos to find an obscure title is more of a hassle than I care to mention. In a different age, the hidden gems were packaged right beside the triple AAA titles; in our current marketplaces, the company that pays the most for advertisement is the one whose demo I can see when I log in.

Demos. They’re a tactic that once kept us from buying crappy games, and they’re certainly not outdated. In fact, they’re exactly what this game industry needs if it’s to root out all the crap that gets produced every year. It’s damn surprising we don’t see much of them anymore. Then again, why would we? We’ll buy almost anything so long as the commercials on TV are flashy enough for it. Hell, I could probably go sell Superman 64 2 right now if I ran a commercial for it on Cartoon Network every hour for a week. I wouldn’t even need a demo. In fact, a demo would be the last thing I needed.