I Miss Demo Discs

This is my love letter to the love of my childhood - video game demo discs, of which I still have many stockpiled in my parents’ loft.

uk playstation magazine demo disc.jpg

It all started when I got my first PlayStation, opening the box to reveal a packaged disc containing playable teasers of Battle Arena Toshinden, Destruction Derby, Loaded & Wipeout. While the games I got boxed in the console were good (Gex: Deep Cover Gecko and Tomorrow Never Dies), they were just a snippet of the wealth of games available for this console. And beyond looking for them in your local HMV or reading magazines, you didn’t know what was out there.

That is what made this demo disc so great - not just giving you a taste of other games available, but also diversifying what you could play right from the get go. 

Sometimes, the developers only gave you a tiny snippet of their game like a singular circuit. Other people (hi Hideo Kojima) gave you the massive (and best) first segment of Metal Gear Solid up until you met the DARPA chief. It was awesome, and way more of a wedge of game than anyone would expect.

playstation 2 demo disc.jpg

The monthly magazine demo discs were a gift that kept on giving - pairing editorial content and recommendations with content to try said recommendations out yourself. It was an effective system of marketing for the companies and one that held the users in a high regard.

Following on from this, it was the turn of PlayStation 2, and the generosity kept coming - especially from Konami with giant MGS2 and Silent Hill 2/3 demos, but the list goes far beyond these. In fact, by this point, the demo-to-full game ratio had widened to such an extent that most of my playtime was consumed by cracking through these short snippets.

But of course, this tale doesn’t have a happy ending, as the advent of online console game stores saw the beginning of the end for demos. Highlighted by Xbox Arcade on the 360, playable game snippets were now available to download - which without the backing of written editorial selection or the tactile quality of an actual disc in a case. 

And look at the current state of games… Where do we stand? Trailers, very limited numbers of downloadable demos and just a general peer pressure-related assumption that the game we’re purchasing is going to be great.

Don’t get me wrong, gameplay access on a visual scale has democratised with the advent of online video from Twitch and YouTube, helping people with their purchasing decisions. But nothing beat a demo disc in terms of new game discovery and the joy of having something physical.

Yes, I know that makes me sound old, but hopefully I’m not the only one who thinks like this… Am I?


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