Is the classic game demo dead?

For us console gamers, this generation has been that of the betas. From Battlefield to Destiny, from Halo 5 to The Division, betas have been rife in this generation of games console. The idea of a beta is to allow gamers to crash test a game. They’re mostly there for developers to get ideas of bugs and of server performances – they’re not necessarily supposed to be game demos, but all too often, people treat them as if they were. When I was a kid, I’d often buy copies of PlayStation magazine just for the game demos. You’d get a disc with three or four demos stored within it, for you to play. This was pre-YouTube, when it wasn’t easy, or even possible at times, to watch footage of upcoming games. Since then, with the rise of game streaming, video services like YouTube and a plethora of video-game journalism websites, you’d probably have to go out of your way to avoid clips of games – be it cinematic trailers or extended gameplay footage.

I looked at the Xbox One store, in the game demos section (which is incidentally squirreled away at the bottom of the store, out of sight and out of mind) and I pondered the game demos on offer. The large majority of the demos are Lego games, with sports games taking second place. Thrown in there is ScreamRide, BLADESTORM and Dying Light, for good measure. These games have been out for well over a year, and Dying Light is the eighth most recent game demo uploaded. Can you guess which is the most recent? It’s the Division beta.

In a way, a beta is the same as a demo. The key difference is that a demo is usually taken from the finished game, whereas a beta is designed to help developers add the finishing touches to a game. Other than that, though, they’re one in the same. I can see developers moving away from the classic game demo, though. A beta serves similar purposes as, although it’s not necessarily supposed to advertise the final game, it inevitably does. I mean, why miss out on an opportunity to have a large number of users testing a game for you, finding bugs for you and increasing the exposure of your title at the same time? Plus, with the growing culture of day one downloads and pre-orders, people rarely wait for a game demo to be released anymore. It makes sense to opt for an experience where people expect to go into an unfinished game, which would perhaps hold more content than a standard demo, over an experience where the player is going in expecting to be playing a segment of a finished game.

I guess this also plays into the whole game preview experience, which has been a staple of Steam for some time, but a relatively recent addition on the Xbox One. Kind of like an extended beta, this type of preview service – assuming it takes off over the next few years – will probably be the final nail in the coffin for the game demos. But, then I think of game demos like P.T which was so popular on the PS4 last year, and I wonder if they still have some legs. Granted, P.T was something quite different from your average game demo, particularly as the game that it was demoing was never actually made (though it still could be). But it does show some potential.

What do you think? Do you think that the preview service or game betas will end up replacing the once loved game demo? Let me know in the comments below!