Try before you buy. It's a simple concept really, and one that gamers used to enjoy. From demo discs being inserted into magazines to digital download demos, players used to get a taste of a game in its final, polished state. But now that is a rare event.
Forza Horizon 5 is set to be the first Forza game on PC that forgoes a demo. Opting instead to rely on Xbox Game Pass and pure hype to tempt in new players. Horizon 3 was the first Forza title to come to PC back in 2016, and its demo allowed players to test out the game on their rigs and act as a first impression for newcomers. But now that's not an option, and Forza is far from the only franchise turning its back on demos.
Why is this? Why have developers stopped giving players the chance to try out games when it's so clear that taking a title for a test drive will only encourage full purchases?
The beta problem
Demos have mostly been replaced with betas. Call of Duty: Vanguard is just the latest huge title to give players a beta to play, letting them get a taste for the game before potentially buying it. But that is far from the same as a demo.
Betas are, by their very nature, unfinished games. They aren't giving you a clear look at what the game is, but tempting you with what it could be. You can wave away concerns with gameplay mechanics and glitches because they'll be fixed when the game fully releases, right?
They are also using gamers to playtest titles, and whether they are open, full-scale betas or closed ones, most games have some sort of beta now that they will use to drive hype, engage fans, and draw in new players. They are no replacement for demos though.
Games as a live service
The other big barrier to demos is that games are now constantly changing. Be it new seasons that drop content and tweak mechanics, or monthly updates that alter gameplay or add new modes.
With developers constantly working on the next way to monetise a title and continuously changing how a game plays, a demo would quickly become obsolete.
This live service nature also means that games can now ship incomplete and be patched up later (Hello Cyberpunk 2077!).
While that's good for getting new tracks into Assetto Corsa Competizione or Automobilista 2, it means any demo goes from showing what a game is to showing what a game was. Unless of course the developers update the demo too, but that's just more resourcing.
Demos need to come back
With more games than ever, from epic Indie titles to huge Triple-A games, no one can possibly afford to buy everything, which is why a trial system is so important.
From time to time there are free play weekends, but they are not regular enough to truly try games before buying. While subscription services like Xbox Game Pass let players try out full games, it still comes at a cost and with limited choice.
All of this means every game you purchase is a shot in the dark. Has it been overhyped? Are the reviews correct? You never really know until you play yourself, and now the only option to play is to part with your money.
Bring back demos, open up gaming and give players more choice. You never know, it might just get you more players.
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