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The Slow Death Of The Demo



New demos used to be like a small Christmas, or a birthday that you didn’t really care about but that was better than a regular day. Almost every new game would have some kind of demo available, and back in the day they even came on CDs! Attached to printed game magazines! (ask your parents what either of those things are). Now they seem to be a dying breed, and game developers rarely seem to create them anymore, particularly for triple-A games. So, what happened?

Perhaps the biggest thing is that gaming is now far more mainstream than it was ten and probably even just five years ago. Sony and Microsoft made gaming more affordable for the mainstream, and almost everyone carries a smartphone in their pocket which doubles as a portable gaming device. With the potential audience for your game now much larger than before, it stands to reason that game companies may not want to invest time and money into creating demos for their games. Let’s not forget that these things aren’t cheap. They don’t just coalesce into being in front of you, delivered on a cloud by a cloister of angels; it takes money and manpower to put them together. Spending money and manpower on a demo means there is some money and manpower that you aren’t spending on the main game itself.

Now, for the biggest games in the industry (GTA, Super Mario Bros., Call of Duty, etc.) they clearly need no demo to promote their game. Their audience has developed over literally decades in some cases, and if you’re someone interested in the series then you’re going to buy it whether there’s a demo or not. For something smaller though, a demo could be attractive. The downside of the near-ubiquity of gaming is that you have to compete with a lot of other games, and a demo can be one way to differentiate yourself from the pack, to show what you’re doing that others aren’t.

fifa demo

But demos can also have a dark side. One clear example was Gearbox’s early demo for Aliens: Colonial Marines. It was a vertical slice taken from the game that was still in development, and was shown at both PAX and E3 as “actual gameplay footage”. Colonial Marines was promoted and hyped on the basis of this demo, and no doubt it contributed in no small measure to the number of pre-orders and eventual purchases. Fast forward to when the game was released, and the slice of gameplay the demo was taken from was now radically different in the finished product. Aspects of gameplay were changed, with some being removed entirely. Jim Sterling took particular umbrage at this, and devoted one of his Jimquisition videos to deconstructing the precise changes. It’s well worth a watch.

Something that’s become more popular in recent times has been public betas of games instead of demos, with the meaning of “beta” stretched very thin. These are tantamount to demos without actually having the label of “demo”. Ostensibly they’re public tests of the game, primarily for the purposes of soliciting bug reports, trying to “break” servers during stress test events, and evaluating game balance. Whilst there are certainly some games that do more testing than others, many of these are just glorified demos, with the aim of getting as many people to play a certain game as possible, but at the same time changing little-to-nothing between the beta and the finished product. It’s almost as if “demo” has become a dirty word, with “beta” implying that your feedback is going to contribute directly to the finished product, making you feel good about yourself. Don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with public betas – god knows I’ve been in enough of them over the years to know – but demos posing as betas is almost like false advertising. Don’t pretend that you’re going to listen to the community and make changes before a game goes gold if it’s your real intention simply to ship it as-is. Gamers – like anyone else – respect honesty, and do not like being used.

bf hardline

When it comes to episodic games – such as pretty much anything made by Telltale, for example – the first episode, often given away for free, seems to serve as an unofficial demo. They figure that if you like what you see then you’ll come back for more, and that’s certainly a philosophy I can get behind. Since Telltale have made many critically acclaimed series (The Walking Dead, Tales From The Borderlands, and Sam & Max come to mind) then it would seem they know what they’re doing. I’m also very much in favour of episodic games that can count to three (hint, hint Lord Gaben). The rise of so-called “freemium” games, where the demo is literally the game itself, can also be attributed to this. They figure if you get the game for free then you’ll be more inclined to drop a dollar or two on some extra lives or pretty skins. It’s all fun and games until someone winds up spending over $100 on League of Legends. And I wouldn’t know anything about that. Ahem.

The game demo has humble origins, but these days seems out of favour. Perhaps they’re a relic of a time when gaming was much more of a niche activity, or perhaps the costs involved just became prohibitive, particularly in these days of blockbuster games with blockbuster budgets. If you’re looking for somewhere to cut corners, a demo of your game might well be at the top of the list.

I write about PC games and sometimes it even makes sense. I'm a refined Englishman, but live in Texas with my two young children whom I am training in the ways of the Force.


Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019



Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.


Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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