Try It, you might like it...
So, I was recently merrily reading a copy of Retro Gamer (yes, I’m one of those who still reads the printed word) where I spied a screen shot of an ice stage from Crash Bandicoot 2 on PSX. My mind was suddenly flashing back to the days when I used to consider purchasing the official PSX magazine based on the content of their monthly demo disc (it was twice the price of other magazines so don’t judge me). The level in the screenshot was my first experience of playing the game you see, and this was achieved weeks in advance of release via the medium of the demo disc, a lost art which has long been succeeded by the downloadable alternative.
I owe a lot of purchase decisions to having had the privilege of playing a game in advance of or around release as a result of them being given away or stuck to the front of a magazine. Off the top of my head I can cite Tony Hawks Pro Skater, Ghost in the Shell, Supersonic Racers, Future Cop LAPD, just to name a few of the titles that I actively sought to purchase having enjoyed them from a demo. It’s noteworthy that several of these wouldn’t have caught my attention otherwise.
Clearly demos of upcoming titles still exist and have even evolved to include limited time early access and betas. As time rolled on, technology advanced and it became more realistic that demo’s could be downloaded rather than provided in disc format. Concurrently (at least towards the end of the original Xbox’s lifespan), games starting having to use large chucks of system hard drives in order to operate proficiently (yes there was a time you could just put a disc in an play it!!) which again isn’t a practicable method of allowing someone sample various titles which they may not be immediately interested in, it’s frankly too much hard work!
So things took a simpler route. You simply find a game you’re interested in (be it via advertisement or recommendation) and download a demo of that title directly and independently. I believe this creates its own limitations however.
When you’re given the benefit of choice it’s a false economy as you’re only serving to limit your decisions by what you’re assuming are your own tastes. (I still think this is convoluted) This might sound awfully contrived to some, but I can personally confirm that I played every single game on those discs, whether I was a fan of the genre or not and I’ve been swayed to a purchase (or at least a rental!) on several occasions something I would not have spent money on otherwise.
It Wouldn’t be fair to have a whinge without acknowledging the options which are currently available out there. Console wise it’s pretty slim pickings unless a title is either still being advertised or goes on sale. The listings by genre are quite loose though which is actually helpful if you’re window shopping for ideas on your next purchase and the PS Store does happily provide a video of each title you look at. Steam goes as far as it can to entice you too with every customisation and recommendation they can muster. Ultimately even Steam falls down on the points I am making however and that is that you actively have to select and download what you want to try, and fret as to whether your hard drive has the space. Also in Steam the choice of titles is overwhelming so it’s doubtful every option would be able to be explored thoroughly.
So is there a solution to the points I’m raising? Can you satisfy both the need to provide a spread of Demo’s whilst working around the hardware limitations involved to run games in the current age? Quite simply, yes they could. Now realistically this would rely on input from developers and publishers to provide enough content to generate and maintain interest but here we go nonetheless!
So picture this;
You opt in to “Chris’ Demo Pak”. What this means is that you agree to allocate a proportion of your HHD space to “the pak” – probably 50-100gb. Following an analysis of your games played (I know you watch me Sony) or a short questionnaire you get the space filled with a selection of game demos and/or trailers or gameplay videos of upcoming titles. Now for clarity this would be demo versions of any titles and not early access (that system seems to work as a side piece but this could encourage that further). The intention of such software would be to impress and to entice to purchase (a taster if your will). Each item is given a predetermined lifespan that it will be available for before it is overwritten with the next item (give developers a chance to update the file or video as it’s likely to be an “in development” piece). You would also have the ability to flag any items for overwriting should you choose. The main benefit will be that the items would download in the background of your gameplay or give you the option to allow them to finish before powering down.
The clincher is that once downloaded, the items would be available to play/watch without any additional loading to or from the hard drive (not to say it can’t use the HDD but the idea isn’t that you’d select it and further updates or downloads or installation would be required, this would all need to be done before it’s available to try). I’m a firm believer that the barrier stopping the masses from experimenting with titles they’re not sure on is the fact it’s a faff for them to do so, which includes the installation and deletion aspects.
To pad out the space they could throw in demo’s of existing downloadable games which may suit your taste, ones you’ve never thought to try because they don’t get advertising or featured anymore They certainly don’t need to be new even, it would be a benefit if they looked to reduce the pricing of older downloadable games however as a sale at any price at that late stage is better than no sale at all!
You’d be left with an icon which would then lead you to a list of what is readily available when you log in which would be an ever changing/updating selection. No fuss, no buts, no coconuts (unless anyone releases a demo called Coconuts).
These are probably the wafflings of a lazy, rose tinted retro-gaming enthusiast, and they are generally speaking. Whilst I often stand there harking back to the days where games launched months in advance in the arcade and where you could just press start once and a game would begin, I do think this is one of the lost opportunities which still stands out there. I would love for practical choice to return to my gaming so I could actually try and find those few hidden gems in the vaster and vaster growing videogame market. It’s crazy that in a time where we have a flourishing indie scene and arguably have never seen so much volume in releases (factoring in AAA titles, DLC, indie games and everything else), that we’re limiting our choice to that which is recommended by our peers, review scores or featured on a billboard for a limited time.
Now to start a bit about bringing back cheat codes…