Back in my day before the Internet was fast and common for every household, we had to use the dial up system. It wasn’t particularly great for surfing the web and thus you only used it if you had to, especially for casual use. We didn’t have many news sites for video game news; we had to rely on paper magazines. These magazines still exist as a way of delivering information to those who don’t want to use the Internet, and like paper, but there is one thing these magazines don’t have any more that made them great back in the day; demo disks.

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Here’s a slideshow of some examples of what a game demo looked like. These examples are from the PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 consoles.

“What is a “Demo Disk””? I hear you cry, well to put it simply, it was a CD or DVD that had demos of games on them. Kind of obvious when you think about it. There was nothing better than reading a gaming magazine, getting excited by a new game advertised in the magazine, and being able to play a level or two whenever you wanted to on a disk you got for free. You don’t know how many games I would later buy when they were officially released, because of the ability to test the game out. The concept of demo discs also helped me as a child learn that the ability to try a game out before you buy it; is a godsend. Why waste money on a game you don’t know that much about when you could actually give it a whirl? Genius! The only real downside was that some demos were exclusive to  certain publications, but since the demos where boxed in standard game box’s, it was pretty easy to tell which magazine had a demo.

Demo discs weren’t just cool enough to give you a sample of a game for free (have I mentioned how awesome that was yet?), they also had other freebies. If a game was trying to build momentum for its eventual release, you could be damned sure there would be a trailer for said game in the demo disk. It wasn’t even just one lone trailer; it could be as many trailers for many different games as the gaming magazine company were allowed to put in. These demos were also exclusive to demo disc owners, so only demo owners could view those trailers, you felt like you had some unique content, which only you and fellow demo disc owners possessed. Occasionally on the demo disk there would also be cheats for various games. Remember when games allowed you to cheat? These cheats would range from gave saves with unlocked content like a “New Game +” save file, but the saves available were usually multiple saves at varying points at in the game, usually the start of a new level. Cheat codes were the other type of cheats available, where you’d have to write down the codes to use. For a gamer child like me back in the day, you don’t know how useful theses cheats were for difficult games like “Jak 2”. There were no video walkthroughs available on YouTube, and cheats back then mostly consisted of whatever was available in “Cheat Code Books” which you would usually have to pay for, or get for free occasionally in gaming magazines. Gaming magazines really were the gift that kept on giving.

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Sony’s PlayStation 2 demos in particular offered a lot of content on their disks. Trailers, cheats and even the occasional competition! The boxes even guaranteed over 18 hours of content! what a deal!

However all good things must come to an end. Demo discs in their traditional sense, no longer exist. When the Internet became more accessible with the use of broadband for households, it became more ubiquitous. No more tedious dial-up, you could reach the Internet in a flash (metaphorically). It’s the Internet you’re using now to read this, and it killed demo discs.

With the advent of console online services such as Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, demos became available as a free  download option without a disc. Game news sites popped up and had access to trailers that were once exclusive to demo discs, and then YouTube was created in 2006 and became the site it is today, game developers now post trailers on YouTube, rather than exclusively on a disk. Cheats became easy to access online as well. As games were getting bigger for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 era this meant increasing the size of demos which made the “disc” concept redundant. It was that as well that helped kill the demo disc.

I know someone will mention how PC gaming magazines such as “PCGamer” offered demo disks until 2011-2012, much longer than their console magazine counterparts; and how the contents from said disk are now available, digitally, and these publications now often offer free game keys for full games, not just demos, along with the other items available on a demo disk. I know about that. OK. I am aware of the existence of said items. I know its cheaper for these magazine companies to not create a physical box and physical disk, and to make everything online, in this scenario. To me though, the whole process just isn’t the same. I enjoyed hearing the opening crack of the DVD box, containing the demo. The installation process (if on a PC) and the menu system, asking where you wanted to go; whether be demo, trailer, etc. You can’t beat that nostalgia.

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Just looking at these Playstation 1 demos take me back…

While I did use the newer online demo feature when the Xbox 360 debuted, and found two game series that would become some of my favourite game of all time; “Blitz: The League” and “Overlord”, from playing their demos,  the process is just not the same. Maybe I’m looking at demo discs with rose tinted glasses. How I miss those good old days, for my father to return from work, with a game magazine with demo disc in hand, to absorb the magazine, to devour the contents of the magazine, then to play the demo and watch the trailers on it. Those were the good old days. You could argue that making demos, trailers and cheats available to everyone is the “morally correct thing to do”, that trailers should be viewed by anyone. That demos should be played by anyone, not he who has the money to buy a magazine and get exclusive access. And you would most certainly be right, everyone deserves the same opportunity, yet for some reason, I can’t help but miss demo disks and the uniqueness of them.

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The back art of game demos were always great at showing off the content available on disk.

Sure gaming magazines and their demos are nowadays available on Ebay for less a pound, because they are 10+ years old and the games they once advertised have long since been released. The ability to open a box and put the disc in your games console, the exclusiveness of it all, the memories of playing games that would become classics, it might be the nostalgia in me, and the spoilt brat, but dammit I miss demo discs. I miss getting first access to trailers, and I miss being able to try games out, to see whether I liked them. Not having to gamble on reviews and gameplay footage, to whether I thought a game was worthy of full retail price, oh times have changed. Oh how I miss those days.


What do you think about demo discs? Are you glad they are gone, or are you sad to see demo discs disappear? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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