All Hail The Brief, Glorious Return Of The PC Demo

All Hail The Brief, Glorious Return Of The PC Demo

Demos have been gone so long there will be younger readers who never really got comfy with them in the first place, but a some news from big PC publishers this week shows that the oldest (and maybe best) way of selling a video game is making a comeback.

OK, so demos never entirely disappeared — and their spirit, if nothing else, has been kept alive with stuff like Steam’s free weekends — but for the most part, the idea that studios would break little chunks of their game off and give them to you to just…play, for free, seemed long gone.

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There are many reasons for this, some easier to parse than others, but maybe those are on the wane, because this week we’ve seen some big games on the PC suddenly get proper, old-fashioned demos. No strings, no limited deals, you didn’t even need to buy a magazine. They’re just free to download and free to play.

Halo Wars 2 got things started a few days ago, with a demo that lets you play the first campaign mission and try out the game’s weird card-based multiplayer mode. I’m not the biggest fan of Halo Wars 2, but a free demo is a free demo, and is a good way to see if you’re a fan of its breezy approach to the RTS.

And now, Civ VI has dropped a demo of its own. It gives you 60 turns playing as China, and while 60 turns isn’t much in the grand scheme of Civ VI, it’s still enough to poke your mouse around almost all of the game’s features and systems, from district building to spamming horsemen.

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Maybe this is just a freak accident of timing, that Microsoft and 2K had the same thought and then released their demos mere days after each other. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a sign that publishers are coming around to the idea that they can do a better job of selling us on a game than a relentless flood of trailers and cries about preordering.


  • Playable demos and Shareware were both great. I miss the old DOS days sometimes. Then I remember all of the fiddling you needed to do to get sound and video drivers to work, and I don’t miss the old DOS days 😛

    • you got the sound and video drivers to work? I still had trouble with the whole expanded/extended memory boot disk rubbish!

        • And then you needed to enter the specific setup of each game you wanted to play and test out all of the sound and video driver options they had until you found one that mostly worked with your hardware.

          • now was it IRQ=5 and DMA=1, or IRQ=1 and DMA=3?..

            at least Little Big Adventure was worth deciphering that ridiculous catalogue of video cards

            and Red Alert had those cool installer animations to alleviate having to go through six different setup procedures

          • Sound cards were usually IRQ 5 or 7. You just needed tweezers and patience every time you needed to change the little black dip switches.

        • and then hope C&C didnt unload your cd driver to help free up memory when you started it

  • Wish there were more demos. Publishers claim they lead to lower sales. Well thats probably because your game is shit and people dont want to buy it. Make a good demo = More people buy the game.

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