ByJay Ricciardi, writer at
Former Senior Editor of Now Loading.
Jay Ricciardi

In case you missed the snuck-in announcement at Bethesda's E3 conference, DOOM has a one-week free demo available. You'll be able to play the first level, which is heralded as one of the best video game intros of recent years. It's a quick and free way to see if the ultra-fun and ultra-violent game is for you.

But, wait, when did demos become a novelty?

I remember growing up with demos being the standard. I remember playing the original Halo demo way back in the early 2000s. I remember standing in GameStop, waiting in line to play the excruciatingly tough Conker's Bad Fur Day demo with the Saving Private Ryan level. It seems like yesterday.

I remember when demos came as CDs in video game magazines. Once upon a time, Xbox Magazine demo discs were half the reason for even getting the magazine! The demo disc was our introduction to the latest games in a time when the only screenshots you could get were in physical magazines.

And then, over the past decade, demos died as the Internet grew. Many of us barely realized it — because there was a new, cheaper way to see gameplay.

For some, it's hard to imagine a time without YouTube — but YouTube was only created a decade ago in 2005!

YouTube — and eventually live streaming — effectively did away with the concept of the demo. We didn't need a demo disc or magazine to see a game in action, we could just jump online and watch a video playthrough. What could be more convenient?

But the change happened even before YouTube, with the iconic and sorely missed G4TV.

X-Play was kind of a big deal for game previews.
X-Play was kind of a big deal for game previews.

In 1998, G4 opened the gateway to seeing gameplay in a way that had never been done before and acted as the half-way transition point between game magazines and YouTube. At the time, personalities such as Adam Sessler, Morgan Webb, Diane Mizota, Laura Foy, Tina Wood, Chris Hardwick, and even Wil Wheaton were our guides to the world of gameplay, previews, reviews, and list shows.

For the first time, really, you could watch produced footage of a game with an entertaining personality, and people flocked to watch. But it would still be a long wait until 2005, when YouTube provided anyone with screen-capture tools the opportunity to post footage of their own.

It's hard to imagine  games without YouTube previews
It's hard to imagine games without YouTube previews

Demos never really died but took on an element of rarity and exclusivity via trade shows and gameplay beta tests.

Now, this is all not to say demos no longer exist — they've always been around in one way or another. But they've increasingly been exclusive to gaming conventions, where developers and PR reps actually have the opportunity sit nearby the gamers and games press to answer questions and provide insight.

The proliferation of game betas also played a large roll in eliminating demos.

In order to stress-test a game, a company will just invite potential players to play the game in an unpolished and limited state. No need for a demo CD, just a quick download and you're already testing a game out.

Plus, developers themselves can just show us their games now. Any game developer can post footage of their own game at any point of the development cycle. They can even live stream the game with informative and colorful commentary. Developers often actually pay popular gaming personalities to play games as a preview and marketing strategy, signal-boosting a "demo" to massive subscriber counts.

With all this in mind, it might seem strange for DOOM to have a demo.

There are tons of game footages out there of the new game, video reviews, and live streams (we even did our own DOOM live stream on the Now Loading Facebook page).

So, why?

Well, because DOOM is an old-school franchise.

The people who played and loved the original three Doom games remember demos. They grew up with demos. They remember demo CDs and floppy discs. They remember saving up coins from the couch to buy they latest gaming magazine issue so they could get at that demo disc. They remember standing in line at the local game store for a turn at whatever was new and hot in the demo kiosk.

There's a certain era of nostalgia that DOOM appeals to, and it's the same era that has a fondness for the nostalgia for game demo discs. It might seem strange, or even trite, to have a demo these days when great footage is available in spades online. But there's just something special, even a bit arcane, about our nostalgia for game demos.


Latest from our Creators