Once upon a time, game demos were everywhere. Hell, for a happy but fleeting moment in the early 2000s, even Nintendo made a habit of releasing regularly. GameCube Preview Discs. The discs, 3.1 inches in diameter, would make a handful of essays available for fashionable games. But like Heelys, Low Rise Jeans, Blockbuster, George W. Bush, and other thoughtless relics of the era, the game demo has faded into obscurity.
Over the past few months, however, it’s been clear that the biggest video game publishers are picking up on the demo art.
Today, amid a flurry of Xbox news (including announcing Game Pass streaming for Samsung smart TVs), Microsoft unveiled a program that makes game demos available to Xbox Game Pass subscribers. Called Project Moorcroft, it is still in development and should be deployed sometime next year. The idea, with gaming conferences going digital due to the pandemic and with E3 itself seeing its influence rapidly wane, is to replicate the act of testing upcoming games on the showfloor at events. like PAX and Gamescom.
“We said, ‘You know what, why not take Game Pass and make it like the showfloor? ‘” Xbox Vice President Sarah Bond said during a press briefing. “Why don’t we allow developers to take a piece, a level of their game, release it to Game Pass, generate excitement for what’s to come, and also get those really valuable feedback ?”
Developers who make games available through the Moorcroft project will receive compensation. Microsoft representatives said Kotaku that the payment will be a one-time payment, but declined to clarify exactly how that works – whether, for example, the exact payment would be the same for all developers or calculated via a sliding scale based, for example, on the number of times a demo is playing.
Either way, it’s a marked departure from how Sony, which is too to bet big on the demo game is to handle things. This month, as part of the PS Plus relaunch with fanfareSony will offer game trials to those who subscribe to its most expensive tier (PS Plus Premium, which costs US$18 ($25) per month or US$120 ($167) per year).
It’s a boon for subscribers, yes, but developers have expressed concerns about warrants allegedly issued by Sony regarding games developed for PlayStation. Any game above the seemingly arbitrary wholesale price of US$34 ($47) must have a two-hour demo. These demos must be available for at least one year. It’s unclear whether or not Sony will provide additional compensation to developers who have to put in extra work to create these trials. Sony representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
The Switch has also seen a wide proliferation of game trials recently. As of this writing, the Nintendo eShop currently lists 217 game demos – and no shortage of first-party games either. This year alone, Nintendo has made demos available for a number of its biggest first-party games, including the tactical RPG Triangle strategythe adventure platform game Kirby and the Forgotten Landthe football match Mario Strikers: Battle League (out this week), and the grief simulator musou Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. (The demo of three hopes will allow you to transfer save data to the main game when it launches later this month.) Last year was no different; Metroid Dread, WarioWare: Unite!and Bravely Default II all have demos.
Of course, the PC gaming ecosystem has always been more welcoming to game demos than the more strictly controlled console showcases. But hey, fun point for this blog: Steam’s next festivalwhich makes hundreds of game demos available for a week, kicks off Monday.
I don’t lose sight of how prohibitively expensive gambling is as a hobby, especially seeing how tight money is these days. Lease is to skyrocket. Inflation has transformed basic necessities in luxury goods. Video games are rapidly moving towards a US$70 ($97) norm, with even this year Call of Duty fully adopting the new price. And all this while salaries haven’t budged since the GameCube preview disc era. (The federal minimum wage of US$7.25 ($10) has unchanged since 2009.) Game demos don’t make gaming more affordable, of course, but they do provide some insight into how you’re spending your money. In the midst of a financial landscape as hostile as this, I will take it.
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