Set aside the question of artifice, of doctored screen shots and gameplay footage cut to show only the good bits, and consider this: Despite depicting a game exactly as it appears in the middle of things, screen shots and gameplay videos are still non-interactive media trying to portray an interactive one.


What can you learn from a screen shot? Take this one from Metroid: Other M. If you were to sit down and play the game after looking at just that screen shot, you'd know where to look for the health bar and the map. You'd get a good idea of the character design and the setting. But these aren't things you wouldn't learn within a few minutes of playing on your own. What about the gameplay trailer? You certainly learn more about the things you'll be doing in the game. But can you tell from that video whether the game's controls will feel natural or if all that jumping, dodging, and shooting will leave your hands cramped into grandmotherly claws? Does it show you how satisfying it will be to successfully counter an enemy's attack or to finally emerge victorious from a tricky boss battle? These are things trailers and box art, screen shots and videos can't show you, because they're things you have to do.

When you read a sample chapter from a book, watch a movie trailer, or listen to a radio single, you're engaging with those previews in the same way that you would the final product: by reading, watching, or listening. Unless you're playing something with "Metal Gear Solid" in the title, the bulk of your time with a game isn't going to resemble watching videos. The gaming equivalent of a movie trailer isn't the cinematic trailer but the demo.

However, of the games released in October of this year, a month that saw the release of some of the year's biggest titles, less than one quarter had a demo available on any platform. Can you imagine if only a quarter of the movies released in a summer month had only posters and no trailers? How many tickets would you buy?

Demos have been an integral part of gaming since the late '80s when Apogee Software distributed its Kroz series as shareware, giving the series' first episode away for free while asking players to pay for the rest. That same shareware model fueled sales of classic game franchises like Doom, WarCraft, and Duke Nukem. Demos were almost unheard of in the console space until the PlayStation era when companies began to abandon bulky, expensive cartridges in favor of CDs that could be produced and distributed cheaply and more easily. Those demo discs gave players their first hands-on experience with games like Xenogears, Twisted Metal, and Tomb Raider. Now, in an age when digital distribution has colonized every major gaming platform, it should be easier than ever for gamers to find demos for the classic games of tomorrow. The catch is that publishers need to provide those demos to begin with.

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