Nostalgia Lane: PC Gamer demo discs

Computer gaming was in a different place in the mid and late 1990s. While widespread internet rolled out by 1995 or so, the connection speeds were really too low to get a lot of content fast — and downloading games was pretty much out of the question unless they were small or packed into zip files. I still relied a lot on print media for my gaming news, such as PC Gamer.

My subscription to this magazine came with a huge bonus, which was the monthly demo discs that would come with them. Seriously, every time an issue would arrive in my college mailbox, I felt like I was being gifted this two-for-one boon — lots of gaming stuff to read, and some free games to boot.

The demo discs were usually chock-full of different titles to try, ranging from very bare-bones demos to some games that could occupy hours. I loved that the magazine actually went to the effort of creating these odd CGI interfaces upon booting up the disc, often showcasing the Coconut Monkey mascot and shadowy, steampunk-looking underground offices.

Again, it’s not as if we had a massive selection of instant gaming at our fingertips back then. It was whatever games we had paid for or shared between us. A good demo disc could deliver hours and hours of gaming fun, even if the types of games weren’t usually the ones we’d go for in the store. I actually liked that I was being encouraged to try new things.

I don’t remember any specific games that I played through these, although I know that it was a really great day if one of the demos happened to be a title that I was anticipating. Getting a preview of that would help me decide if the eventual purchase was worth it or not. There were also extras for existing games, such as maps and missions to tack on more play hours.

Often the discs would also include dumb Coconut Monkey-themed games made in-house, but what was the real score was when the discs would include full versions of older games (such as Wing Commander or The Curse of Monkey Island) for free.

Anyway, faster internet pretty much made the demo disc obsolete, but for a while there, it was a godsend to us starved gamers. Thank you, Coconut Monkey, for the fun!

4 thoughts on “Nostalgia Lane: PC Gamer demo discs

  1. Nimgimli (@pasmith) May 11, 2020 / 12:16 pm

    I used to make these, only for Computer Games Strategy Plus. I was strategy editor for S+, then got the sad job of Executive Editor for Interactive Entertainment, which was a CD-only ‘magazine.’ I say sad because I basically got to wind it down, and it was folded into the demo disk for S+, at which point my title became “Demo Wrangler.”

    Interactive Entertainment was really cool but it failed, believe it or not, because there wasn’t an economical way to ship it. It didn’t qualify for publication rates and we had to make a case or cardboard folder (we tried a few things) for it and sent it out that way, and a LOT of copies got busted (particularly in winter when the cold made the disks brittle) and had to be replaced.

    Slipping it in a plastic bag with S+ made it much cheaper to ship out.

  2. everwake May 11, 2020 / 2:25 pm

    I bought a little over a 100 PC Gamer Demo disks a couple of months ago, but they were all past the date when they stopped the dedicated adventure game style menus.

    It’s been fun playing through them, I’m working through about one a week since then. I had started to blog about them but it took forever to play through each disk and grab screenshots. If you’re interested in playing through them yourself I found nearly the whole archive of them at https://archive.org/details/pcgamer-cdroms .

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