Back in 2020, I mused about how much I loved the PC Gamer demo discs, including their thematic CGI menus. But those weren’t the only demo discs on the scene, and today I wanted to cast my memory back to the console equivalent.
The earlier disc-based consoles, especially the PlayStation 1 and 2, weren’t internet machines capable of downloading demos and games. I mean, technically the PS2 could be kitted out with a modem for like two games, but for all intents and purposes, it wasn’t online. So players had limited options when it came to accessing new titles: Pony up a full price based on reviews and/or word-of-mouth, try it over at a friend’s house, rent it, or snag a demo disc from somewhere.
This pre-internet period for consoles was a boom era for the demo disc. By stripping a title down to a single level or so, companies could squeeze several titles onto a single disc and distribute them all over the place. Studios saw it as shrewd marketing, but us players saw it as a whole lot of free gaming. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a majority of players who used these discs weren’t doing so to try-before-you-buy — they were engaging with these mini-games as if they were the full product.
I played several of these demo discs to death, especially in the period of my life where disposable income was a laughable concept. And I appreciate that it expanded my gaming adventures past titles I would actually pay for. I wouldn’t buy a Tony Hawk game, but I would certainly boot up a free demo to kill an hour or two.
Unlike PC Gamer’s demo discs, I never had a regular source of discs for consoles. Some I got from various magazines, or game stores, or even Pizza Hut. Once in a while, a studio might include demos as bonuses if you purchased a main product. I know Squaresoft did this, such as getting a few levels of Parasite Eve if, say, you bought Final Fantasy VIII.
I’m not super-nostalgic for demo discs, but back in the day they offered up dozens of hours of fun for the low cost of nothing. Sampling all sorts of different games and perhaps even finding a title to invest the price of a box was an adventure in and of itself.