Capcom’s release of the Resident Evil Village demo, Maiden, is a short slice of what the full release will offer…sort of. Maiden doesn’t even include combat, it’s over in about 15-20 minutes (unless you get stuck on a simple puzzle, like I did), and in one of my favorite demo design choices, it isn’t even a scenario you’ll encounter in Village itself. Instead, it’s a mood piece, designed to give a sense of the atmosphere of one of Village’s main locations, tease some of the characters we can expect to face, and, hopefully, creep the hell out of you with a constant feeling of dread, as it did me.While they’ve perhaps less ubiquitous than when publishers tucked demo discs into a gaming magazine, Maiden and other recent examples show there are many right ways to execute a demo, reminding us of just how damn effective they can be in selling players on a game in a way no other part of the video game hype machine can.
How a Demo Can Be So Effective
Regardless of what form a demo takes, a good one should accomplish at least a few things: let a player get a sense for some key aspect of gameplay, whether it’s basic gameplay mechanics or how they’ve changed within an ongoing series (like last year’s Bravely Default II demo), or introduce you to an atmosphere of a new world (like BioShock’s demo did back in 2007), or give you a sense of scale and spectacle, (like Final Fantasy VII Remake’s demo in 2020).
I’ll never forget the BioShock demo specifically, as BioShock was a game I was unsure whether I’d like before launch. That demo, which replicated BioShock’s opening minutes in Rapture, is forever ingrained in my head. I don’t know if I would have ever picked up the full game had I not actually played it; it gave me just enough to want more. No amount of reviews, gameplay teases, or trailers could have properly conveyed everything that hands-on did.
Resident Evil 8 Village Showcase Screenshots
Maiden does a fantastic job of preserving the twists and turns the developers have in store for the full game while still communicating what it is about. While it’s likely the more rare case, a totally new slice of gameplay can still thematically and mechanically touch on the full experience.
More commonly, a part of the existing game is sectioned off as a demo on its own, either a level a bit into the game to give a full understanding of gameplay, or even just the game’s opening. And thanks to modern advancements, many of these opening mission demos now let players carry progress forward to the full experience. I will always be happy when I can pick up from that spot in the full game without needing to replay anything. Even when progress doesn’t carry over, though, developers have found smart ways to incentivize players to play a demo with content they may or may not have to replay later. Take Monster Hunter Rise’s recent demo, which doesn’t carry over progress to the upcoming Switch game, but playing it does earn an item booster pack for players when the full game is available.
Risk and Reward
Games by their very nature have to be sold on interactive levels that movies and TV just don’t. Trailers and images are all those entertainment mediums can offer, and while there’s no shortage of both in gaming, they pale in comparison to how much a demo can convey about what playing a game is actually like.
Of course, there’s also the inverse risk – a player can experience a demo, decide a game isn’t for them, and move on without ever buying that game. I can only imagine the risk-cost analysis in releasing a demo. Not every game is for every person, and you can just as easily decide to buy a game after loving a demo as you can decide to never touch it again.
Resident Evil Village PlayStation 5 Screenshots
But when demos work, they really work.
I don’t know if Maiden will necessarily usher in a new era of demos – their popularity seems to come in waves, either from generation to generation or even just on a given console. And plenty of developers have been putting out demos in recent years, so Capcom’s move here isn’t necessarily a new or unexpected one. Tt’s a reminder of the power of a demo. And they’re an enormous player service, allowing for discoverability and understanding of upcoming games on a deeper level. Demos may help you decide a game isn’t for you, but when they help a player fall in love with a new game, they act incredible gateways to worlds you’ve never experienced before, in a way no other tease could ever accomplish.