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All Hail The Brief, Glorious Return Of The PC Demo

Demos have been gone so long there will be younger readers who never really got comfy with them in the first place, but a some news from big PC publishers this week shows that the oldest (and maybe best) way of selling a video game is making a comeback.


OK, so demos never entirely disappeared—and their spirit, if nothing else, has been kept alive with stuff like Steam’s free weekends—but for the most part, the idea that studios would break little chunks of their game off and give them to you to, for free, seemed long gone.


There are many reasons for this, some easier to parse than others, but maybe those are on the wane, because this week we’ve seen some big games on the PC suddenly get proper, old-fashioned demos. No strings, no limited deals, you didn’t even need to buy a magazine. They’re just free to download and free to play.

Halo Wars 2 got things started a few days ago, with a demo that lets you play the first campaign mission and try out the game’s weird card-based multiplayer mode. I’m not the biggest fan of Halo Wars 2, but a free demo is a free demo, and is a good way to see if you’re a fan of its breezy approach to the RTS.

And now, today, Civ VI has dropped a demo of its own. It gives you 60 turns playing as China, and while 60 turns isn’t much in the grand scheme of Civ VI, it’s still enough to poke your mouse around almost all of the game’s features and systems, from district building to spamming horsemen.


Maybe this is just a freak accident of timing, that Microsoft and 2K had the same thought and then released their demos mere days after each other. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a sign that publishers are coming around to the idea that they can do a better job of selling us on a game than a relentless flood of trailers and cries about preordering.

UPDATE: I am reminded that DOOM also had a demo!

Luke Plunkett is a Senior Editor based in Canberra, Australia. He has written a book on cosplay, designed a game about airplanes, and also runs

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I thought demos simply morphed into “torrenting the entire game just to see if I like it. I swear I’ll buy the full version if I do”