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I was reading on this page about the Final Fantasy demo cartridge, and I wondered why more cartridge games didn't have demos.

From this wiki page:

The availability of demos varies between formats. Systems that use cartridges typically did not have demos available to them, due to the cost of duplication, whereas systems supporting more cheaply produced media, such as tapes, floppy disks, and later CD-ROM and DVD-ROM have; the Internet has more recently been a source for demos, although typically this is in addition to other distribution media available for the system in question. Also the Xbox Live as well as other gaming services have demos available for download 24/7.

Was cost really the reason why cartridge games didn't have more demos?

The company still had to mass produce the full game, I don't see why they couldn't implement a system where if the player was interested they could produce them as needed. For example, special order a demo and get it in the mail.

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    It wasn't cost effective to produce copies of game demos on-demand on tapes, floppies or CD/DVD-ROMs. It would've been prohibitively expensive to produce them on-demand on cartridges. Cartridges need to be produced in large batches to economical otherwise labour and setup costs would make them cost more to produce than the full retail price of a game, – Ross Ridge Oct 6 '18 at 16:30
  • @RossRidge - Short, simple and to the point. Post it as an answer and I'll check it. :D. – user10643 Oct 6 '18 at 19:51
  • Maybe could still be meaningful to make demo collection ROMs and sell coupled with a gamer magazine. A bit in the same way as demo CDs for collections of PC games became popular in the end of the 90s before many got broadband internet. Imagine you are magazine editor. You collect demos from game companies, charge them for being visible to the reader audience and compile a ROM with all those games on them. Would only work if a cartridge could store in total all the information needed for many demos. – mathreadler Oct 6 '18 at 21:46
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For many demos, the vast majority of copies were produced not by the creators of the demos, but by other people who wanted to share them. Consequently, someone writing a demo may have many thousands of copies distributed at essentially no cost. Such a distribution approach works great with formats that can be reproduced by recipients; it doesn't really work with most cartridge formats, however.

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    You're aware that the question is not about 'demos' for competition/from the demo szene, but demos of games? But thankyou for reminding me about this additional interpretation of the term 'demo' - I'll add a note about that. – Raffzahn Oct 6 '18 at 22:48
  • @Raffzahn: The same principle applied for both kinds of demos. Many demo versions of games were rather widely copied, especially if they would provide a good casual gaming experience. – supercat Oct 6 '18 at 22:54
  • Do you have any (contemporary, non obscure) example_s_ for commercial games this regarding cardridge games? So far this answer is not related to the question at all. – Raffzahn Oct 7 '18 at 6:49
  • I've played quite a number of limited demo versions of games that were produced by companies, but duplicated by 'whomever', including Shanghai (Activision), Lemmings (Psygnosis), etc. – supercat Oct 7 '18 at 17:05
  • ON CARDRIDGES? As that's the point here. – Raffzahn Oct 7 '18 at 17:06
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It might be useful to define the term demo first. To my understanding demo in the questions context means a in functional (level, etc.) restricted game meant to be given to end customers so they can test the game and buy the real copy later on (lets call it Demotype A), versus demo as in a not for resale demonstartion of the whole (or at least in stage of development whole) game given out to potential sales partners, development partners, or journalists for pre-gold reporting (lets call it DemoType B; *1).

Demotype B

As of this, the mentioned example is only a a demo of the later kind (Type B). For this kind per unit investment is rather irelevant, as doing a presentation where it gets used costs way more than the hardware needed to produce one (or a few) - which isn't cheap either (*2). For this kind of usage 'only' a development snapshoot (test version) is needed, as it's not intended for use by end users (*3). Everyone targeted will be aware that it's a preliminary, potential untested and buggy version. A restriction of features is not neccessary for this audience - saving to put additional time constrains to already stressed development (Is there any game development without?).

Demotype A

Producing demos of the first kind (Type A) in contrast must come with a cost comparable to other kinds of advertisement. Maybe a bit higher as it is more targeted, but not much. Making a CD, even with a run of just a few thousand, was already way below 50 cent per unit, including a printed cover. And with higher volume the cost dropped even further, making it feasible to use it as advertisement.

On the other hand, making a cartridge involves not only the standard parts like PCB, plasic hull and sales cover (which in itself already go past the 1 USD mark in the 1990s) but also making a ROM. Doing a ROM has a base price of >20 grand for mask and run cost plus per chip cost. Switching to programmable technologies only saves for very small runs, as it only removes (most of) the setup cost, but adds higher per unit cost - not just because the devices used (PROMs) are more expensive than similar sized ROMs, but due the handling effort in programming them.

So handing out a demo-CD will be not much cost to start with, demo-ROMs do have a hefty initial price tag. And while both decrease over volume, the starting cost for a cardridge are much higher than for a CD - and even in high volume will not reach a region even remote acceptable.

Bottom line: Way too expensive.


*1 - Supercat's 'answer' reminds me that there is another possible meaning of 'demo', not targeted by this question: Demo as an art form defind and nurtures by the demoscene. These demos are written for competition or fun, showing off the capabilities of machines and their programmers. While not realy related to the question asked, some of these demos get distributed as cardridges in (very) small production runs, but even for module based consoles, the usual distribution form is via archives on the net - an usually free to be copied anyway.

*2 - Keep in mind, we are talking cost for a company, not just cost of parts as some hobbyist may count. Each additional hour developers have to spend to prepare a snapshot, the time this snaopshot gets moved into an (E)PROM, someone dies a label and explains the dos and don'ts to whoever is doing the presentation costs hundrets of dollars, making the material bill cost irrelevant.

*3 - R.. Asked about using such demos for potential customers in stores or at trade shows. In such situations a restricted version does not make much sense. When a game hits stores, a regular cardridge will do the same, so not worth any investment.

Similar for trade shows after the game got published. Now for shows prior to release, game developers are rather relucant to let anyone in the general public play the game. Any bad user experiance due being unfinished will for sure result in a bad reputation of a game (happened almost always when developers tried that route). A marketing desaster no developer or even less publisher wants to create. Not to mention that, when going gold closes in, developers won't have much time to curate, test and debug a special demo version anyway.

So, while the hardware may not be a big deal for such a small number of demo cardridges, their implications are way too dangerous to even think about.

Last but not least, for pure in-store displays a recorded play video (real VHS video in the 80s and 90s :)) will be way more apropriate to shoow off features without risking bugs to damage the rep and without all the costs associated with it. The one playing the demo will be someone knowing to only use features that are already finished (and intended to be shown) - basicly replacing the whole eford to code the demo parts at all.

  • Obviously for low production volume like a demo you would do some sort of PROM, not a run from a mask. Could you elaborate on why the economics for that would not make sense? – R.. Oct 6 '18 at 23:33
  • @R.. Mind to specify what kind of demo you're talking about? Also, what's the intended purpose of that demo is? – Raffzahn Oct 6 '18 at 23:36
  • Based on the context of the Final Fantasy cartridge in the question, I'm thinking demo carts designed for display at trade shows, distribution to press/reviewers, possibly for in-store preview displays, etc. Obviously not the scale of "tucked in the plastic wrap of a gaming magazine". – R.. Oct 6 '18 at 23:43
  • @R.. does this edit help answering your question? – Raffzahn Oct 7 '18 at 0:12
  • @Raffzahn: I don't understand your paragraph under "Demotype B"; it could use some rewording. The rest of your answer is excellent. – Dr Sheldon Oct 7 '18 at 0:30
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To add to @Raffzahn's excellent answer, and considering that the question asks if cost was the only reason:

If you are going to make a demo with reduced functionality, then someone will need to decide what features are being taken out, implement that, and test it. These tasks take extra developer time. There would also be extra production time needed. If you want to get your product to market as soon as possible, time would be a consideration.

Naturally, these would also add to the costs, but would probably be less that the production costs. I agree with Raffzahn that the cost is the main reason for not making demos.


An unrestricted demo (Raffzahn's second definition) depends on the audience:

  • Copies that are shared with business partners as the game is under development would often be on the medium of the development system, rather than the medium of the final product. (Or just invite their people over to your office to try it on the development system.)
  • Master copies used for production of the final product would be on whatever medium is accepted by the duplicator.
  • Reviewer copies would be early productions (possibly proofs) of the final product. They might be specially packaged or labeled to prevent resale.

Unrestricted demos therefore don't have much impact on the cost or time of the final product.

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