How do you mess up something as simple as a game demo? It's a question that came to mind last October when Sony started testing a PS5 Game Trial feature in the UK. And it's something I'm thinking about again today, as time-limited game trials are confirmed to be a component of PS Plus Premium.
Let's take a look at how Sony handled PS5 Game Trials last year, where it stumbled, and how it can hopefully improve the feature for the launch of PS Plus Premium this June. In October 2021, extended demos of PS5 exclusives Death Stranding: Director's Cut and Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and later THQ Nordic's multi-platform Biomutant, were part of the first wave of beta testing. Essentially, PS5 Game Trials gave players five (or in the case of Death Stranding, six) hours of free playtime to experience what a game has to offer before you had to make a purchasing decision.
With game prices beginning to rise beyond the old standard of $49.99 to an eye-watering $69.99, it's an understandably welcomed feature. A neat idea that was ultimately undercut by the baffling decision to begin the trial timer from the moment you trigger the download. For example, the Death Stranding: Director's Cut trial was a 68GB download that, because of my slow internet, ate up most (if not all) of the allotted playtime before I'd taken my first steps into Kojima's vision of an Apocalyptic United States. It was a strange limitation, particularly as this isn't Sony's first rodeo with digital game trials.
Full Game Trials were introduced as a limited, oft-forgotten perk of PlayStation Plus back in the PS3 era. And while they didn't become wholly ubiquitous, they did allow you to download the full version of a game and play it for a limited period of time (often an hour), allowing you to carry any progress you made and trophies you earned over to the full game should you decide to invest. Better still, the timer only triggers once you start playing the damned thing.
It would appear that this limited test run in October was an opportunity for Sony to smooth out the service before it launched as a selling point for the new premium tier of PlayStation Plus. It's joined by the ability to stream PS3 games from the cloud, the successor to PlayStation Now, access a vast library of PS4 and PS5 games, an extended catalogue of on-demand PS1, PS2, and PSP classics, and new monthly releases.
Let the countdown begin
This all raises an interesting point of comparison to what Microsoft is offering through Xbox Live and Game Pass. Microsoft doesn't have a set game demo or trial initiative baked into either of its subscription services (publishers are free to release their own demos on the Xbox Store, should they want to) although Game Pass does provide a Game Trial solution of sorts.
Microsoft rolled out Xbox Cloud Gaming on Xbox Series X and Xbox One in November 2021, available as part of the Game Pass Ultimate subscription. A perk of the service is the ability to trial select games from the Game Pass library by streaming them instantly from the cloud – by removing lengthy download and install times from the equation of play, we were suddenly given a chance to try games before committing to them. Additionally, if a friend sends you a multiplayer invite for a game that you don't already have installed, you're able to stream the game from the cloud and jump right into the action. If you have a good time after a couple of hours, commit to a full download later.
There are limitations and barriers to that service, the largest being whether your internet is fast enough to support Xbox Cloud Gaming, but it's a forward-thinking feature that demonstrates how Microsoft is trying to get in front of advancing technology, broadband speeds, and demands of its player base. Sony Interactive Entertainment is launching a more rudimentary version of Game Trials for PS5, but one that's certainly welcomed in an age of escalating up-front costs of entry.
How successful this initiative is for PlayStation will ultimately depend on the lessons it learned from the limited beta test last October. If time-limited game trials start running the clock down from the second your download commences, it's difficult to see this becoming a highlight of the expensive PS Plus Premium subscription tier. If, on the other hand, Sony works to ensure we get the most amount of playtime in exchange for our bandwidth, we could indeed see players taking a chance on a broader array of games and taking a chance on games they wouldn't have otherwise tried before.
Looking for more information on the new service? Here's the new PS Plus tiers explained: which membership should you choose?