Perhaps it’s with the growing number of next gen games being released in what some would consider to be an unfinished state, but I’ve noticed a fair increase of criticism lately regarding pre-ordering games, both from within the games journalism industry and the indie development community.
Whether it’s because of the aforementioned scrappy performance at launch, pre-order DLC bonuses or simply buying a game blind before you know of its critical reception, there is a growing force pushing the agenda that pre-ordering is bad for consumers and rewards developers and/or publishers for shoddy business practices. Whilst to some extent I agree with these criticisms, is ceasing the act of pre-ordering games really the answer? Personally, I’m not too sure.
So, why do people pre-order games?
One of the main reasons people pre-order is to receive the game on launch day, maybe even before depending on the vendor used. Time is precious, and in the fast moving world of video games people are eager to get their hands on the title they’ve been waiting for, either to quickly get stuck into the single player campaign or to make headway in multiplayer before they get left behind by the masses. Granted you could pick up the game instore on release day, but if you’re planning to do so then there’s really no reason to not just pre-order online and have it delivered to your door, especially when you consider that most retailers do not charge you for the item until it is dispatched.
Pre-ordering, particularly online, can often see you receiving quite a healthy discount on the price versus buying upon launch, or shortly thereafter. Many online retailers are very competitive with their pricing or operate a pre-order price promise, where once you’ve pre-ordered, you only pay the lowest price the game reaches before release. This can sometimes net you a discount of around 40% off the RRP of a new title, such as the newly-released Project CARS which could be pre-ordered for as little as £34 on PS4 and Xbox One. With consumers as price conscious as ever, this could really be a dealbreaker, especially considering that the game could be resold or traded in to recoup most of the cost if they decide it is not for them.
Another incentive to pre-order is the offer of freebies such as bonus downloadable content or game soundtracks. Some people vehemently despise this practice, believing that content is held back from the game to be held ransom; forcing those that are interested in the title to pre-order if they want the complete experience. The fact of the matter is however, that in the age of digital media, incentivisation of this nature is pretty much inevitable, and the content offered is usually nothing more than whimsy. The sad truth is that stopping pre-ordering will not make this practice disappear. As long as there is a product to sell, vendors will do their best to entice buyers to purchase as soon as possible. If anything, I imagine the result of ceasing to pre-order games would see developers or publishers going to even greater lengths with regard to bonus content to secure your intention to buy – so if you do have a keen interest in a title, why not just pre-order and accept the bonus that’s given to you?
Games reviews are not gospel
Perhaps the biggest reason why many believe you shouldn’t pre-order is that you are essentially buying something blind; a product of unknown quality. Whilst this is a valid criticism of the pre-ordering system, particularly in an industry where the rising complexity and cost of game development has increasingly seen games released in an unfavourable state, ultimately a game’s worth can only be judged by the consumer themselves. Games reviews are by their very nature subjective; there is no set gauge by which the quality of a game can be measured. Sure, you can inform consumers that the frame rate is inconsistent or that it has numerous glitches, but the large majority of them will simply not care; they’d rather have the product in their hands rather than delayed for the nth time. What may be a masterpiece to one player may be nothing more than an unplayable foray into tedium to another, whether it suffers from glitches or not, so if you’re interested in what a game has to offer, why wait for reviews? You are the only one that can really tell if you like a game or not. Assassins Creed 2, one of my favourite games of the last generation, received a paltry 4/10 from Jim Sterling during his stint at Destructoid, whilst Bioshock Infinite was universally praised by critics upon release yet was a massive exercise in mediocrity to me.
Whilst it may seem like I’m trying to defend developers and publishers with their questionable practices here, I can assure you I’m not. I myself would very much like to see an end to games being released seemingly unfinished or alongside day one patches with changelogs as long as an arm. I’m aggrieved that the industry that I’ve been a strong proponent of for over 20 years has resorted to selling content such as skins for guns and characters, and offers similar “exclusive” content for those who pre-order. But unfortunately, as much as these practices are a blight upon the industry, the benefits of pre-ordering far outweigh the negatives to the average consumer. Pre-ordering games generally makes them more financially viable and convenient for the purchaser, and enables publishers and developers to gauge interest in a title before release, enabling them to plan for any future support or development required. I’m all for making a stand against companies that think it’s fine releasing a game with bugs that render it unplayable, or sell a full price title then operate a DLC schedule like it’s a free-to-play title, but asking people to not pre-order is not the answer, especially when detrimental to them and the industry on the whole.
And what about crowdfunding?
Finally, you have to wonder how those that view pre-ordering in a negative light feel about the rise of crowdfunding within the industry. Platforms such as Kickstarter truly are a gamble to consumers, who financially back projects based on as little as a project outline and concept art. With backers’ money laid out on the table, delivery of the project and any tier bonuses are not guaranteed, with often unsavoury results. Surely that’s the worst form of pre-ordering of all?