Why Do You Pre-Order Games Anymore?

To me, the business of pre-orders has become so ever-present in video games it’s become background noise. I guess it was time someone like Polygon’s Ben Kuchera questioned the status pre-orders in today’s market. I think this past week’s episode of the F!rst for Gamers podcast had some great commentary on it as well.

The idea of the recent discussion has been to ask what the use of pre-ordering games is these days other than padding the pockets of publishers and retailers while also promoting content practices a lot of gamers don’t like. People pre-order games for a lot of reasons but I do at least agree the business side of it has grown out of hand from where it started.

The original reason to pre-order games was scarcity. Back in the 90’s if a game coming out was really hot there wasn’t a guarantee you’d be able to walk into the store and find a copy on day one. For the most part we don’t live in that world anymore. In almost all cases you don’t really need to pre-order to get your copy as soon as a game comes out. There are a few exceptions like niche Japanese games that get low print runs or if you live in a certain region that doesn’t get as much physical stock or doesn’t have very many stores. Even in those cases online and digital distribution mitigates the problem.

So, retailers have kind of invented reasons to pre-order — usually in the form of pieces of the game sectioned off to specific editions or specific retailers. To this day I haven’t seen a single piece of pre-order or retailer-exclusive DLC I’ve cared about. It’s all been too inconsequential. The closest I came to making a purchasing decision based on it was Metal Gear Rising’s GameStop-exclusive Gray Fox costume. Otherwise it’s always been something I only think about after making the decision to pre-order a game.

Basically, for me to even think about pre-ordering I have to already be dead-set on buying the game for full price even before it comes out, and I only do that if I’m feeling the highest levels of hype for a game. The only game I’ve pre-ordered so far in 2014 was Dark Souls II. I’m going to try to pre-order the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. and the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V. That’s it. They are all games that are completely known or somewhat-known quantities I know I want.

But even in those cases pre-ordering isn’t essential. I could probably find copies of Smash and GTA V in stores on day one. I could definitely have bought Dark Souls II on Steam on the day of release. GTA V is going to be on Steam and Smash on 3DS eShop.

I’ve heard some people say they pre-order just to get the idea of paying for the game out of the way. If I know I want a game that’s coming out later but I have the money for it now, I find it’s easy to just pay it off immediately. Smash and GTA V are my priorities for this fall, and I’m only going to think about buying other games once I’ve paid off the pre-orders on those two. There are other games I’d definitely like to play this year, but I’ve completely let go of day one hype for all but my absolutely most desired games. I can wait a few weeks or even months on Wolfenstein: The New Order, Far Cry 4, or Dragon Age Inquisition. My backlog is big enough already.

On the subject of digital though, I think Steam and other PC digital storefronts have done a significantly better job of incentivizing pre-orders than brick-and-mortar stores. Two big parts of that are pre-order discounts and pre-loading. Even 10% off discounts alone aren’t enough to push me to pre-order — I already wanted Dark Souls II, but GreenManGaming threw in a further discount that let me pre-order the game for around $36. For a game you want to play as soon as possible, pre-loading on the other hand is indeed a big deal, one I’m glad to see consoles finally adopting. Other PC digital incentives have been cool too though, most notably how Steam often offers classic games as free extras. CDProjekt RED is going overboard with pre-order incentives for The Witcher 3: a sizable discount with a soundtrack, art book, and other similar extras.

John Davison and Garnett Lee had a great discussion on this subject, touching on how the pre-order business got so bloated. Lee attests to having seen pre-order numbers affect the course of game development, as marketers use pre-order numbers to gauge how well a game is coming along. If pre-orders do indeed have a real effect on development and contributes to games adding features of other popular games to increase numbers, then it’s really just another facet of what’s happened to AAA console games as a whole.

I said I only pre-order the handful of games for which I’m the most hyped, and the problem is every game is trying to be those games. Every game is not going to get the same pre-order numbers as Titanfall or even a fraction of Call of Duty’s. Every big-budget game launch isn’t going to feel like an event to the populace, just like every game isn’t going to sell as much as the biggest games in the market. Pre-order culture is just one more facet of the “me-too” bug that’s caught on in this industry.

BULLETS:

  • Before you call judgment on Assassin’s Creed Unity, Reddit actually put together an impressive compilation of existing facts on the game. http://t.co/DyNj7BNr1S Some of them are a pretty surprising turn from the series’ established formula.
  • A kickstarter for a pretty cool-looking game called Knuckle Club. https://t.co/N2MRKN2XYO
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