Editorial: The Pre-Order Heist

By John Walker on November 14th, 2012 at 8:00 pm.

NOWWWWWWW!

Over the last few years we’ve seen the pre-order become a central aspect of gaming. Heavily relied upon by both major publishers and the smallest indies, more people than ever are paying for their games long before they’re even finished. And with Kickstarter and its crowd-funding sisters, the matter’s become even more complex and nuanced. Shops tend to so massively over-stock on major console releases that there’s no real need to bagsy a copy, while PC games are of course infinitely available via digital channels. And yet pre-ordering games is a bigger thing than ever before. Why’s that, eh?

Time was you could loudly declare yourself for or against the concept – now it’s a subject that requires a little more thought. I’ve given it some below.

Pre-ordering began with sensible intentions. A new, highly anticipated product was coming out, but stock was likely to be limited. So customers could pre-order. Whether it was a game or a new console, it was essentially reserving your place in the queue, ensuring there’d be one there for you on the day the thing came out. That notion still exists, of course – should you want a Wii-U on the 30th this month, you’d probably be sensible to pre-order one today. But with games that’s no longer really the case.

It’s essential to break pre-ordering down into various groups. Where once you could form your opinion and tattoo it on your face, now you’re going to need to put different arguments on, I dunno, different eyelids and cheeks. Simplifying somewhat you’ve now got:

1) Pre-ordering a publisher-distributed game either online or in-store.
2) Pre-ordering an indie game.
3) Contributing to crowd-funding at a tier that secures a copy of the game.

And each is a distinctly different beast. What I’m mostly interested in doing here is grumbling about 1), so let’s get the distinctions out of the way.

Every pre-order is a risk. You are giving money to someone else for nothing in return. It’s an act that possibly requires a little more thought than many give it. But the second and third forms are arguably acts of generosity. Self-interested generosity, unquestionably. And sometimes perhaps because of significant discounts in a game a person believes they’re going to buy anyway – that’s likely not quite so generously driven. But it’s usually an aspect of the pre-order that the customer is trying to help a game get made. And often, this comes with immediate reward – access to a portion of the game, or alpha code to see it in its current form. It’s a sort of relationship between the developer and the customer, where paying early has advantages to both. It’s symbiosis.

There are obvious current examples, like Prison Architect, where developers Introversion have made a significant amount of cash in letting people get access to their in-progress game in return for buying a copy before it’s done. It goes back quite a way too – 2D Boy did the same for World Of Goo, back before it was trendy, offering the first chapter of the game a year early to those who paid for the lot. And it’s becoming quite a familiar business model, more and more small development teams adopting it to remove the need for external investment or loans.

Clearly anyone investing in an unreleased indie game is taking a risk. The game may never get finished, perhaps not enough pre-orders will come in alongside yours to fund the development, or maybe the game will turn out to be a stinky mess. And at that point, the developer or team are in a spot of bother – the money’s been spent, and they’re going to have a hard time paying you back. But it’s perhaps not as big a risk as Kickstarter.

I’ve argued before that people need to see Kickstarter as an altruistic process, rather than a pre-ordering system. But it’s a pretty futile argument since even I don’t adhere to it. Here you’re more often funding a idea that hasn’t begun to exist – you’re paying for hopes to become a completed game, in a medium where so many faithfully started projects can never come together. It’s a lesson that will eventually be learned the hard way, but also a completely valid thing too. Clearly there are all manner of complications – did a game not get completed because it just never came together, or because the developers spent their Kickstarter money on hammocks and booze? What are people willing to tolerate?

But in the end, Kickstarter games as pre-ordering, as much as it might be just plain silly to approach it as such, shares many of the risks with chucking early cash at an indie – you could well get early access as a result, and you could well see your money disappear in a hole. Or most likely, you’ll get the game on release, or before release, probably for less money than it costs at that point. But the motivation for the developer is one of simply being able to make the game, no matter the intentions of the person spending the money. And that’s not the case for publisher-funded games.

Right now, if you go to the Steam pre-order page for Square Enix/Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider, you’ll see a strange green bar. It’s for the “Pre-Purchase Rewards” that are available, which “unlock as more people pre-purchase”. The idea being, the more people who “pre-purchase” (at least “pre-order” makes a degree of sense – ordering something pre its being released) the game, the more rewards those who do will receive. Because… because we’re all supposed to rush off and market the game for them to ensure enough do? (Hey! Maybe that’s why her Twitter page was…) What’s the motivation we’re meant to be experiencing here? Begging our friends to pre-order the game, to nudge the percentage ever so slightly higher so we can get a free copy of a game that’s been given away free more times than gonorrhoea.

That’s when this meter reaches 33%. (33% of what?, you ask. 33% I reply, this time more authoritatively. You nod and dutifully agree.) At 66% of the Mystery Meter we get “everything above” which is a grand way of saying “one old game”, as well as some bloody DLC. And then for reward 3, which appears once the whole 100% of… people on Earth?… is achieved, you get all both of those things, and… MORE DLC! So, basically, a bunch of shit that should have been in the main game in the first place.

This is what pre-ordering is really all about. I’m picking on Tomb Raider because of this bloody daft Steam thing. But it’s not exceptional.

It’s a horrible practice, that has somehow become embedded in the culture of gaming, and is barely queried as a concept. We post that pre-orders are now open for a game along with every other site (although increasingly less often as we become increasingly fed up with it). Tomb Raider, if it doesn’t slip again, is due out in March next year. The game, funded by Square Enix, isn’t finished yet. It’s a full-price game, pre-ordering at its cheapest at £27 on PC (£38 on consoles), that people are being strongly encouraged to buy now Now NOW!

Why? It’s not because without the cash the studio won’t be able to get the game finished. That isn’t how it works. They certainly want money to be coming in a more continuous fashion, over months before a release as well as after, and the pre-order process certainly helps the books look better. But the reason it’s of concern to you is that the more people who buy the game now, the more sales they’ll have before anything like reviews, bad word of mouth, or a Metacritic kicking could spoil things. That may well not happen with Tomb Raider – Crystal have made four stunning games in a row, and I have no reasons to think this one might fall short of their very high standard. But it might. As might any other AAA game that you’ll see such energetic campaigns trying to get you to pre-order, bribing you with ridiculous bits of tat, minuscule discounts, or content that should be in the game in the first place, and most likely will be a month after release.

A huge part of it is about duping customers into committing their money before they can be put off. During the build up to a game it’s all hype. Trailers, screenshots, big campaigns. And the coverage at this point is non-critical, because there’s nothing to be sensibly criticised. They’ll very carefully select what they’ll show the press, to ensure it’s seen in its best possible light, and by the nature of previews unfinished projects are (rightly) given the benefit of the doubt. In the build-up to the release of an anticipated triple-A game, you’ll see very little negative press, because there’s nothing to be negative about yet. Publishers must have high-fived until their hands chapped when they realised they could get people to pay for the game at this point. And it’s interesting to note that you can see the signs of other forms of entertainment beginning to follow. Book pre-ordering is almost as ridiculous a business, although thank goodness the film industry has yet to figure out a way to get us to pay for cinema tickets months before the film’s finished. We really don’t want gaming to be leading a charge here.

It’s a ridiculous trap so many have fallen into. It’s now become a massive part of how games are sold, and thus how profits are managed. And it’s getting increasingly elaborate, despite the customer rarely getting anything worthwhile out of it. A £3 saving really doesn’t strike me as enough to so generously hand over your cash for a game that might be a massive pile of shit, months before the people equipped to warn you it’s such are able to say.

Publishers know a game is a gamble, no matter how positively they may feel about it. Take a look at Medal Of Honor: Warfighter. EA had no reason to believe this would be the game where the rest of the games writing industry finally woke up and realised what a tiresome mess it and all its many cousins are. I’m quite certain they were banking on its being a big Autumn hit for them. And then it received a worldwide panning, with the lowest mark most major sites and mags seem to be able to use – 5 – all over the place. Its Metacritic score has settled at an average of 54. You can bet your bum they were grateful for every pre-order that came in, every person who invested their cash long before they could be warned.

So this is my appeal: Stop pre-ordering publisher-funded games. Stop letting it be a thing that works. Buy games when they come out, once you’ve read about them, and decided if you think they’re worth your money. Because £30-£50 is a lot of money! Most people won’t risk the £10 it costs to go to the cinema without first checking to see how a film is scoring. Why risk the same for something so much, much more expensive? Sure, you may well have pre-ordered a game you thought would be good, and then it was good. But you might also have won the last three rounds of Russian Roulette, so pointing a loaded gun at your head is plain sensible, right? When you pre-order a mainstream game, you’re not supporting a developer you might like – you’re funding a publisher who already worked out their budget, probably years ago. You’re just gambling your own money for no personal advantage. Wait – you get the same game either way.

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196 Comments »

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  1. rb2610 says:

    You mention the practice of pre-ordering creeping it’s way into films, it already seems to be the case for Skyfall and the Hobbit. Both have advertised pre-booking tickets a couple of weeks in advance. Of course it’s not quite the same as pre-ordering an unfinished game, but it’s a step closer. It seems that overall people are much more comfortable buying on faith or assumption that a developer/film studio etc. will produce something good.

    • Dark Nexus says:

      Those are mostly the people who are going to go see it ASAP anyways, and reviews won’t change that. Pre-booking tickets just means they get the showtime that works best for them.

      • UmmonTL says:

        Also pre-booked tickets, even pre-paid ones can be returned without too much of a hassle. It’s the cinemas who are trying to fill their seats not the filmmakers and they work with a much smaller customer base which means a lot less people they can afford to piss off.

    • Premium User Badge

      Vandelay says:

      To be fair, cinema seats are limited. If you want to see a major release on the first day, you will probably need to book before the day. It doesn’t need to be months before the film is actually out, but it at least makes sense to have a pre-order option.

    • Daedalus207 says:

      I was going to mention this. I preordered tickets for the Hobbit so I could see it with a group of my tabletop gaming friends.

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      welverin says:

      And this has been possible for well over a decade, so is nothing new.

    • Moraven says:

      Already got my Hobbit midnight show tickets last time at the theater.

  2. Hoaxfish says:

    I find myself on the other end of business…

    I can hold out long enough to get the game with a 50~75% discount, GotY all DLC edition. I have a backlog of games to play through anyway, so there’s no urgent rush to buy now, now, NOW! It helps to ignore the game for about a month after release, where the hype has died off. Think of it as if every game came out 1 year later than it actually does.

    Though this holds true only for singleplayer games.

    Multiplayer games take a different turn because the amount of players rely on the on-going hype to sustain the games. A couple of months after release and you might find nobody plays it any more… which is where F2P comes in. No up-front payment means you can F2P your way through the hype period, and if the game dies out you dodged an $40~60 entry fee (and once an multiplayer game dies, it very rarely returns to health afterwards).

    The state of pre-ordering/store-specific unlocks is one of those things you just have to live without. You can come to the understanding that you’ve missed the opportunity, and that’s okay.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      This what I ususually do too. As an example, I didnt feel the exictement over Dishonored at all as there were far too many ads, too much of the ore-order rubbish and what with all the previews I just felt no curiosity any more. Saturation advertising. Now I hear its pretty short for what it is and a few other niggles, so I think xmas sale is the best way to go. £15 for an 11 hour game sounds OK I guess.

      My first GOTY was Fallout 3, which was probably the best £5 I ever spent.

      • Mr. Mister says:

        Yep, I’ve developed tolerance to saturated doses of advertisement too. I haven’t raised a single facial hair over Dishonored, nor any Halo, AC, yadayadayada, nor CoD (well except Chaos on Deponia), ever.

        I think it’s not publishers anymore, but close unions of both a AAA publisher and an AAA developer.

      • LintMan says:

        ME3 pushed me to the edge but Dishonored was the final straw of pre-order nonsense for me, when I found out you had to buy from specific stores to get specific bonus DLC and you miss out on all the rest. Nope, sorry – if I’m paying ful retail price – especially weeks or months in advance – I want to feel like I’m getting a complete game. I’m done with this BS.

        I’m content to wait for Dishonored to put out a GOTY version or hit a Steam mega 75% off sale

      • AbsoluteDestiny says:

        Yeah I don’t know where I heard it but I was under the impression that Dishonored was short too… but I thought short would be 8 hours or so. When I finally bought it off amazon for 20 quid, it took me 20 hours to finish a playthrough. Is 20 hours short these days?

        • Rawrian says:

          It’s only short if you play on lower difficulties and with objective markers turned on, blasting from point A to point B.

        • Ragnar says:

          20 hours is pretty long, imo, and about the upper limit for how long I want an action game to be. It’s not RPG long, certainly, but then I think most RPGs are overly long.

          Then again, I feel like judging games by their length is a stupid practice that we need to break ourselves out of. I don’t think less of a book because it is short. I don’t prefer longer songs to shorter ones. So why is it that with games we tend to focus on the length of the journey, rather than the journey itself? Wasn’t the goal always quality over quantity?

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        AndrewC says:

        it’s really tough to ignore the pre-release hype, what with it being expressly designed to not be ignorable, but there’s a great and beautiful ocean of loveliness once you can truly accept that the game is not the PR. Also, importantly, it is not the post release internet anti-hype – the game is short only if you try and beat it as quickly as possible. imagine if the 6 hour COD games had this extraordinary, emergent, exploratory game in it if only you looked away from that linear corridor. Finding a way to tear down a hyped game is just as much a product of the hype as the over-praising.

        I like to think that I can separate the hype from the game, but no-one is completely immune and, yes, it took me ignoring games until the hype wore down to get there.

        Those pre-order bonuses are tiny and meaningless to a game, and Dishonoured is not short of content. I hope you enjoy it when you get round to it.

    • Stochastic says:

      Related to this pre-ordering mania is something you tangentially bring up: gaming culture is focused on playing and discussing games primarily around their release. Someone (maybe an RPS writer) should write an editorial about this, because I honestly think it’s even more of a problem than pre-ordering. Why are so many obsessed with playing games on day 1? There are so many games to play out already that I find it a little ridiculous that masses of people are paying full price for generic military shooter 27, which is often buggy at launch, while ignoring bargain-priced games of yesteryear they may have missed. Although I will buy games at launch on occasion, in general I try to avoid doing so as I usually realize after my initial fervor has settled that I have neither the time nor the motivation to play another game and that I already have a massive backlog of titles to wade through.

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        darkChozo says:

        A lot of it is just standard shiny-new-thing syndrome. It’s not something unique to gaming in the least; think iAnythings, movies on release weekends, TV show premiers, etc. There’s also the issue of spoilers and coverage meaning that you hear everything about a game before you play it, which can suck if you’re in it for the experience. Multiplayer games are also often best at release; that way you don’t have to deal with starting out against people who have played for the past couple months, and you also don’t have to worry about dwindling playerbases.

        • Stochastic says:

          These are all good points. It just bothers me that most games are in the limelight for such a short time window, usually less than a month. I’d rather focus on a few games in depth rather than slavishly salivate over every new game that publishers X and Y release. It strikes me as an unhealthy and superficial kind of consumerism.

          • Hoaxfish says:

            I know in terms of physical retail there was an argument from the shops (especially true of PC gaming I believe) that the amount of releases just meant their shelf turn-over was very rapid, so a lot of the magazines, and PR, etc, was built around building hype for the short shelf-time they were “allowed”.

            Crunch-time becomes more than just developing the game, but selling it as well.

            I think with digitial distribution we could see a longer but lighter form of sales hype, since there’s no need to juggle physical shelf space (though things like Steam still have a limited promotional shop-front, and gaming websites only cover “new” releases a lot of the time)

          • Shuck says:

            Games are treated as if their relevance diminished rapidly. It’s odd – once upon a time, you could only buy most games within a few weeks of release, only the best sellers stuck around; shorter game development cycles and rapid technological obsolescence contributed. Now it doesn’t make sense – the game is available for years afterwards, and unlike in previous decades, the technology isn’t changing all that much, either.
            Part of this desire to pre-order single-player games seems to come down to a need to be FIRST!!11! As a consumer it’s just as well this is the case, however, as it has lead to steeply discounted games mere months after release in some cases.

          • Jay says:

            I think part of the problems are games’ tendency to have a single major release point. Books come out in paperback, movies and TV shows get DVD releases (and re-releases), and it’s common practice for them to be re-assessed and reviewed when they do, helping to spark discussion again.

            The best games manage is the occasional GOTY edition, but they tend to pass by with little more than a quick ‘it’s out now and it’s fairly cheap’ comment. I quite like what Eurogamer are doing with their more recent retrospective series, I think that’s a step in the right direction and something I’d be happy to see a lot more of.

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            Cross says:

            Unhealthy and superficial, but real good for those bean counters at the publisher HQs.

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            darkChozo says:

            Eh, I don’t think that the hype cycle is going away anytime soon. It’s a natural result of having a fast moving market with a lot of information output. When there’s several major big-budget triple A titles coming out each month, and when people want to hear about the latest stuff (human attraction to novelty and all that), games aren’t going to get attention for very long. Gaming sites only have so much production output for in-depth articles, after all.

            Good news is that any game worth delving into probably has fansites and wikis that can go more in-depth. And I agree that some more retrospective pieces would be nice, though even then you can only produce so much.

            As for the more original issue, my feeling is that is just a value for money proposition. If a game is worth $60 to you, or the months you have to wait aren’t worth the money you’d save, and you have the free cash for it, then a day one purchase is a reasonable thing. It’s all very subjective at this point, considering that everything varies from person-to-person, but whatever.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        It feels very much as if the industry needs those 1st day/pre-order sales at those high prices. Whether it’s to actually show their “worth” by scrambling for profit over that initial period (and thus prove themselves worthy of future funding), or just to cover development costs I’m not too sure.

        But basically, the drive for the “short sharp shock” of sales leads them into pre-order bonuses, etc… except, at least for me, this shuffling of unlocks, bonuses, rapid DLC releases means I feel very little trust in the product on release date… 2 months later they could be selling me a DLC.

        The longer I wait leads to greater surety that “everything” for the game is out and purchasable. Of course, the longer I wait, the smaller and slower the return for the industry (as I pick it up in a sale, for a fraction of the price, years later).

        My last purchases have been indie games (pre-ordered Legend of Grimrock direct from the devs, and a bunch of low cost kickstarters) because even if the games are unfinished, I was assured my purchase was “complete”.

      • NathanH says:

        It’s fun to talk about the games you’re playing with other people who are enthusiastic about them and are playing them too. This is most likely to happen when a game is released, so it makes sense if you’re enthusiastic about a game to buy it early and enjoy the internet buzz around it. If the game is quite complicated you also get the fun of communal learning, with everyone sharing their new trick that they’ve come up, and you have the opportunity to have interesting discussions about the game mechanics before all the smarter people solve the game and write the solutions on a wiki somewhere.

        • InternetBatman says:

          The group education thing is true, but I’ve found that if a game is good enough or unique enough, people will still be talking about it for years to come. There was a four or five page thread on Metro 2033 in the forums just last week.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        While you are right that websites (and RPS’s) focus on games mostly around and just after release feeds this and is detrimental to it, the reason they do it is no mystery. They do it for page clicks. While writing an article about Sword of the Stars 2 or Endless Space or Portal 2 might be better now, people won’t be nearly as interested in it as they would when all the ads are out and they have all this anticipation.

        Just like with studios it is about the money. These are businesses and that si why they don’t do things in the way that would be best for everyone. They are not interested in what is the best for everyone, they are interested in making as much money as possible.

      • Archonsod says:

        “Why are so many obsessed with playing games on day 1? There are so many games to play out already that I find it a little ridiculous that masses of people are paying full price for generic military shooter 27, which is often buggy at launch, while ignoring bargain-priced games of yesteryear they may have missed.”

        Because people tend to like different things, and the guys getting excited over generic military shooter 27 are probably not the same guys who were excited about generic fantasy RPG 41 and generic RTS 82 released earlier in the year; they probably already own generic military shooter 26 and are likewise completely disinterested in the now bargain priced generic fantasy RPG 40 and generic RTS 81.

        Or in other words, it’s not the day that’s the focus of the obsession.

      • VileJester says:

        Ssshhhh don’t tell them !
        If everyone does it your way, you won’t get new big budget titles anymore.
        Just let them throw their money away for you.

      • Stochastic says:

        That’s the excuse one of my friends uses for his release-day purchases. To be fair, I did buy Portal 2 at release. It’s not so much that I’m against people buying games on day 1, it’s more that I think there’s a problem with the consumerist/ instant gratification mentality that the games industry as a whole has.

        One of the many reasons I read RPS is that they often have retrospective pieces and feature editorials like this one that look at the games industry from a broader perspective. I’d like to see more of that and less focus on new game releases and the media drip feed that accompanies them.

    • SystemiK says:

      Not to mention that by waiting a while for a discounted purchase, you also benefit from any subsequent patches and community content which may have been added during the interim. I used to make mostly day one purchases myself and like everyone else, I just sucked it up and dealt with the frequent initial bugs and performance issues, only to see the issues resolved after I’m already done playing the game.

      Now that I’ve shifted over to choosing my OWN price for games (i.e. waiting x months), I am rewarded immediately with patches, user made content, and often the benefit of community mods (such as for Dark Souls resolution fix, etc).

      With a very few exceptions, I’m done paying full price for games. There are simply too many benefits to be had by waiting. When a game releases, I decide then and there what I’ll pay for it, and when the price hits my mark I buy it. I’ve never been happier with the traction my gaming dollars are getting.

      • MattM says:

        I have an SLI system and I find it really is a good idea to wait at least a month for patches and driver updates. Once that month is up then I find that the hype has worn off and I don’t mind waiting for a big sale or skipping a game altogether. Some game also get the reviews benefit of the doubt with regards to patching major outstanding issues. In the case of Valve, Blizzard they seem to be very good about issuing necessary patches, but I was really surprised when Id dropped RAGE support and left me with a $60 unplayable game. RAGE was the first AAA game I preordered in years and I won’t make that mistake again.

    • mr.ioes says:

      Well, the thing with multiplayer games is, that once they are 75% off including DLC and whatnot, you won’t be the only one that waited for this opportunity.

      Same just happened with Nuclear Dawn. Quite a lot of new players game last weekend. Hope many stay though, since we’re already having trouble keeping more than 3 servers populated.

    • InternetBatman says:

      A problem I’ve found with buying the non-goty version of games is that I miss content and the games are buggier when played. If a company has buggy games but supports them well, it can be like you played two entirely different games. If a company gates off content as DLC, sometimes you get a more complete experience by buying things.

    • ucfalumknight says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. There is no game on the market that I can easily shell out $40-$50 with out any non-biased (advertising) information. I find the pricing model completely absurd. Especially with AAA titles. There are only 2 entry points (excluding Super Hyper Mega Advanced Awesome Editions) 49.99 and 59.99. And why these prices cross over to Digital Distribution makes no sense to me. I understand the devs need to make a profit, but when there is no substantial material costs, then I could understand the digital edition being $5-$10 less.
      Luckily for the consumer we have many alternatives: Ridiculous sales from GG, GoG, and Steam as well as Bundles where it is PWYW. This is where I buy the bulk of my games. Yes, I am dying to play XCom, but I will wait, maybe until next summer, to pick it up in a sale.

      • Rawrian says:

        Same reason ebooks may cost the same or more than paperbacks.

    • michailnenkov says:

      then there’s this – http://xkcd.com/606/

    • soco says:

      I do the same thing. I’ve got such a backlog and limited time to play anymore it just doesn’t make any sense to get something at full price when I have years worth of games to play yet.

    • anduin1 says:

      Some games I can’t wait for but I always get tons of hours out of them because I know I want it and waiting a year will only make me antsy. Battlefield 3 was one of them simply because I love the way the series is handled even if I dont like EA or their tactics. Total War games are another group I almost always buy day 1 simply because I love the series and the development studio. Skyrim I could have waited for but opted to buy and have put in close to 200 hours into it. The point is other games that I don’t have some kind of investment in and that are one offs like Dishonored, Xcom, the upcoming Hitman game to name a few, I can wait and buy at the reduced price because I just don’t know what they offer whereas other series I know what to expect so I can take the risk of paying full price.

  3. marctaro says:

    Something I expect to see coming is a kind of advance polling focus group. Kickstealer has the tiers – “buy up to X$ and we’ll give you the bonus content” – what about, “Invest in FemShep or pre-purchase BroShep and we’ll see who wins! Let your wallets vote!”

    • The Random One says:

      By the ghosts of Karl and Groucho Marx, don’t give them ideas! You know that something like that would be an astounding success, right?

      • UmmonTL says:

        Yeah I can see a lot of people going for that, pay-to-vote. Thats a really scary system…
        Not sure if it would work long term, people are bound to smarten up but it would probably mean 2-3 years of great revenue for the big studios.

  4. goatmonkey says:

    It’s the cutting content out of a game unless you pre-order it that I find especially sad, current examples being Far Cry 3.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Thankfully they are usually so lazy that the content is actually in the game, and its just an unlock. Once its released expect to see workarounds to access the extra content.

      • PopeJamal says:

        True. I’m just tired of relying on “hackers” to access all of the content in my games.

        Plus, here in the US, it’s often technically illegal, although you’re very unlikely to get bagged for circumventing DRM on a game if it’s just you and the dog in the room at the time.

  5. Marinetastic says:

    What seems odd about the Tomb Raider thing is how Square handled Hitman Absolution. Pre-order and they give you a free mini-game, nothing huge, but a nice time waster. Then recently they went “oh, and now we’ll give you the other three Hitman games too, no big deal”

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      Phinor says:

      And of course they messed the Hitman pre-orders by making the Sniper Challenge a store exclusive in North America. My Amazon.com Hitman simply won’t have Sniper Challenge no matter how much Square keeps advertising it. And of course the challenge map is not available for purchase separately. All this makes me wonder if I even want to buy this particular game.

      • Kaje says:

        Incorrect.

        I’m in the UK, using UK Steam and pre-ordering via Steam grants immediate access to the classic Hitman pack as well as the Sniper Challenge game.

        • Dark Nexus says:

          I think he meant “In North America, it is a store exclusive” and not “It is exclusive to North American stores”.

    • Jesus H. Christ says:

      thing is with the hitman ‘bonus’ is once you got it, you forfeited your right to be able to cancel your pre order. Really scummy

      • Snargelfargen says:

        Jesus, why hasn’t this been more widely publicised?! That’s terrible.

      • Premium User Badge

        Norskov says:

        Not on Steam, assuming you are speaking of the Sniper Challenge. After reading the PC Gamer review I’ve come to regret my pre-order and asked for a refund. I was given the refund earlier today without much hassle.

        • CommanderZx2 says:

          You shouldn’t have cancelled it, the PCG review is bogus.

          • Jesus H. Christ says:

            bogus as in ‘it never appeared in the magazine’ or ‘the reviewer is lying cuz he is a douche and he really loved the game and it is exactly like blood money.’

          • El_Emmental says:

            Bogus as in “if Tom is right about everything he wrote, then IO Interactive is an empty shell that can’t make a game worth more than £5 anymore and someone at Square Enix is mentally crazy for greenlighting that”.

            According to his review, the game is a series of cutscenes in corridor maps, where you use stealth moves (like in Deus Ex: Human Revolution: cover system + rolling around) to walk down that boring corridor, press a button (Instinct) when guards are near to nullify them, grab items/weapons put on the main path by the level designer (you can’t choose your starting equipment), trigger a nearby (= very near to the item placement, no exploration is needed/rewarded) cutscene during which 47 use these items, and load the next level.

            The way it’s described, it looks like a flash-based game, trying to put Call of Duty game design (cutscenes and a “spectacular” corridor) into a stealth-kills game.

            Strangely, other “game journalists” tried the game and didn’t reported such terrible experience, including some independent journos (who are blacklisted from many publishers).

            Either Tom is right, and the Hitman series is dead and buried, and IO Interactive will close its door before 2014, or Tom exaggerated and focused only on the flaws and changes, and should have took a step back when writing his review.

          • KenTWOu says:

            Yeap, he is almost a douche! 64% of the game you get to a door or an object! Sure, because the game has sub-levels a.k.a. checkpoints because of shitty consoles with limited amount of RAM! It seems the game has issues, but the same reviewer gave Dishonored 92 points and Dishonored has tons of issues too, including AI flaws and weird cover system.

        • Jesus H. Christ says:

          Yeah, it was gmg. Good to hear about steam though

        • Premium User Badge

          Siresly says:

          So it’s just GMG being gross? Glad to hear that, I guess.

          Was worried shady crap like that might be becoming a thing with digital distribution. If I wanted to cancel my Hitman pre-order I’d be pissed. GMG needs to clarify what went wrong there and then rectify it. Because that should not happen.

          Are they doing the same with Bioshock Infinite and its web puzzle game that recently became a thing?

        • Miltrivd says:

          Have you ever refund something on Steam before or was that your “one and only” refund?

  6. Dark Nexus says:

    I’ll continue to pre-order publisher-funded games as long as pre-ordering provides enough material gain for me to offset any concern I have over the potential quality of the game.

    Last publisher-funded game I pre-ordered was World of Warcraft, to ensure a Collector’s Edition. Or it might have been TF2, I don’t remember if I pre-ordered or not but if I did it was only days before release. Before that…. uh…………. Windwaker I think? And that was for the bonus disc of the other Zelda games.

    So yeah. I’ve got my conditions for pre-ordering. They don’t get met very often. Hell, my conditions for “full price game” barely ever get met anymore…

  7. meatshit says:

    I don’t have a problem with pre-orders discounts and bundles. Customers are trading limited information for a discount and the ability to preload and it’s completely up to them to judge if it’s a fair trade.

    DLC pre-order bundles are evil though, but that’s because they’re day one DLC, not because they’re pre-order incentives.

  8. MashPotato says:

    I think a lot of the pre-ordering concerns would be addressed if demos were released during the pre-ordering period. That’s what happened with XCOM: I tried it, liked it, and pre-ordered so I could download it ahead of time.

    EDIT: though John is talking more about games that aren’t done yet, so I’m not really addressing the point. Carry on! ;)

    • Rawrian says:

      That’s a good point, but industry prefers to work on “market the shit out of it – cash on hype on the day of the release”, same as movies.

    • Commander_Zeus says:

      I agree with MashPotato – it would be interesting to see a feature on demos and the death thereof.
      I’m sure most people here have had the experience of buying a game they wouldn’t have had they not played the demo. This may be a bit far into tin-foil hat territory, but you do wonder if publishers don’t have demos to prevent poor reviews coming out before the game.
      In conjunction with pre-orders it now seems to be the vogue to promote games through gameplay videos – a demo by proxy, almost; but without you actually experiencing the gameplay through the controls, so you won’t notice if they are a bit wonky and can only guess whether it really will look that sparkly running on your machine.

      The difference with films is that trailers are the same medium: even if you pre-order cinema tickets , it’s likely you will have seen a trailer – which is a closer representation of the experience being sold than a video of someone else running around Dunwall is of playing Dishonoured.

  9. CommanderZx2 says:

    What a whinge fest from a jaded gamer whose pre-ordered games before and then complained about what they got.

    The whole pre-order thing is all about getting people to buy game X from you other than your competition.

    Steam offers rewards for X number of pre-purchases to try and convince people and their friends to buy it from steam rather than retailers and other digital websites. That is all there is to it. It isn’t a massive conspiracy about trying to sell as many copies as possible before reviews come out, don’t be ridiculous.

    No developer intentially makes a game they think is rubbish and then try to sell it on pre-orders without people getting a real feel of it.

    • Shadram says:

      “It isn’t a massive conspiracy about trying to sell as many copies as possible before reviews come out, don’t be ridiculous.”

      Erm… yes, it is. Except it’s not really a conspiracy, since all publishers came to the conclusion by themselves. Metacritic pretty much rules the games industry now, anything that gets below 85% will sell a lot less than games that get more. To minimise the risk of bad scores, they want to preload as much money as they can. It’s rather naive to believe otherwise.

    • Premium User Badge

      mpk says:

      I think he missed the point.

      EDIT: Also:

      “The whole pre-order thing is all about getting people to buy game X from you other than your competition.”

      Which could be true if it weren’t for retailer specific bonus skins or weapons or flavoured sweets or whatever which would be arranged by the developer/publisher.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      “No developer intentially makes a game they think is rubbish and then try to sell it on pre-orders without people getting a real feel of it.”

      That would make sense if demos were still as prevalent as they were a decade ago. This is how it often works: publisher spends millions on developing and marketing game. Game may or may not be as good as publisher says it is, but consumer will not know for sure until release day because publisher did not bother making a demo of game. Instead, publisher offers pre-order bonuses in the hopes of capturing as many Day One sales as possible, thereby proactively negating the need to produce a working demo (those things cost money, you know). Pre-ordering also allows publisher to bypass more stringent QA testing, instead using the pre-order-prone consumer as the test base (internal QA costs money, you know).

      Plenty of developers have released shoddy pre-order games. It’s a bit naive to think that it never happens. Krater, Homefront, SotS2, Red Orchestra 2, etc. etc.

      • Baines says:

        “intentionally makes a game” is probably true.

        Developers probably don’t decide: “Okay, we’ve got a dead Q3 in 2012. Scrape up some interns to make a piece of rubbish. We’ll toss in some sweet pre-orders, and make back our cash before anyone sees the final code.”

        Developers might decide: “Okay, that game we’ve spent two years on isn’t looking good. We’ve tossed some more cash at it, and already started crunch time, but it may be 50/50 at best. Look… We need to consider damage control, just it case. Bob, we’ve got a big advertising budget with KGN, so we’ll send them an ‘early’ preview, and invite them to a party in Dubai. KPS might be too critical, they panned that game last year, so we’ll skip them. As for stores, let’s work up some pre-order bonuses. Different bonuses for different stores, just so we can grab as many people as possible. Some skins and weapons, maybe even that first DLC pack. DLC won’t matter if the game bombs. We need to move as much as we can before word of mouth spreads. If the game pulls through, it won’t matter, word of mouth will sell it after release. But those pre-orders could staunch the bleeding if things go bad.”

    • John Walker says:

      “What a whinge fest from a jaded gamer whose pre-ordered games before and then complained about what they got.”

      An exquisite argument. Except that I’ve never pre-ordered a game in my life.

      • Premium User Badge

        Stellar Duck says:

        Ooh ooh! I have! 3 times. Metal Gear 3, because I wanted a metal case for some mad reason (I was younger, alright), Crusader Kings 2 because it was Crusader Kings 2 and Dishonored because, frankly, I just wanted to preload it and play as soon as it released. I ended up only being able to plat it 3 days after release due to real life getting in the way. Guess that goes to show how silly I was.

      • Misnomer says:

        On the bright side, he didn’t base his argument on the fact that RPS gets review copies and is rarely hoping for a discount to play a game when it comes out.

        I do think you missed half the argument here though. Say you don’t trust metacritic at all (something RPS has mentioned before) and you want to enjoy a game for what you think of it. If it is singleplayer you can put your fingers in your ears, ignore reviews, and get it on the next steam sale. For multiplayer, the game may be dead by the time that sale comes around.

        Perhaps pre-ordering is a way to tell off the metacritic/review driven industry. You can call people who do it bad consumers, but I consider it no more damning than someone going to a new movie on release weekend.

        Now since the majority of preorders I make are only if I will 100% be getting the game anyway or I get a good deal (like for Warfighter I couldn’t resist 50% off) I don’t regret most of my pre-orders. I make a rule to only do it for multiplayer games where I will miss something if the community is dead by the time I get around to it.

        But mostly, I think you can look at pre-orders as a way to keep interesting games being made. With the meta-critic groupthink able to shut down game studios now (notice that BLOPS 2 has not had bad numbers because of this MOH awakening you claim), I would hope pre-order serving as a bulwark against that would be a good thing. Allowing studios to make enough money to stay alive and learn from mistakes.

        • The Random One says:

          I feel I would strongly refute this argument if I wasn’t the one making it, but it’s what comes to mind: if a multiplayer game has lost its community by the time its price drops, it probably wasn’t very good to begin with, or the community would have stayed,

          • Misnomer says:

            Totally fair argument there. I think that is often the case, but there are a few decent or at least innovative MP games out there that if you didn’t get into them early you would never get to play them. Especially those strapped to P2P play (which are arguably quite horrible just for that reason). I thought there were moments of brilliance in the Bioshock 2 MP, but good luck finding anyone to play that these days.I got to experience that only because I got the game early enough (though I didn’t pre-order…Christmas sale on that). I have heard interesting things about the GRID MP, but got that really cheap later and never got to experience it though I like the SP.

            I just think there could be a flipside and you could look at pre-orders as a way to combat the way metacritic dominates the AAA industry. (Though I think phased betas may be the better trend).

          • dE says:

            @Misnomer:
            Odd. The only way to be even less informed than with Metacritic, is to see no criticism at all. I don’t see that as progress to be honest.

      • noom says:

        Format for commenting on an article on RPS:

        a) Make an incredibly flimsy assumption or outright fabrication.
        b) Go nuts.

  10. Vraptor117 says:

    As developers keep cutting portions of their game to use as DLC or pre-order bait, I seem to fall into one of two camps:

    1. If I’m really excited for a game, and the previews looks really good, I’ll pre-order just so I’ll also get whatever extra bits they’re tacking on (The most recent game I pre-ordered was XCOM).

    2. I’m interested in a game, but not foaming at the mouth to play it, I’ll wait. Wait for the next Steam sale when it’s half off, wait until a “complete” edition is released, or both of those.

    I will say this, it’s much harder for me to justify pre-ordering than it is to just wait, especially with so many “mainstream” games failing to scratch the itch these days.

    • chewbaccasdad says:

      Exactamundocisely!

    • HadToLogin says:

      I have different way. If developer/publisher start talking about DLC, I start to wait for GOTY edition for <10$ in some big season sale.
      I've preordered XCOM because Valve didn't mention region lock on $20something Russian Steam and developers didn't mention making any DLC (beside old XCOM hair) before release, if they would start talking about it, I wouldn't take it.

  11. CMaster says:

    I’ve held for ages that preordering is a practice that doesn’t make any rational sense. You frequently pay extra, rather than saving money, you don’t know what you’ll be getting, and there’s no benefit to the consumer (normally) over just buying it on say launch day or later.

    However, nobody else ever seemed to go along with this line.

    I think it’s possibly because I’ve been playing PC games and reading PC mags since 1993 or so. I’ve seen enough games (often from well known devs/publishers) either never materialize at all, or materialize literally broken, despite previews and paid ads to know that it’s not a safe proposition.

    • sinister agent says:

      I’ve always thought them pointless and ridiculous, too, and I didn’t even have a PC until about 1999, nor a console until 2007. Hell, even the name is absurd. If you order something, you order it. “pre-order” is completely meaningless.

    • Dark Nexus says:

      Frequently pay extra? Only with the relatively new “pay more for early access!” stuff. Before that it was either usually the same price or cheaper (or with extra swag) as it would have been buying it on launch day.

      • Guvornator says:

        Given that the price will drop by at least £10 within 2 months of the release, you are pretty much paying extra. Frankly, I’ve no idea why people buy new games, let alone preorder – they’re expensive and frequently not the finished article.

        • Archonsod says:

          Because the term expensive is subjective. £10 is a lot of money to some people, it’s insignificant to others. As far as I’m concerned I can pay the extra £10 to enjoy myself, or I can leave it for a couple of months while my bank manager enjoys it instead. Pretty easy decision, I don’t like my bank manager.

          • Guvornator says:

            Unless you’ve got a terminal disease, the game ain’t getting any worse by waiting. Hell, given the state some games are in on release it’s probably got better. Oh, and your bank manager LOVES you getting in debt, so he’s going to be pretty happy with you spending it.

          • Archonsod says:

            If £10 was enough to put me in debt I wouldn’t be spending money on games in the first place. So you’ve got a zero sum there – the game won’t be worse in two months, but then I won’t gain anything from keeping that ten quid for two months either.
            Although that’s technically incorrect. While the game might actually manage to improve in two months, given the current government there’s every chance my ten quid might actually get worse over the same period ….

          • Valkyr says:

            Saving money works in the long run, it’s rarely a short-term decision (only when you save truckloads of cash in one deal). Of course maybe for you £10 is a sum you can pay without too much thinking, but think of it like this: if you had saved £10 in the last – say – five games you purchased, now you would have enough money to buy you one more game. With the same budget. Your bank manager has the same amount of money, and you have one more game.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      I’m with you on this one, but I would go one step further and say that buying games upon launch isn’t very wise either.

      Technical problems crop up all too often, and the price drops by a huge amount after the first six months.

      I’ve been burned by the past 3 games I pre-ordered or bought on release day. Skyrim’s performance was terrible until the patches started several months later. Brink was almost unplayable for the first several weeks due to some issues with AMD’s drivers. Then there was Dragon-Age, the game I had to buy twice, because buying the entire (GOTY Edition) game a second time was $60 cheaper than getting the dlc seperately. Really wish I had just waited another year for that one.

      I only buy games on sale these days. That probably isn’t good for developers relying upon that first months’ influx of cash. Then again, if publishers invested more resources into QA than they did in their pre-order marketing blitzes, I might be willing to buy games sight unseen.

  12. jonfitt says:

    I have only pre-ordered a handful of games, and only when I’m 99% sure I’m going to buy it anyway. The payoff has been some small saving and possibly DLC tat.

    I pre ordered Portal 2 because I wanted to play it before it was spoiled (so why not save $3), and I pre ordered XCOM because the early impressions had been very good and I wanted Guile hair (and to save some small amount of money).

    It’s true that many AAA games may not be worth playing and you need a review to determine that, but I believe that there are some that no matter what the critics say have to be played.
    If HL3 or HL2:EP3 ever comes out, there will be no question that I have to play that.

    • Robmonster says:

      I’ve only pre-ordered the same games for the same reasons. Are you secretly me?

  13. Britpunk says:

    I see no harm in it whatsoever.

    I’m ignoring the pre-release alpha/beta/kickstarter stuff, because I think that is an entirely separate issue to the mainstream publisher’s habit of pre-release extras. I also haven’t seen any particular charts or owt, so my thinking is purely gut-instinct (and no need for anybody to point out my lack of science meaning that I’m entirely wrong. If you believe me to be wrong, then please do produce some charts and show me how I’m wrong. That’s how I learn).

    I reckon there are two peak points where the publisher makes the most money – the first week, where the game is selling at full price, and the hype machine is in full effect, then the first significant (50%+) mark-down event.

    If one of these events is gonna grab a £30 per sale, and the other £15 per sale, then you’re really gonna push the launch week and try to secure as many sales as you can. If a consumer is willing to buy in to this, whether based on gut, or hype, or the lure of extra shinies, then surely that’s his/her own business.

    And so long as it works, or at least is perceived to work, then it isn’t going to go away, and you can bet your ass that most major pubs will have people employed to measure and assess the impacts of marketing schemes X, Y and Z and if they don’t feel it works, we won’t continue to see it.

    I buy games for many reasons – I bought Xcom first week at full price, cuz fuck it’s Xcom, Dishonored first week at full price, which was completely not on my radar at all until RPS’ WIT about the thing (somehow I’d managed to ignore the previews entirely), but say Bioshock 2 I only picked up when it was a fiver cause of meh. If I happened to have had spare cash at the time, I certainly would have bought XCOM and DH pre-release and have been happy for the bonuses XCOM would have given me. Games currently on my horizon that I’d possibly pre-order are Bioshock Infinite and the new Team Meat cat splicing thing. I won’t shed any tears if there’s no pre-order bonus tat, but I’d be pretty chuffed if there were.

  14. ZIGS says:

    I’m disappointed I can’t pre-order this article so I can get exclusive bonus writing

  15. Loque says:

    Sometimes it works, and it works well. I’ve preordered Borderlands 2 + Season pack and Torchlight 2. All of them with some initial discount (10%) plus a bonus 10% discount for previous chapters owners … plus a “4 pack” lower price offer (I just had to recruit 6 people to share the games, and I needed less than 2 hours via Reddit). I’ve saved a LOT of money and I loved the games (I still play them of course).

    Sometimes it does not work, and it’s a complete disaster. Pre-ordering Diablo III was one of the worst things I’ve ever done in my gaming life, I guess. Well, at least that was my last Blizzard title, screw them.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Phinor says:

    Pre-order bonuses actually cause me to hand less money to publishers. Here’s how it works: there are few must have games every year that I pre-purchase and pre-order bonuses have no say in what games belong to this category. I knew year ago that Dishonored would be one of these games, for example. But there aren’t many games that belong to this category.

    Then there’s a whole bunch of games that I’m not sure whether to pre-purchase but if I resist the urge to pre-purchase AND the game turns out great (usually this becomes known few days after the release date), I’m still likely not going to buy it for a while because either a) the price has jumped up or b) I would no longer get all the pre-order content that was intended for the game thus making me pay the same for less content and this won’t do. So in cases like this it’s often an easy decision to wait until the game hits bargain bins. Then there are games in which the DLC gets out of hand before it hits bargain bin and it becomes easy to wait for the GOTY edition. Now if I had bought the game just after the release date (which I didn’t due to the two reasons I mentioned earlier), I probably would have been an easy DLC milking target. So I like to think publishers are getting less money from me due to all this pre-order business.

    Oh and regarding the new pre-order meter with some Steam games, I can happily announce that I will not take any part in that because of the € pricing. If it’s a must have game, I’ll happily pay 10-20€ less and buy the game from a different store.

  17. JimDiGritz says:

    I remember working for Tony Rainbird at Special Reserve (RIP), the UK mail order games company back in 1992.. pre-ordering was super popular back then.

    I’ll also never forget someone phoning up and asking “Do you have Dragons Breath?”(http://www.lemonamiga.com/games/details.php?id=1738) to which I answered “No, I brushed my teeth this morning!”… oh my how we all laughed…

    Anyway.. nostalgia over. What was the question again?

  18. Wulfram says:

    Places I preorder from only take your money when the game actually ships. Which is likely after people have started playing the game in the States. So I don’t see much reason not to pre-order if I’m not going to wait for a price cut.

  19. Ootmians says:

    Interesting timing. I’ve recently given up on most preorders myself, after overpaying for a series of mediocre games that were vastly reduced in price a couple of weeks later. It really gets to be a racket after awhile. Most of the pre-order exclusive stuff isn’t that hot anyway: crappy weapons, avatar t-shirts. It’s a lot like the Hollywood model, where movies make most of their money on opening weekend, when they rely on advertising to get people in before word gets out that it’s crap!

  20. Premium User Badge

    Yachmenev says:

    If we want to talk about stupid things when it comes to preorders, how about season passes for DLC to games? :)

    • Prokroustis says:

      I know it’s “just games” but that shit is making me really really angry indeed.

      • Ootmians says:

        Not only that, but now “Season Passes” are starting to not include all the DLC. Wha? That’s a just a bundle discount, then.

        • malkav11 says:

          They generally contain all the meaningful DLC, though. They’ll have the expansion content – the major new quests or story chunks or whatever. They usually don’t bundle petty crap like additional outfits or single weapons or whatever other nickel and dime DLC they pump out. And personally, that’s fine by me. Lets me get a bundle discount (I never buy the season pass at full price, either) and ignore the silly spam DLC.

  21. The First Door says:

    What I have problems with most are the different pre-order bonuses being unique to shops. It really pisses me off to know I’m buying a game at a higher price and not getting all of it. Yes, it might just be silly cosmetic things, but that isn’t the point: It still feels incomplete. XCOM is the perfect example, those armour colours might not be important, but they damn sure give the game much more character.

  22. Premium User Badge

    darkChozo says:

    My policy on preordering games is that I only preorder games I know I’d be buying anyway (ie. either it interests me enough and prerelease reviews are good, or the rare game that really gets my hyped), and then only a day or two before it releases. Essentially, if it’s a matter or paying a day early to get the bonuses, particularly if they’re good bonuses, I’ll do it (hello there BL2).

    I don’t really understand people who preorder games weeks or even months and advance and drive up silly preorder numbers. The only games I’ve preordered early in recent memory are Dark Souls and Planetside 2, and both are games that I got the chance to play extensively beforehand (DS on a friend’s PS3, PS2 in alpha/beta), and that I knew were relatively unlikely to become so bad that I’d cease to enjoy them.

  23. djbriandamage says:

    I’ll preorder if they give me a discount and I’m guaranteed to buy the game either way. My favourite preorder experiment so far is Blizzard’s WoW Annual Pass which committed me to a year’s subscription of WoW and gave me Diablo 3 for free. I think that’s a brilliant means of positive reciprocity.

    • malkav11 says:

      That’s essentially my policy. I’m not at all interested in buying games for full price unless I am completely and utterly convinced that I must have this game and play it immediately (historically, only a few titles have managed this distinction, mostly Blizzard, Obsidian, and Bioware games). But if I’m given a decent incentive to preorder – entire additional games (that I don’t already own), significant discounts, major DLC, or a quality collector’s edition – and I’m reasonably confident I want to own and play the game, then by all means.

      It’s been a preorder-heavy season for me, since Greenmangaming has had 30+% discounts on a lot of major (Steamworks) titles, most of which also bundled additional DLC, games, or store credit. I think my proudest deal, though, was snagging Assassin’s Creed III Deluxe over on Gamersgate for a 50% rebate in store credit, which combined with a further 15% (IGN code) discount on Far Cry 3 nabbed me that game as well, and roll on store credit from that purchase plus some reserves I had lying around nabbed me Hotline Miami. But I also got Borderlands 2, Dark Souls, Dishonored, XCOM, Darksiders II, Hitman: Absolution, Sleeping Dogs, and The Secret World at significant discounts and with associated bonuses over the last few months. I grant you that it’s not always worked out – I haven’t played Darksiders II yet and it’s currently on significantly steeper discount, but oh well. But in general, it’s been a fine and rewarding policy.

  24. Uthred says:

    I don’t have an issue with it if everyone who pre-orders gets the same stuff. I quite enjoy pre-ordering, in a way it makes my anticipation for the game more tangible. What does piss me off is retailer exclusive pre-order bullshit, I want to own the full game.

  25. grundus says:

    It doesn’t make even a tiny shred of logical sense, ever, but it does sometimes when you have a demo to try out (which is rare and even that doesn’t always prepare you for the launch), yet I still do it occasionally.

    I didn’t know I’d like Borderlands 2, but I had a big, big hunch I would. I paid £25 for it and it really did pay off (except it didn’t as it has done the opposite, the 260 hours I’ve spent on it could have been spent working for money and I’d be a lot better off if I had… Oh hell, that’s depressing). Sniper Elite V2, on the other hand… I liked the first game, had a lot of fun with the demo, but could I get the game working at launch? Nope, it took maybe a month, possibly more, before I could play it without it crashing every time I killed someone. I had been hoping it was some sort of challenge to me to finish the game with no kills when the game glorified (or whatever) every other kill with an X-ray camera shot, but it wasn’t, it was just a dodgy release.

    But yeah, I rarely preorder stuff. Three out of the four that come to mind (Fallout: New Vegas, SEV2, Battlefield 3, Borderlands 2) have been really worth it, the fourth (SEV2) was a good game, but by the time I got it working I’d already moved on to something shinier.

  26. Frank says:

    “Buy games when they come out, once you’ve read about them, and decided if you think they’re worth your money.”

    Why should I do this again? For the greater good or something? If I can decide ahead of time that I want a game, I’ll preorder. If not, I usually am not so won over by the reviews as to deviate from waiting for it to hit $5 (rare exceptions: $20 for Batman: AA, $40 for King’s Bounty).

    To the extent that publishers’ preorder tactics bother me at all, Steam’s progress bar is not a serious offender. On the other hand, splitting extras between retailers, as was done with DXHR — that’s not cool.

  27. Premium User Badge

    AlwaysRight says:

    Ballbags, reply fail.

    @JimDiGritz

    Holy Fudge! I remember seeing the Special Reserve ads, I also remember Dragons Breath. I had a broken (pirated) copy where the Dragons never hatched from their eggs… fun times.

    • Robmonster says:

      I used to love that game. I was always too impatient for the dragons to hatch though, and cranked the heat up high! Never did work out the potion making though.

  28. Premium User Badge

    welverin says:

    I have no problems preordering things from Gamestop, since it’s a no risk investment.

    If there are bonuses that sound nice I’ll put down the minimum amount, typically $5, if for some reason I change my mind, I just cancel it and get my money back. I don’t even have to cancel before hand and you have a couple days to pick the game up so there’s time to find out how the game is first.

    Now with Amazon it’s necessary to cancel before hand, digital pre-purchases (e.g. Steam) can’t be canceled, so that requires being certain and any bonuses are worth putting money down before the game is released.

    • Dark Nexus says:

      My issue with pre-ordering from Gamestop is that they always try to pitch me the idea that it’s the only way I can get the game on launch day. They essentially try to create an artificial scarcity to get you to pre-order.

  29. Premium User Badge

    mpk says:

    It could also be said that pre-orders release a developer from the necessity to complete a game, or to put 100% of their efforts into making it the best game they possibly could. I doubt this happens often, if at all, but the more that the Pre-order Now! method of selling and marketing games becomes prevelant, and the earlier the pre-orders are made available, the less a developer or publisher has to worry about how good their game is.

    • Premium User Badge

      mpk says:

      On season packs: I love the two Borderlands games, and have all the DLC for the original but I haven’t bought the season pass for BL2 because I want the option to not pay for DLC I don’t want. Not that I distrust the quality of what Gearbox have put out so far for the two games, but if I’d rather pay £8 each at the time and know what I’m gettting.

      Besides, what happens if they just put out three skin packs, or extra weapons and tell folk that’s what their season pass earned them? Unlikely, I know, but still.

      • malkav11 says:

        I’ve yet to see a season pass go away. Just do what I do and wait for either a) all of the season pass DLC to come out or b) the pass to cost less than a single DLC would normally, or c) both. (I generally go with one of the latter two.)

  30. Yar says:

    I agree with this, except I think that most people who pre-order are people who were going to buy it right away anyway, without waiting to hear about it. It takes the same mentality.

    I mean, if pre-orders didn’t exist, you could make this same argument about people who wait in line to get a game on release day vs. people who wait to hear how good it is. There is the effect that reviews can have when media have their copies but it hasn’t been released yet, but often the media are bought and sold already, especially for big titles.

    Regardless, marketing is often more important thatn quality, and they are just finding a way to capitalize on that. They want the money from customers who are buying their marketing, and there’s no reason not to ask for it now. In fact, I think for those people who are buying on marketing, they enjoy the option to go ahead and buy it now.

  31. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    I’m always annoyed at Steam for showing me games I can buy that don’t even exist yet. It’s usually more than half of the featured games in their big slider thingy.

    The only time I’ve pre-ordered is when I had to get dibs on the game at the store, or else they’d sell out. That’s ancient history.

  32. kwyjibo says:

    Don’t think this will do anything to stem pre-orders.

    Those who already do pre-order believe their infantile fanboy enthusiasm for material goods is a positive character trait. Those imbeciles who complain in forums when someone scores their favourite franchise a 7/10, they’re the pre-ordery people, and I don’t mind that it’s them having their wallets fucked.

  33. Low Life says:

    I can think of two publisher-funded games I’ve prepurchased weeks in advance in the recent years: DX:HR and Mass Effect 3. With Mass Effect 3 the risks were quite minimal considering how much I liked the first two games and how little the game was going to do to differentiate from them (especially from ME2). And DX:HR… Sometimes I just throw away logic and let my feelings take over. Usually that happens when someone shows me glorious cyberpunk CGI trailers with awesome music.

    As a European, I’m usually lucky enough (hah!) to see a bunch of reviews and forum threads pop up before the preorder time is over, and if the game seems promising I can buy it cheaper and with all the (stupid) extra stuff. Recent examples of this would be Dishonored and XCOM. If this wasn’t the case, then yeah, I’d buy those games after release. I can wait – it’s not like those games have integrated sunglasses that slide in from the sides of your eyes or anything.

  34. njolnin says:

    I disagree with the article, and I don’t think consumers are being given enough credit for how they make their decisions. I enjoy the price discounts that pre-orders offer. All of the other “bonuses” are usually inconsequential, for which I’m glad. I’m a little more concerned about how some companies considered hiding important features if the game is pre-owned.

    Price is a major factor for me, though. Greenmangaming, for example, lets you stack a pre-order discount on top of one of their many other discounts. The upcoming Hitman game is a great example. I’m paying only around $34 for it.

    I had no intention of buying the game after initial previews, but I was persuaded to do so after more favorable coverage (from this site, as it happens). As I’d already enjoyed the series before, pre-ordering was a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t I want to save money?

    I think anyone who knows their tastes well and is informed about a product can pre-order without worry. So, I hope companies continue to offer price discounts for pre-orders. All that other stuff isn’t a factor. It’s nice to save money on some of my favorite titles, even though I got them new.

    • Guvornator says:

      But it’s not a money saving. Sure, it may be that it’s a few dollars cheaper on the release date, but games generally depreciate quicker than an un-waterproofed Trabant. Pre-order discounts seem to be based around an RRP that, frankly, you’d be unlucky to pay in the first place.

      • malkav11 says:

        It is if you want to play the game when it comes out. If you don’t care when you play it, then yes, waiting for a more substantial sale is probably advisable.

    • Archonsod says:

      “I disagree with the article, and I don’t think consumers are being given enough credit for how they make their decisions.”

      I suspect John might have missed the mark altogether on that one. If I’m interested enough in a game then I’m going to buy it anyway, even if it gets totally panned in the post release reviews. I’ve already been sold on the game, so the only difference with the pre-order is when I actually pay. I may well end up not liking the game, but since I’ve already accepted I’m going to buy it anyway the only affect the pre-order really has is that I probably paid less than I would have done if I didn’t pre-order (and might have got some bonus tat along with it).
      Only time I’m going to defer to reviews to assist in deciding whether or not to purchase a game is if I’m not sure about the game in the first place, and if that’s the case I’m not going to have even considered pre-ordering in the first place. In fact, the only time this really tends to happen is when I see said game on sale somewhere (at a price low enough to grab my interest while still being high enough to be out of chancing range).

    • Eddy9000 says:

      I don’t think saying that consumers are going to be swayed by marketing campaigns that companies have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on is not giving them credit for their purchasing decisions. Advertising and marketing is a billion dollar industry that only exists to reduce the autonomy consumers have in their choices.

  35. Kefren says:

    Hear hear! I’ve no problem with pre-ordering a game that’s an act of love from an indie. I did that with Retro City Rampage recently. I only once pre-ordered from a big publisher, Bioshock (I love the System Shock games), and sent it back when I discovered the DRM bundled with it. I’ve never pre-ordered a big publisher game since then. Since I’ve so many games anyway I always wait for those to drop to sensible prices.

    I agree on pre-purchase, such a stupid term. If you hand over the money you have purchased. It’s not possible to purchase it before that point.

  36. derbefrier says:

    If I think I will like a game I will preorder it. Sites like green man gaming usually have great pre order deals but thats besides the point. To put it plainly, I just don’t really care about these silly politics. Theres enough info out there before games even ship these days to form an educated opinion about a game and decide whether its something you’ll enjoy. Sure sometimes that game you were sure you would like could turn out to be crap but that will still happen even if you read all the reviews, watch youtube vids and wait a decade before you purchase. you can just never be sure until you get your hands on it yourself and since you cant rent games on PC this is just a risk you have to accept. I probably have at least 20 games on my steam library I have bought that I regret getting some I pre ordered, some had been out for years but in both cases they sounded like fun games so I decided to try them out.

    The DLC packs and crap like the Tomb Raider pre order thing don’t bother me either. I’ve yet to come across a DLC in any game I couldn’t live without but that may be because I have a different point of view. I view all DLC as “extra” content. Content that’s not needed to get the full experience of the released game and I have yet to come across a game where this isn’t the case. I am not gonna shit my pants over whether or not I got the exclusive golden gun, hat, or whatever swag the pre order guys are shoving in my face. Even extra missions tend to have little bearing on the main game and really don’t enhance or delude the vanilla experience in any way.

  37. 2late2die says:

    I only ever pre-order stuff that A) I know I will definitely buy, and B) offers a decent enough bonus. Digital pre-orders baffle me completely. I mean I can see physical pre-orders – sometimes you want Amazon to send it to you ASAP. Sometimes you want that art book and figurine that are bundled in limited edition pre-order (i.e. one that will become quickly unavailable for sale at all), but when it’s a digital release that gives you a couple of extra guns, or skins, or maps – why would you pre-order that. With digital releases you’ll get the game at the same speed – if you buy it a minute after it’s released you’ll get it one minute later than the guy who pre-ordered it 10 weeks before. And it’s hopefully become a known thing – any pre-order DLC and skins and weapons become available a few weeks later at a small price. What’s more, just wait for the next big Steam sale and you can get the game plus any patches and all the DLCs for 25% off.
    So anyway, between the backlog of games I have, and the knowledge that unless I want a box I’ll get a better deal by waiting for a Steam sale, I pretty much stopped pre-ordering games.

    • Dark Nexus says:

      Apart from potential discounts/extras included, a digital pre-order can (sometimes) let you pre-load the software at your convenience so it unlocks right away, compared to the person ordering it on launch day who has to deal with potentially overloaded download servers first.

      It’s a small perk, but it is a perk.

  38. caddyB says:

    The most ridiculous thing is the Jolly Roger editions of these games will have all the DLC unlocked in the first day anyways.

    Another thing to consider.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      You can often find all the pre-order bonuses from various retailers collected for easy download. That way you can still buy the game legally and not worry about what features may be missing if you had purchased it elsewhere.

      That said, I have yet to find a pre-order bonus that was actually worth downloading, so I’ve stopped worrying about it altogether.

  39. terazeal says:

    I find that this philosophy applies equally well to paying for any sort of product that does not exist yet or is unfinished(i.e. paid alphas/betas, donations in exchange for future product and so on). Also, the dichotomy established in the intro between pre-ordering self published and traditionally published games seems artificial; there’s no substantive argument given as to why one should behave differently in either case, and one does not always(or for some, often) know the nature of the creators anyways.

    • Vorphalack says:

      ”Also, the dichotomy established in the intro between pre-ordering self published and traditionally published games seems artificial, there’s no substantive argument given as to why one should behave differently in either case.”

      Except that there quite plainly is / was a good reason given. You, as a consumer, do not need to pre-order a AAA game before you get to see the reviews. Publishers, as sellers of AAA games, do not rely on pre-orders sales over day 7 dales to keep the company afloat. You have time to scruitinise your purchase without having a negative impact on the industry. In the case of the indy dev. or the kickstarter project, not enough pre-orders often means the game wont get made. That’s a huge difference. You have to take a risk to back the latter, but the cost is often much lower and the expectations equally more realistic than the standard AAA publisher hype.

  40. Greg Wild says:

    Agreed on not pre-ordering publisher distributed games; unless you happen to come across some manner of voucher/deal you can get it for cheap with. Green Man Gaming is a great site for doing this with, and is basically the place I will generally pre-order.

    With Kickstarter though, I can see why many might see it as a pre-order system, though I personally don’t. Granted, it’s mostly due to my interest in (real working, totally not utopian) alternative political economics, but I really do see kickstarter more as a way to get the games I want to see, and the relationship with the creator I want to have. One by we, the gamers, commission the kinds of games we want to play based on what the creator themselves are offering themselves as being capable of. Not what a board of execs deems commercially viable.

  41. Slinkyboy says:

    I don’t separate console gamers with PC gamers because they’re both just as stupid. Gaming never was good. Good gaming only came once in awhile.

  42. Moraven says:

    I ordered XCom and BF3 on the day before release. Technically a pre-order but I knew enough about XCom at that point and I enjoy BF gameplay. Xcom wroked out with the free physical goodies, DLC, and $20 Amazon coupon. BF3 came with the first DLC pack free (BF2 maps, which I would want) but they came out with premium so soon later it almost felt wasted.

    Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles I pre ordered due to their limited release and they had already had a EU release, so enough was known about them both.

    Blizzard games, I like Blizzard games (and their Collector’s).

    In general really I stay conservative. Unless its a must have now and I know absolutely I will enjoy the game (which can be hard to tell on some games), I can wait till I hear the good and bad and/or sale.

  43. Moraven says:

    Can’t recall the name of the game(that is going to bug me, have mentionted it before), but the PS3 game did for pre orders on their collector’s was to do it Kickstarter style. The more pre-orders they got, the more physical items were added collector’s. I liked this because it meant it was actually feasible for them to produce and provide you with more goods. Like Stretch Goals.

    Tomb Raider DLC offer only has the purpose of marketing and not providing anything new to the consumer that will come out anyway.

  44. Guvornator says:

    “by the nature of previews unfinished projects are (rightly) given the benefit of the doubt”

    First off, good work, John. I only mention that because a) it’s true and b) I’m going to be a bit of a pain in the arse and I don’t want you to think it’s because I’m on your case, because it’s an industry wide thing. I’ve heard this “previews are mainly positive because the project is unfinished etc etc”. Why ARE previews positive?

    Surely, games should be in some kind of working order by the time they’re shown to journalists. I mean, ok, if it’s buggy then you can be lenient, but if it’s just arse don’t you have to flag it, or at least not promote it by writing an article about it? The only remotely negative thing I’ve ever read* in a preview was for Descent, and we all know how shit THAT turned out to be…

    This default “a game is good until it’s PROVED to be arse” is just bullshit, and it’s hard for me to not see it as part of the journo/PR over-familiarity that you’ve rightly railed against. It’s just hype and hope wrangling.

    *For obvious reasons I steer clear of them these days.

    • Archonsod says:

      “This default “a game is good until it’s PROVED to be arse” is just bullshit,”

      Not really. It’s incredibly unusual the previewer has access to the full game, and the bits they are shown are specifically picked out by the publisher/dev/marketing to show off the game’s strengths. It’s a lot like a movie trailer – you can say whether the movie looks good based on what is shown in the trailer, but for all you know the trailer consists of the only good scenes in the whole film. So while you think for example Thor is going to be a great film based on the trailer, it turns out you could have saved almost two hours of your life simply by viewing the trailer and ignoring the rest.

  45. bigjig says:

    Unfortunately for me, for where I live (Japan) pre-ordering a game that I’m looking forward to becomes essential for games made by some publishers on digital stores. There’s a nasty habit of games being put up for preorder only to be taken down and regionally blocked to Japanese IPs after release. (Dark Souls, Sleeping Dogs, Civilization V etc. etc. – happens more often than you think)

    Having said that, I think preorders should be taken on a case by case basis. You say that the “customer rarely gets anything worthwhile out of it,” which may be the case for Tomb Raider, but I’m pre purchasing XCOM for about $35 on GMG, getting some crappy DLC sure, but also getting a free copy of Civ 5 to give away. It had a demo too, so it wasn’t that much of a shot in the dark. Whereas if I had of waited for “reviews” (lol) to come out, I’d be paying $60 for the game and if I cared for it $15 for the elite soldier pack (yes, your eyes don’t deceive you, this pack costs $15 in Japan!) without a copy of Civ V to gift to a friend.

  46. Freud says:

    With more content being labeled pre-order bonuses my new purchase strategy is to never buy any game that employs cheap tricks like that for full or even half price. I’ll wait until they are below $10.

    Try to insult me as a consumer and I’ll turn into a smarter one.

  47. Paul says:

    Lately greenmangaming is making me preorder.
    I preordered Dark Souls PC, Sleeping Dogs, Hitman Absolution, Dishonored – all of them for some 35-38 dollars each via 25% off coupons. Loved all of them (except Hitman yet) so I cannot complain – games I want to play on release bought cheaply then in other places – win.
    I utterly loathe preorder DLC bullshit and all these schemes though.

  48. NathanH says:

    To be honest with many games there is enough information that if you’re enthusiastic about a game you’ll have a good enough idea about it before it’s released. My pre-orders this year have been Warlock, Crusader Kings 2, and Duels of the Planeswalkers. For the first two I had already seen the game being played by people who knew stuff about strategy games, and read detailed AARs from people with review code. It was clear that the two games were good quality and would be right up my street, so I pre-ordered to get some goodies because I was going to buy the games anyway, didn’t need to wait for the reviews, and wanted to be part of the on-release forum discussions. When you play strategy games on release, there is lots of fun to be had in strategy discussions online. If you wait too long, these discussions reduce to players who know the game well telling you the best strategies, which isn’t so fun.

    Duels of the Planeswalkers released the deck lists before release, so there wasn’t really much I didn’t know about the game, so may as well pre order and get some goodies.

    Pre-orders aren’t something to do frivolously, but if you know what you’re doing they’re usually good and the discounts you receive over buying them a few days after release can go towards buying cheap games on sales. Video games really aren’t so expensive that a few quid every pre-order won’t quickly add up to the game from the Steam sales.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Just going to throw up Magarena since you mentioned Magic. You can’t play against your friends, but the decks are interesting, and the computer player logic is far better.

      • NathanH says:

        I play Magarena, and it’s cool for all the cards it has, but I find the AI inferior to Duels. Specifically, the AI in Magarena tends to be extremely poor (on all settings) at choosing attackers. It chooses blockers quite competently and casts spells quite competently, but can be relied upon to attack into certain death too often. Also, the change to assignment of damage to blockers is very unbalancing, making walls and other high-toughness creatures excessively strong.

        Unless the AI has a significantly better deck than me, I expect to score near 100% against Magarena, which is a bit boring. If they manage to fix the attack AI then it’ll be really good.

  49. Premium User Badge

    Carra says:

    The only games I used to pre-order and thus purely on thrust alone are those made by Blizzard.

    The pre-orders often make little sense. A free copy of Hitman 1-3 when buying the new Hitman, Majesty 1 for free when buying Majesty 2… If I’m interested in Hitman it’s because I’ve played through those games and thus I do not need a copy of them.

    And all that pre-order stuff makes it frustrating for people who buy it the week it comes out. Lately with X-Com I could not change the color of my soldiers because that’s a pre-order bonus (it’s actually an ini setting you can toggle).

    Why do you have to punish the customers who are willing to pay full price the week a game is released?

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Blizzard’s discounts are quite small in any case, so there isn’t much reason not to pay full price.

  50. Allenomura says:

    I am actively pulled away from pre-ordering any games involved in that pre-order pyramid setup, that Steam is trying to push. If I’m pre-ordering it anywhere, it won’t be at that site; and I feel it reflects poorly on the publisher’s interest in me buying the game, to where my reaction might be waiting on that game until after launch and then weighing up options.

    Where I don’t rate the pre-order tat, I look for versions without it – Sleeping Dogs really fell foul of this…What am I going to do with (before we approach whether or not i want) a UFC tie-in in a modern-day kung-fu flick game!