Editorial: Let’s Not Pre-Order Games Any More, Eh?

By John Walker on March 18th, 2013 at 7:00 pm.

Over the last few years, gaming pre-orders have become quite the most peculiar thing. What was once the province of the over-excited has now become one of the most crucial revenue streams for big publishers, with games offering as many as eight different versions of their bemusing pre-order bundles, where you can buy the game months before it’s finished, on the promise of some plastic tat and a book of concept art that the game doesn’t look like. And throughout, we’ve been suggesting that no, you really shouldn’t be partaking. And in light of the recent disastergeddons of Aliens: Colonial Marines and SimCity, it feels appropriate to reiterate that.

Yes, I’ve recently covered this before. But I’m saying it again, in different words – maybe it’ll work better this time. In lieu of simply saying “we told you so”.

Times are a-changing. Clearly. But not always in the most logical way. Throughout the 90s it was the case that games reviews appeared on the thinly sliced lifeless corpses of fallen trees, usually about two weeks before the game came out. Now, with the lightning-fast reflexes of the internet, a major AAA blockbuster game will likely, er, not have any reviews accessible to anyone until either the moment of release, or moments before. We’ve gone backward. There are still exceptions, like the console version of Tomb Raider this month, but more and more frequently review embargoes match release dates, while pre-order periods can begin at the very moment a game is announced.

So yes, of course, as an olde-worlde writer-about-games, I could be cast as Mr Resentful here. My powers have been taken away! I don’t get to finish the game before you get to start it! But I can assure you it’s really not about that. It’s about our increasing inability to recommend or warn against a game before it’s on sale. Especially because it’s on sale up to a year before it’s even finished. Yes, absolutely there has been a democratisation of reviews, with anyone with a copy and a keyboard able to publish their own review. Or even just click their own score on Metacritic. But of course all of this occurs after the fact, after the game is on sale. And even if your favourite trusted source of reviews gets their opinion up a few days before the game’s available, the increasing propensity for pre-ordering renders the process a touch moot.

If you pre-ordered Aliens: Colonial Marines or SimCity, to take the two most recent examples, you’re in a tough position. You’ve already paid, to make sure you got your more expensive version of the game, with that extra DLC or presentation metal box. And when that game turns out to be a massive pile of dung, or it simply doesn’t work as promised, you’re screwed. With the difficulty of returning digitally purchased products, and the complete lack of a desire to lose the trinkets you’d pre-ordered for in the first place, it’s a horrible position to be put in. Some will, of course, go on the defensive – it’s a very well known phenomenon that those who have invested are far more likely to want to fight for their purchase to have been worthwhile. Most, however, will feel cheated, gutted, or embarrassed. None of these are good places to be.

But say the game was great – what is gained? Well, those trinkets, and the same discount that’s likely to be running through week one of its being on sale anyway. I want to argue that those trinkets aren’t worth it. And indeed were everyone to recognise at once that pre-ordering is a con by publishers, that offers no one any real advantages, we’d soon find the baubles and bonuses would appear as optional released versions of the game.

From the publishers’ perspective, this is a brutal argument. They’ve redesigned how they fund projects, how they expect their revenue streams to appear in their accounts, around a pre-ordering model. There’s a reason they push so hard, and so loudly, with their dozen different ways to buy Assassin’s Duty VII, with the Uber Digital Supreme Deluxe version containing one more novelty playing card than the Ultra Digital Deluxe Surpreme version, although lacking the replica stab victim figurine in the Supreme Ultra Uber Deluxe boxed version, only available in GameStop if you pre-order on Amazon. But it’s a reason that is entirely benefiting them, and not benefiting gamers.

Subverting the review model is traditionally an option taken by the self-knowingly dreadful. When Die Hard 5 was released with no press screenings, no reviews in the magazines and websites ahead of its cinema debut, it was for a reason. Everyone involved knew it was a piece of crap, and they wanted to hide that fact from potential film goers for as long as possible. But that’s not the case in gaming. This is happening with all manner of games, from those you’d put money on being splendid (say BioShock: Infinite – I’ve not played a single second of it, and watched few trailers, but I still have a far greater expectation that it will be great than I do that it might be poop, simply because of who’s made it), to those you’d expect to be terrible. It certainly serves the same purpose – to prevent negative press putting people off making the purchase – but no conclusions can be drawn from its use.

Let alone because the game might still be in some pre-alpha form when the money starts rolling in. (This is completely separate from alpha-funded projects, that allow access to a game to those willing to pay up front – of course it’s nothing to do with that.) There simply isn’t a meaningful advantage to customers.

A boxed copy may well arrive on your doorstep on release day, saving you a trip to the shops. But we’re PC gamers, and that’s just not realistically how most of us consume games these days. Buying a game on its moment of release on Steam gets you the game almost at the same time as buying it in advance and waiting for it to unlock. Pre-loading, yes, that’s a useful feature, but surely not one more important than knowing what you’re buying before you buy it?

There are discounts, yes. But they’re rarely more than the 10% you’ll see most games discounted for their first week on sale. (And there as nothing compared to the discounts you’ll see a month later, although asking people to wait a month for the next big thing isn’t realistic.) And 10% off a steaming pile of shit still doesn’t make for very good value, and it’s still just as much hassle to get your money back no matter the discount.

As I mention above, those fun extras, and indeed those extremely not-fun extras like unique DLC that should obviously just be in the game, wouldn’t disappear if people widely boycotted the pre-order model. They’d move forward. In a sensible world, where people weren’t paying for things before they know if they’re worth paying for, those super-dooper bundles would appear as week one offers, as alternative forms in which to buy the game. They’d be there to encourage people to pay a little more, or even to pick up the regular priced version just for the bonuses. It would be a model designed for customers.

No, I don’t think I’m the Great Arbiter Of Games, whose opinion should be heard before a purchase is made. But I do think the reviewing press serves a useful function, and that can be even more useful with the easy availability of consensus from the internet. Someone who knows their tastes regularly match mine, or indeed anyone else in the industry’s, will find that expert opinion useful in advance of purchase. If Adam thinks the latest Map War Epic is utter rubbish, Map War aficionados will be well warned away. If Jim warns you that First-Person Multiplayer Shooter: The Shootening is an absolute mess, despite everyone’s high expectations, his words would be well worth listening to. And if you still weren’t sure, you could compare them to everyone else’s, and draw a useful opinion.

And the consequences of refusing the pre-order model reach further. Not only would it make publishers more likely to make sure good games are in the hands of the press well ahead of launch, so positive buzz would be out there ahead of sale, but it would make them more likely to return to the demo model. If they know they have something good to sell you, but also know you’re not going to buy it before it’s released, they’re far more likely to make sure a demo is in your hands. While they can rely on people handing over money based on a box image and a bundle of promises, why would they invest the time and money into a demo – take that daftness away and there’s a much greater incentive to ensure you’re encouraged before it’s out.

So please, just stop pre-ordering. It’s not offering anyone but publishers an advantage. It’s like paying for your meal at a restaurant before the kitchens are built, and months before the food critics have been in, let alone before you’ve been able to even read a proper menu. That just doesn’t make sense. Let’s start making sense.

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273 Comments »

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  1. dawnmane says:

    Do you also think we should stop Kickstarting things? Or does it only apply to “the Man”?

    • coffeetable says:

      Let’s not be disingenuous. Backing a kickstarter project serves a useful purpose to the customer: the money they give will go to making the game they want better.

      Pre-ordering does not do this. A game’s budget is decided on before it’s even announced, and decisions as to sequels or expansions will either be made at the same time or after a few weeks or months of sales are in. In either case, pre-ordering changes nothing for the customer, it just provides additional liquidity for the publisher.

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        darkChozo says:

        Counterpoint: from what I understand, preorders are used by publishers (and investors) in order to determine whether a game is going to be successful or not, so by preordering a game, you’re making it more likely that the game will have a sequel and are indirectly supporting the devs.

        Counter-counterpoint: Kickstarters are presented with a significantly different intent than preorders are. Kickstarters are explicitly about funding a game; without the Kickstarter, the game would either not exist or would be reduced significantly in scope (well, in theory, at least). Preorders are typically all about the bonuses, with very little appeal to anything but greed. Therefore, it’s reasonable to support the former and reject the latter, if only on the basis of message.

        • HothMonster says:

          ” preorders are used by publishers (and investors) in order to determine whether a game is going to be successful or not, so by preordering a game, you’re making it more likely that the game will have a sequel and are indirectly supporting the devs.”

          Surely they could just go back to waiting a couple months and seeing if the game actually is successful.

          • Shuck says:

            Often by the time you know if it’s successful or not through regular orders, you’ve already started on the next game. Which means a sequel would have to be the project after that one. I.e. 3-6 years later, by which point you’ve lost a lot of the buzz about the previous game (and the ability to make the sequel could be dependent on how well the interstitial game did).

          • Baines says:

            With planning, you’d only need throw off production for a few months, not years. Its a bit harder to manage if you want to keep the same team on the sequel (because that is the real reason for multi-year delays, that companies don’t want to leave devs sitting without work for three months), but even that is possible with care.

            If companies lived up to early claims of how DLC would be used and maintained games post-release, then you wouldn’t really lose any time at all. The developers who made Game X would be working on Game X’s post-release DLC and support for those few months, giving publishers the time to see the sales figures and decide whether the developers will start Game X2 or Game Y.

            Instead, DLC gets made during development or gets farmed out to other groups or a skeleton crew is put onto maintenance.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            Just imagine if you begin production on a sequel based on very positive pre-order numbers but when the game is released everyone realises it’s a steaming turd and no one actually buys (or pre-orders) the sequel because it wasn’t actually successful) and you wasted millions of dollars on a turd follow up that no one will buy. Wouldn’t you feel a tit

          • Yglorba says:

            Generally, no. You have to get the new game out quickly to capitalize on the success of the previous one.

            The reason we never got a good Betrayal at Krondor sequel is that Sierra took apart the development team and laid most of them off (believing the game was just a licensing cash-in and would flop, apparently) before they realized they had a massive hit on their hands. By the time it became obvious that a sequel would bring in lots of cash, it was too late. (They eventually put together a new team, but that’s why the sequels aren’t as good.)

            On the other hand, would Krondor have done well in preorders? I mean, I think a lot of early media coverage would have passed over it as a cash-in licensed game, too. Preorders don’t really give the company much useful feedback on a game’s quality, because nobody is using quality to judge when they buy it. I don’t think that that’s a good thing — all it does is compound the effect of hype.

        • nameless says:

          Counterpoint to your counterpoint (but not your counter-counterpoint): If the game is actually worthy of a sequel, they’ll find out by their sales numbers in the first couple of months. We don’t necessarily need a sequel in the works before the first game is even released. I, for one, am OK with waiting 18-24 months (or even longer) for a sequel to a game I loved.

          Also, if the devs make a poor game, they should not be pre-rewarded because it has a famous name attached to it. At the very least, it makes sense to me that developers and publishers’ compensation should match the quality of their releases.

          I understand that pre-orders are a way for publishers to mitigate risk, but creating video games is an inherently risky endeavour. I can’t see a reasonable reason why the risk should lie with the end-users rather than the publisher/developers (as occurs with pre-orders).

          Edit: HothMonster beat me to it. Note to self: ramble less.

          • Brun says:

            I, for one, am OK with waiting 18-24 months (or even longer) for a sequel to a game I loved.

            You might be. Shareholders and investors are not though.

          • nameless says:

            @Brun: Of course not, but I’m not too worried about that. I don’t invest in game publishers, I buy their products. I could not care less about whether or not their investors are happy; what I want is for me to be happy, so I don’t pre-order games, and if other people would stop pre-ordering games, perhaps game companies would have to convince customers that they make good games by actually making good games, rather than having shiny posters and pre-order bonuses and loads of promises.

          • Chris D says:

            @Brun

            That’s really not our problem.

            Edit: Damn, too slow.

          • Arglebargle says:

            One of the fatal flaws of investors: Working at the whims of short term gamblers.

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            Llewyn says:

            We don’t necessarily need a sequel in the works before the first game is even released

            You do if you want it to be developed by the same team as the first one.

          • Guvornator says:

            “You might be. Shareholders and investors are not though.”

            The answer is obvious – buy shares! even 1 share will get you in to an AGM, at which point consider yourself free to cause trouble…

          • solidsquid says:

            @Guvornator: Can you imagine if half the members of RPS bought one share of EA and all turned up at the AGM? Could be quite an…. interesting discussion which arose

        • Continuum says:

          I’d say there is a partially valid point on preorders comparing to Kickstarter. Here’s the thing, though – Kickstarter is to ensure a game you want gets made, and generally gets you the option to pay significantly less than you will on release. Preordering is for games that have already been made and are in the final stages of production.

          A failed Kickstarter probably means no game. Failed preorders may have some impact, but no publisher ever has canned a sequel on a game that sold massive copies in the first month just because preorders were low.

          I will preorder now in only the combination of these two conditions: I’m so flipping excited about a game I simply cannot wait another day to play it (Skyrim, although I would have been so much better off waiting a few months for bug fixes) and/or I am confident in the previews that the game will be decent and I really, really want sequels and similar games (XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and that worked out great for me).

          There can be downsides to not getting in on a game early. I did not preorder ME3, for example, even though I was sure I would love it (and I did), because I was short on cash and knew there was no way it was going to struggle financially. The giant ending dustup therefore had a massive impact on my enjoyment of the game; I had to play the whole game wondering if the ending was going to ruin it.
          It wasn’t great, but it didn’t ruin the game for me. The part that really hurt my enjoyment was the massive media firestorm about it, and I wish I could have played it without the end in mind.

        • Jools says:

          No one who preorders a game can actually know if that game deserves a sequel. This is in fact part of the problem with preordering. Prerelease information about any given game is all carefully selected by publishers and developers to cast that game in the most flattering light possible, and it’s usually only the games that are totally irredeemable that actually look like stinkers before they land. Preordering games to “show your support” is effectively giving up all pretense that you’re interested in supporting games based on anything more than marketing.

      • Entitled says:

        Exactly.

        An alternate universe where all games are created through crowdfunding, would have the same negative side as preordering:
        Hype could make crap sell in advance, set you up for a disappointment, and encourage manipulative marketing.

        On the other hand, unlike simple preordering, it would also have it’s benefits: it would be a very different industry from ours, where the most involved gamers can direct the industry’s path by LITRALLY voting with their wallet, instead of it being driven by executives’ misguided guesses at what has “mass market appeal”.

        Every time you Kickstart a game, you bring us closer to that world. If you think the good outweights the bad, go ahead.
        But with simple preordering, it’s not even a question that the bad outweights the good.

      • saginatio says:

        Mathematically speaking kickstarter is much more disadvantageous for the buyer than the pre-order:
        1) In case of pre-orders publisher is co-funding the game together with the prebuyers. For each pre-order the chances of profit are rising, therefore the publisher is more eager to give extra dollars for the development. In conclusion I can assume that for each 10$ I give as preorder, publisher will give another couple of bucks, which will come back to him as normal sale after premiere.
        2) In case of kickstarter only the pre-orders are funding the game. Therefore the game is developed only for the cash of preorders. All the money that is earned after the release goes directly to the pockets of developers, and not to the game development.

        As a conclusion: if you feel cheated by pre-orders, then you should feel double by kickstarter ;)

        • Continuum says:

          Your logic is faulty. You are making the assumption that preorder dollars have some direct effect on how much is added to the game. All of the investment and planning takes place long before the vast majority of the preorders. The last few months are not a time when features are added. The only thing preorders might influence is how hard a developer pushes for a deadline, but even then they don’t want to push back a deadline when they have sold preorders for that deadline.

          Kickstarter directly and massively determines what is in the game, and whether the game even exists. It’s not the same thing at all. I’m not suggesting that Kickstarter isn’t risky and people are wrong to skip it. It’s an investment and you don’t know what you get, so caveat emptor. Preordering is completely different – you gain nothing more than playing the game at release and some trinkets. The only way preorders change the actual game is by adding some random junk or if it’s not junk, by charging people more for it after release.

          • RvLeshrac says:

            Exactly. A Kickstarter is an investment. A ‘preorder’ doesn’t actually send any money to the developer, nor does it get you anything over the package you’ve paid for. It will not result in additional DLC, nor will it result in additional development time, assets, or anything else related to the actual game.

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          MarkN says:

          I’ve got a little experience of the influence of decent pre-orders on publishers, and unsurprisingly – given that people are already buying your game based on what it is now – the money goes towards increased advertising spend and exploring new DLC options.

          Not making the game better.

          People are already buying the game – why would they? They’re getting the opposite message – “Stop! You’ve done enough, you already have my money.”

          So they think of ways to ask for more money from you, rather than making the game better.

    • Brosepholis says:

      What about pre-ordering indie games? Is that also verboten? Is it OK as long as the money goes to the developers rather than the publisher?

      • Suits says:

        Is there even such a thing?

        • WrenBoy says:

          I preordered Legend of Grimrock. It was the only game I ever preordered.

        • StranaMente says:

          One can argue if buying alpha or beta stage of indie games is or not equal to preordering too.
          But the situation is quite different, for starters, like @coffeetable said earlier the budgets for big games are already allocated so preordering doesn’t change a thing, while buying an alpha/beta ver of an indie game gives money to the devs.
          Usually the indie devs that sell alphas/betas do tell what buyers will get, or you can find video and/or infos on the games, so it’s not a jump in the dark.
          So I would argue that indies selling alphas/betas is not pre-ordering.

          As for straight preordering of indie games, that’s another thing.

      • TartFlavor says:

        WarZ anyone?

      • uh20 says:

        that is a little more dignified, as indie studios may actually need pre-order money to improve the game before release.
        -but its still a bit unacceptable.
        as you move up to high budget studios, there should be absolutely no reason for pre-orders, nada single one.

    • greywolf00 says:

      Exactly what I was going to ask. While I agree with much of the article, Kickstarter is essentially pre-ordering. It’s also impossible to say if, or how much of a discount you’re getting as prices will be very random from project to project.

      • Giuseppe says:

        It’s not, in any meaningful way, pre-ordering. It’s people backing a project they want to see done, while offering a means of interacting with those making the game and even influencing the end-product.

        You can use Kickstarter as a means of pre-ordering, and some do, but that doesn’t make Kickstarter pre-ordering. You can use the butt of a gun to hammer nails in; that doesn’t make the gun a hammer.

        • greywolf00 says:

          In both cases you’re paying for a product before it’s finished. No guarantee the finished product will live up to the developers’ promises.

          Your argument is solely based around not being able to buy a failed Kickstarter game at a later date.

          • FeiFae says:

            Nope. It’s been said before in the comments.

            By supporting a kickstarter project you -ARE NOT- buying a product. You could support it with 5$ and get nothing of it other than warm feeling. You could support it with 1000$ and still get the same game others will. You are helping to fund a game and the tiered rewards could have as well been hand written thank you letter from the developers. The fact that they reward you with a game for backing at certain level is completley up to the developers. It’s not the purpose of kickstarting a project.

            Of course people treat is as it was some form of pre order is only in those people’s minds.

            That said as an aware consumer you should still be cautious of where you put your money and think twice or even three times before you donate anything.

          • Giuseppe says:

            Nope; my argument is based around the notion that Kickstarter is a means of funding a product. Pre-ordering is not a means of funding. You not only misunderstand the basis of my argument, but I’m not sure you understand the concept of funding in general.

            “Funding is the act of providing resources, usually in form of money, or other values such as effort or time, for a project, a person, a business, or any other private or public institution.”

            Pre-ordering is just placing an order for a product that has not yet been released.

          • greywolf00 says:

            On both of those extremes, the $5 and $1000 donations, those people are the minority. From what I’ve seen, the majority of backers are usually around the cost of a normal game (Avg $ per Kickstarter donor for Torment is $54.70, Project Eternity $53.89 62% of donors were $20-25, Wasteland 2 $47.86 53% were $15). Most people will not Kickstart a game they don’t want, just like people won’t pre-order a game they don’t want. I completely agree with your last point and that’s essentially what my argument is, you shouldn’t pre-order/Kickstart everything you see. Informed decisions are always the best ones.

          • greywolf00 says:

            You’re focusing on funding and failing to see the underlying argument that in both cases you’re giving a company $ for a product that isn’t finished. Period.

          • Giuseppe says:

            Saying “period” is supposed to make you right or shut everyone else up? :))

            It’s obvious that in both cases you’re giving money for something that doesn’t exist yet. Who in the world would even argue otherwise? It’s practically in the definition of both. It is you that doesn’t seem to understand or, maybe, refuses to acknowledge that the difference between funding a product and placing a pre-order for a product is the difference between giving money so something can be done and giving money on something that will be done regardless so you can have it early. If you can’t or are unwilling to make that distinction, it’s not my problem, but it doesn’t change the fact that funding and pre-ordering are two different things.

            Oh, also, no one said that you shouldn’t exercise caution or acknowledge the risks when funding a project. Then again it should be a no brainer: you should always exercise caution when you give your money in exchange for something. Unless you have shed-loads of money to throw around, of course.

          • The Random One says:

            Pre-order:
            “I need a new shelf.”
            “I have a cousin who’s moving away and is trying to sell a bunch of furniture. But there’s a lot of people interested. If you pay me right now I’ll save it for you.”
            Kickstarter:
            “I need a new shelf.”
            “I’m a carpenter. If you give me money to buy wood and nails I’ll make you a shelf.”

            In a pre-order you may be paying for a shitty shelf and not even know it.

        • greywolf00 says:

          The “Period” was supposed to indicate that what the developer does with the $ you gave them for the unfinished product is a separate issue. It’s unrelated to investing $ in blind faith that promises will be fulfilled. To use the articles’ analogy, you’re still ordering a meal before the restaurant is built, regardless of if that money is going to help build said restaurant or a new location elsewhere.

          • Continuum says:

            Your restaurant analogy shows the flaw in your logic. Preordering is basically “we ARE close to finishing construction on the restaurant – often a chain so you know what you’re getting – and we want to get you excited so that you pay to get on the waiting list for when it opens. You will be entitled to a special desert, but other than that everything will be the same.”

            Kickstarter would be “we WANT to build a restaurant in your area. Here’s what we’re shooting for as far as a menu. If we get enough money we will hire additional staff and add a bar. Depending on how much money we get will depend on how fancy the restaurant will be.” It has a much higher risk than a preorder (restaurant may not even get built) but has a direct impact on what kind of restaurant opens up eventually.

            Both are investing money ahead of time. But there is a huge difference between funding the restaurant and getting at the head of the line of the waiting list. Your logic flaw seems to be an incorrect assumption that preordering adds money to a game’s production budget and affects the content and quality of the released game. Nothing I’ve ever read or thought indicates that preorders drive game content or quality.

          • greywolf00 says:

            Let me try this again. I don’t care about why you’re funding the project. I don’t care what they use the funds for.

            You’re giving a developer money before the product is finished. They pitched an idea/game, you liked it, you gave them money, you hope/expect promises to be fulfilled.

            Why you do this is his argument. We are arguing 2 different things here.

          • Giuseppe says:

            In one case you’re paying money so you can be among the first that gets inside restaurant. In the other case you’re paying money so the restaurant gets built. Let’s forget about restaurants for a bit…

            I’ll try this one more time, for all the good it will do.

            When you pre-order a game, the game will be made regardless of your pre-order. Your major gain, when you pre-order is that you’re sure you’ll get the game on day one. Your major risk is that you’ll throw some money away. However, by not pre-ordering you reduce the potential risk to zero; and you can still buy the game if you want to afterwards. Basically:

            1. You pre-order. Gain: a guaranteed copy of the game on day one. Risk: an amount of money.
            2. You don’t pre-order. Gain: none. Risk: none.

            I would argue that the potential risk of wasting money is not worth the potential gain. I would argue that this means not pre-ordering is the best and safest approach, because, in essence, the major advantage of not pre-ordering is that there is no risk attached. Of course, if a guaranteed day one copy, plus some bonus or another, is that important, anyone is free to risk and pre-order.

            When funding a game, that game may or may not reach its target regardless of your money. If the game is funded, the major gain is that you’ve helped finance a game you want to see made and, potentially, you get a copy of the game too. The major risk is that you waste money. If the game is not funded, you haven’t spent anything. You can, of course, not fund the game at all. Basically:

            1. You fund the game. Major possible gain: a game you funded gets made. Risk: an amount of money.
            2. You don’t fund a game. Gain: none. Risk: none.

            Again, the safest approach is simply not fund the game. I would argue, however, that the reason for funding a game is important. I argue that, in essence, you fund a game because you want to increase the probability of that game being made. The only way to increase that probability is to take a risk, to risk that the game may not be good. You cannot improve the odds of that game being made without contributing something to the project. Yes, I know I’m rephrasing the same idea here, I just want it to be clear: if you are intent on having the game, the only way to maximize the odds of getting that game is to fund it.

            This is, I believe, the core difference between pre-ordering and funding a game: pre-ordering stands exactly 0 (zero) chance of making a difference to the end product, while funding can make the most important difference there is for a product — whether it will exist or not. Even if you reject the idea that intentions are relevant (“I don’t care about why you’re funding the project. I don’t care what they use the funds for.”), surely you must appreciate that, as far as the end product is concerned, someone who pre-orders a game has made no difference to that game, while someone who has funded a game has some chance of making a difference.

            Finally, you must appreciate that the “good game/bad game” dichotomy associated with pre-ordering is different form the “game/no game” dichotomy associated with funding a game.

            TL;DR
            1. Funding is not the same thing as pre-ordering.
            2. I believe that the risk of pre-ordering a game is too great considering what I perceive to be minimal benefits to doing so.
            3. Crowdfunding will make a difference to the end product. Pre-ordering can not do the same.

          • Parthon says:

            greywolf: you are simplifying it too far. You’ve purposefully ignored the most important thing about Kickstarter projects in order to prove your point. Funding is the most important difference.

            If noone funds a game on Kickstarter, then the project fails, and the game won’t be seen. If no-one preorders a game, the game will still come out.

            While the mechanism is the same, giving money to people in return for a product some time in the future, the intention is entirely different. For preorders you are buying a game before it’s released. It’s a sale. For funding, it’s giving money to people to finish their project in exchange for a copy of the game IF it gets released. It’s funding.

            If you can’t tell the difference between sales and funding, you might want to get an accountant to handle your finances.

          • greywolf00 says:

            I definitely simplified it to the most basic principal. My argument is boiled all the way down to the act. The purpose of funding is the layer above that which I did ignore, clearly where some people have an issue accepting the argument which is fine. Doesn’t change the similarities of the practice.

            I understand the points that have been made and accept them, I support Kickstarter projects regularly. However, my point has nothing to do with that. The Devil’s advocate argument I’m making still stands, money for an unfinished project in both cases. Justification of giving that money is a separate issue and still functions on the fact that money is being given to an unfinished project regardless of the reason. They are fundamentally similar practices which can be justified differently.

            My original TL;DR of the article was don’t buy an unfinished product, you don’t know if it’ll be crap. That would apply to both.

            The other TL;DR seen here is don’t pre-order a game that’ll be made anyway since you can find out if it’s crap and then buy it (or not). This one obviously doesn’t apply to Kickstarter (at least most of them). In the grand scheme of RPS this is probably more intune with the article’s intent.

          • merbert says:

            Gentlemen,

            May I commend you all for the articulate and well mannered way in which you all presented your various arguments to this issue.

            It was a genuine pleasure to read my way through all that was said and not find anyone resorting to the vernacular or any form of vulgarity, so often the preserve of other websites.

            THIS is the main reason I make RPS a daily stable. The articles concerning all things gaming are invariably well informed and witty. But the very welcome addendum to this is the fact that the comments section below is (invariably) well informed and articulate in it’s response. Thank you very much to the writers of these articles, I hold your opinions very highly. Thank you too to those of you who pitch in below and behave in a mature and respectful fashion to the OP and the opinions of those who have chosen to reply.

            It’s hard to express how refreshing this is in a world of internet anonymity where people flame each other purely for the the sake of it, but I hope a genuine “thank you” will suffice.

            It is the contributions of ALL concerned in RPS, Journalists and Readers alike, that bring me back here every day.

    • monkeybars says:

      No, because Kickstarting is not preordering. Kickstarting is showing you believe in someone’s idea and want to help that come to fruition. Not help this product A be successful so they can fund product B with your money, help fund product A so product A exists, because you trust that creator.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gundato says:

        And pre-ordering is basically saying “I believe in developer X to make a game worth this money”

        Honestly, nobody who pre-ordered Sim City 5 can claim to be ignorant (outside of a refusal to read up). The new back-end was well known (so that was a question mark) and we already knew it was always-on DRM and that there was a high probability of launch troubles.

        When I pre-order a game by CD Projekt, it is because they have a history of great games AND I have been following the previews enough to know it probably isn’t a screw-up. Because like John said: You can usually sniff those out due to lack of coverage.

        Sometimes you get a case like Aliens where it came out of left field and people truly DID get boned on that, but 99 times out of 100 you can tell if something is a safe bet or if it is more of a risky gamble. And if you consider it a safe bet AND like the DLC/discounts AND want to support it during the sales figures that matter most in getting a sequel, a pre-order is a smart move. Yes, you’ll pay more than you have to. But if money is the issue, you should be shopping sales already and this has nothing to do with the politics of the matter.

        • Ajsman says:

          99/100? After Hitman, Deus Ex: HR, Skyrim, Oblivion,… and many more, no you cant…

          • Brun says:

            I “preordered” Skyrim the day before release just so I could have it pre-loaded and be playing immediately when the clock hit 12:00 PM.

          • Premium User Badge

            FriendlyFire says:

            Well sure, if you consider most of the extremely well received games of the past five years to be shit, then you’re boned. But then you might as well stop gaming entirely, because being a contrarian is apparently more fun to you.

          • Jesse L says:

            Well-received by some, FriendlyFire, but certainly not by all.

          • Ajsman says:

            Say what you want FrindlyFire, but the fact is those games are not what they were advertising as. Deus Ex is a fun sneaking game, but is nowhere near the original RPG/FPS. Obilviona and Skyrim both claimed to be Morrowind reborn just to hype the fans but in the end delivered a very dumbed down package with good level design. And Absolution turned Hitman into Splinter Cell.

            Point is, no you can’t know 99% of the time what are you getting with the preorder.

          • Premium User Badge

            Gundato says:

            Uhm…

            Oblivion I will give you that some MIGHT have gotten “burned” even having followed it. Except that Bethesda were pretty open about the streamlining and the artwork looked generic as crap from the start.
            And if you didn’t learn your lesson after Oblivion, then of course Skyrim would “screw you”.

            Personally, I felt Human Revolution to be a pretty fair successor to Deus Ex, and most of the lack of “choice” should have been apparent from the trailers basically boiling it down to “Stealth or shoot”.

            Absolution was kind of “Ugh, this is a shooty death game” right from the start, and actually pleasently surprised people.

            My point is not that you will know for a fact if something is worth it. But 99 times out of a hundred you won’t have a case like Colonial Marines where you get a bait and switch. If you follow previews and junk, you can get a pretty good idea of if something is a safe bet or if you might want to hold off and wait. Each game you listed had pretty indicative previews EXCEPT for Absolution which actually ended up bieng much better than the previews hinted at :p

            It is like FriendlyFire said: If you don’t like most of the widely acclaimed games of the past few years, you are gonna have problems. Because most people liked those, and that is what devs are targeting. This is why I am very wary of buying any RTS that isn’t made by Relic as there is a good chance they will take the Blizzard approach which I abhor.

          • Ajsman says:

            “But 99 times out of a hundred you won’t have a case like Colonial Marines where you get a bait and switch.”

            OK, with that I can agree. You can avoid “disasters”.

            But still most of the time you are getting lied to by the marketing ppl and you can’t know what you will get. Prime example is Absolution. By far the worst case of the games I mentioned. The main feature of that series is crippled. While almost all trailers and interviews claimed it wont be. Library level is just there to introduce you to the game they said. Other levels will be just like in the old games. Right… bunch of BS. Thank god for that very good and objective early preview. Saved me 35€. Coz I really don’t like linear cover based TPS games enough to buy them at full price ;)

            Also, I never said every new game is bad. I was just making a point about publishers lying to costumers. Except Hitman. As a Hitman squeal, Absolution is sh*t :P

          • Continuum says:

            Skyrim is an excellent example of why not to preorder. I love Skyrim and have put close to a thousand hours in on it. But I was dumb enough to believe Bethesda that they had a “brand new engine” that wasn’t going to be a buggy mess. It was a buggy mess. A few weeks/months later of patches and mods, it runs fine, but I would have been better off waiting.

            Preorders reward publishers for launching games on a wave of hype and planning on using their customers as a giant beta test to finish their game. Or worse, sometimes not even planning to finishing fixing their game.

          • Premium User Badge

            Gundato says:

            Yeah, I am obviously not saying to pre-order everything (I basically have a rule of only doing it for publishers/serieses that I really love), but with a bit of careful thought it is pretty safe. You might get a mild disappointment, but you won’t get a stinker so long as you follow up on how previews and interviews are going. And if you don’t care about a questionable buy enough to follow the coverage: Don’t pre-order it.j

            Take The Witcher 3 for example. I will pre-order that in a heartbeat, but I will also keep an eye out. If sites I trust start acting hinky toward it, I will reassess.

            All that should be taken from these debacles is to shop responsibily. Research your purchases and make sure you are willing to take a loss should it tank. So if you are pretty sure a game is crap but still want it for some reason, wait for a sub five dollar. IF you are very certain a game is gonna be great, pre-order. Just make sure your “gaming budget” can afford it.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            I like Skyrim but I would definitely say it was misrepresented before release. Heck, Todd Howard openly and repeatedly claimed the game would include numerous important features that are entirely missing.

    • povu says:

      Kickstarting a game allows it to be made in the first place, or for it to get more features. Pre-ordering a AAA game does nothing to improve the game since the game is guaranteed to release anyway, and the money isn’t going to be invested in improving it before release.

      Indie pre-orders are justifiable too IMO. It was the cheap 50% off pre-orders of Amnesia offered by the financially troubled Frictional Games that probably saved the company.

    • MentatYP says:

      Exactly the first thing that occurred to me after reading the headline. Especially pertinent since I just plonked down a massive $5 on Crayon Chronicles.

      How about this instead: stop preordering games that have the potential to be a complete disaster. Indie games through Kickstarter often offer up beta demos that you can try before you decide to buy, just as an example of how one can avoid being stuck with damaged goods.

    • Premium User Badge

      Continuity says:

      Kickstarter is fundamentally different from a preorder, when you back a game on kickstarter you are basically donating to help a game that you want to exist become a real thing where it otherwise wouldn’t – thats the fundamental premise, on top of that you maybe get a copy of the game and / or other “rewards” but really thats incidental, the main thrust is helping a game to exist that otherwise couldn’t.

      My average pledge for a kickstarter game is about $50, some as high as $150, in contrast I never preorder and a I never pay more than £25 for a released game, with an average of more like £10.

      • greywolf00 says:

        The TL;DR of the article is don’t pre-order a product before it’s been reviewed. That’s exactly what you do with a Kickstarter. The fact that it doesn’t get developed if not funded is irrelevant to that point, “you’re still ordering a meal before the restaurant is built.” Not all of them have demos either, and honestly even playing a short demo once won’t open your eyes to some problems right away.

        • Giuseppe says:

          Surely you see the difference between funding a project you like that otherwise might not get done, and pre-ordering a game that will be released regardless of your money.

        • Entitled says:

          The TL;DR is “don’t preorder a game because you have a lot to lose and little to gain”.

          This doesn’t apply to Kickstarter where you have a lot to gain.

          • greywolf00 says:

            You’re spending money before there’s a finished product in both cases. Kickstarting a game you want to buy and pre-ordering a game you want to buy are the same, you’re spending money before the product is done. You won’t Kickstart a game you don’t want, nor will you pre-order one from a publisher.

          • greywolf00 says:

            “The TL;DR is “don’t preorder a game because you have a lot to lose and little to gain”.

            This doesn’t apply to Kickstarter where you have a lot to gain.”

            If the finished product is subpar your investment is still a loss, just like a pre-ordered game that flops.

            I get the argument that no Kickstarter = no game but pre-ordering is just like funding a Kickstarter, you should only use it when confident it will be a solid investment (ie I pre-ordered GW2 and easily got pennies per hr value out of it). I wouldn’t pre-order/Kickstart a game I don’t want. The only difference is I can’t pick up a Kickstarter game I was iffy about in the bargin bin later if it isn’t funded.

          • Entitled says:

            With preorders, you have a lot to lose and little to gain.
            With Kickstarter, you have a lot to lose and a lot to gain.

            Yes, *the first half* is the same, you risk the same thing with both systems. But ultimately, if the second half alone is different, that alone is enough for a different overall risk assessment. Not necessarily good enough to be acceptable, that’s your call, but at least it’s not just the same issue.

            A world where every game is preordered, would be unquestionably worse than ours.
            A world where every game is crowdfunded, would have the same bad side (hype, ads, and hopes selling occasionally bad games) but it would also have a good side, by going around the executives who would otherwise ignore our demands.

            When you encourage preorders, you are harming the industry. When you encourage crowdfuning, you encourage change of ambigous value. Maybe it’s worth it. Maybe it isn’t.

          • greywolf00 says:

            Some truth to that. Kickstarter has been a godsend for turn based & CRPGs that major developers have shied away from. However, I’d argue that execs not listening has less to do with pre-order vs Kickstarter than a trend of ensuring maximum short term investor profits at the cost of your long term consumer base. Happening in all businesses the world over right now. I think that in the same monetary situation as EA, a company like inXile or Obsidian would be far more accountable to gamers. That boils down to good leadership and a different business approach.

          • RobertJSullivan says:

            It’s fine to preorder a game as long as you know what you are getting (ie. game is coming out later than on consoles so you have plenty of material to forge your opinion) and you have something to gain from it like a cheaper price.
            I think it’s our “duty” (couldn’t find any other word, this makes it sound cheesy) to not get hyped by PR bull and previews.

          • walldad says:

            Kickstarter isn’t strictly analogous to a preorder and there are certain aspects of crowdfunding customers hopefully know they’re buying into to begin with. Judged against its alternatives (big publishers, going it alone) it has advantages. IMO, still it’s problematic in other ways.

            That said, paying upfront sends a message similar to preorders as it does to Kickstarters that are funded successfully in one sense — even if the ethical concerns (and potential consequences) for the developers are more closely tied to the game actually being good.

            It mainly affects people looking for post-purchase rationalizations: you can get paid simply for having an idea and knowing how to hit the right marketing notes. A developer with fewer scruples or less motivation might begin taking fans for granted. Kickstarter makes it basically a charitable “cause” for backers – you backed it on your best judgement, you willed it into existence, in a sense it’s a part of you – and some people have trouble accepting that it didn’t turn out right, or seeing the writing on the wall with some of these projects. So there will be more people irrationally defending something that obviously sucks, simply due to that fact.

            I’m still confused as to why people are so ready to assume every Kickstarter game wouldn’t have been made otherwise, or that even some of the bigger and more hyped crowd-funded projects will turn out well. None of that’s strictly the case. Each of them are different, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the games were no less a disappointment for the backers than the people who preordered SimCity or Aliens.

          • greywolf00 says:

            No doubt, there will be disappointments. If anything I think the risks are bigger for the hyped Kickstarter projects like Torment/Wasteland/Project E. Known developers with a history, big budget (for Kickstarter at least), and (for at least 2 of these games) a preexisting franchise. Bar will be set high and that always makes it easier to miss. Some smaller project with minimal budget and team with no franchise or development history will inspire much lower expectations and will find it easier to pleasantly surprise.

            I’m also sure those major projects could have found a big time publisher to back them, developers just wanted more control over the time table and release dates.

          • Deano2099 says:

            Actually no I don’t need to be “confident it will be a solid investment” before backing it. I’m fortunate enough that I can drop $20-30 on a ‘risky’ investment and not worry too much if it doesn’t pay off. Yes, it’s a gamble, it’s a roll of the dice. But if I don’t back it, I’ll never know.

            With a pre-order, I’m rolling those dice for no reason. I’ll find out regardless. The game is getting made anyway.

    • Premium User Badge

      GibletHead2000 says:

      I’ve totally switched to Kickstarter as my primary preordering mechanism. Partly because I’d like to throw my hard-earned money away by helping people realise their dreams, rather than dumping it into faceless megacorps.. But *mostly* because I stand a chance of having cleared some of my Steam backlog before the game comes out.

      • King_Rocket says:

        Same here, plus all that money I keep giving over to kickstarter keep me too poor to preorder.

        I have made one exception, I will allow myself to preorder any open world game by Rockstar so far I have never been disappointed by any of their games.

        • Apocalypse says:

          May I ask you top stop pre-ordering even from Rockstar and instead buying on day one? Or maybe just pre-order on day zero if you really, really like those pre-order bonuses. You will lose nothing from it and still support better business practices.

          Without a huge amount of pre-orders a publisher is less likely tempted to screw a studio to publish a game not ready and will not force them to publish a pile of garbage. You are not helping Rockstar with your pre-order, you bring them into a worse position against their publisher because the name belongs to the publisher and not to the people actually making the games.

    • Fox89 says:

      Kickstarter is funding, not pre-ordering. Yes there is a distinction and yes it is an important one.

      Pre-orders do not fund games, for the most part. And those few that do budget around pre-orders a) have a terrible business practice and b) don’t ask the consumer’s permission first, they just budget as they see fit. Crowfunding, on the other hand, is an informed investment. Yes, most will offer you a copy of the game upon completion. But you know when you’re getting into it that you are taking a gamble, and you are also demonstrating that you want a particular project to get made.

      Crowdfunding allows projects that would not otherwise exist to exist. It allows consumers to vote with their wallets in a genuinely meaningful way, encourage small, independent and niche projects that would otherwise likely go without a home. Even a huge project like Star Citizen that uses a lot of private investment only got that investment because of a successful crowdfunding campaign. Without crowdfunding these exciting games simply never exist.

      A pre-order doesn’t serve this function. All it does it give money to the developer or publisher of a game that has already had investment secured. Already been greenlit. Already a substantial way through development. You don’t register as someone who ‘funded’ the project, you register as a ‘sale’. Someone willing to hand over their money before the product is even finished. It certainly doesn’t paint the picture of a discerning consumer who is particularly choosy about product quality, put it that way.

    • sharkh20 says:

      Donating is not purchasing. It’s like saying donating blood is a purchase because they give you a cookie afterward. You were purchasing a cookie with your blood.

      • The Random One says:

        Wow! I think I’ll start to think of donating blood in those terms from now on, it makes it sound a lot more awesome!

    • Deano2099 says:

      You are at a carnival and man sits in front of you with a single six-sided die.

      “Hello gamer,” he says to you in a badly faked German accent, “would you like to play?”

      You look over, intrigued, and ask him to explain the rules.

      “You pay me $10 and roll the die. On a 1-5 you get nothing, but on a 6 you get $500″.

      An interesting game, you think. The odds are good if you play a few times, but there is still an element of risk…

      Meanwhile another man approaches you:

      “Hey gamer. Here’s a game. You give me $10, you roll a die. On a 1-4 you get nothing, but on a 5-6 you get $250.”

      Also interesting, but aren’t they essentially the same game? As such, you put down $10 on the second game, and it comes up a 5. You’re ecstatic, you won the game.

      “This is brilliant,” you think, “I’m coming back tomorrow to try the other game.”

      You return the next evening and find that the first man is gone, to your great disappointment. You were looking forward to playing his game, and now you can’t.

      But odder still is the second man. He is sat at his booth with a die with a “5” symbol face up on it, taking $10 from people and giving them back $250 in return. They’re not rolling the die.

      “What the hell is going on here?” you ask, “why are these people getting free money?”

      “They’re playing the game”, he responds

      “But they’re not rolling the die,”

      “Of course they’re not! You rolled it last night so now they all know it’s a five!”

    • JabbleWok says:

      If I back a KS project, I have potential influence as to how it turns out. For example, a common demand I see is “no DRM”, and I frequently see developers taking that on board. What’s more, many KS games have forums where ideas can be punted, thus allowing backer opinions to influence the mechanics and features of the game during development.

      In short, the backer has influence as to the direction the game takes, and that usually has a positive effect on the way it turns out.

      With prepurchasing, the purchaser has no influence whatsoever, and that’s only advantageous for the publisher using the game as a cash cow.

      Worlds apart. Accountability and none.

    • Apocalypse says:

      The only think kickstarter and pre-orders have in common is that you take a risk with paying in advance.
      The difference between both is that you get something for this from kickstarter, while you got no real advantages from pre-ordering a game.

      When you pledge for a kickstarter you lay the foundation that the game actually will be made, if the kick starter is founded all ready you make sure that their budget is as big as it could be. This is an advantage for the game you want to play. Your pre-order will not change the budget of the game, it will not change the qualitiy of the game and the game will be made no matter if you pre-order or not. In other words your pre-order does not influence the development of the game at all. That is a huge difference to a kick starter pledge.

      A kickstarter DOES make sense. And if you have noticed John mentioned something along the lines even and include those early alpha access stuff: “This is completely separate from alpha-funded projects, that allow access to a game to those willing to pay up front – of course it’s nothing to do with that”

  2. Taidan says:

    Pre-ordering games? You mean, people actually did that? Like, Double-U Tee Eff, man.

    Most of us had learned better by 2004, THE YEAR OF DARKNESS.

    • phelix says:

      I was a wee lad of 13 in 2004, please enlighten me…?

      • Taidan says:

        2004, the year of Invisible War and very visible WoW, was the first year that PC gaming died. The steady stream of awesomeness that had fed us since 1992 gave way, and our oversized, overpowered boxed behemoths basically became a platform for s**tty console ports and MMOs.

        (Note: PC Gaming also died in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, and, as rumour has it, may die again at some point this year. In the meantime, sales of PC Games still reported as “Strong”.)

        • LionsPhil says:

          On the upside, UT2004, the last of the great do-everything mod-everything match-oriented multiplayer shoot-bangs. No compulsory matchmaking, no overarching campaign (unless you count the throwaway “singleplayer” chain of predefined matches), no freaking persistent XP unlocks, and all the “DLC” was free and just patches that added stuff.

        • colw00t says:

          2004 also had (besides the stuff I listed in my other post)

          Far Cry
          KOTOR 2
          Dawn of War

          and some console games that I really liked: Katamari Damacy, Ninja Gaiden, Paper Mario….

          The WoW launch was a mess, but overall it was a pretty good year for gaming.

      • colw00t says:

        2004 would be about when people really gave up on Duke Nukem Forever, maybe? Doom 3? Fable? Halo 2? Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel?

        Maybe he’s talking about Half-Life 2, which was annoying at the time but retrospectively went pretty well for a first attempt at that entire approach. I mean, it was a couple of hours of delay. Not that bad for a first try.

      • Brun says:

        I tend to view 2004 as the clear dividing line between the “old school” era and modes of thinking from the 90’s to the “new school” era of AAA monstrosities and lots of marketing. It’s the point at which the development of the gaming industry skewed from the path we all expected it to take at the time and onto the alternative path of microtransactions, DLC, yearly releases, cash-ins, etc.

        I’m not sure how prevalent this viewpoint is, but even disregarding it, 2004 was a very important year in the history of video games. You could argue that three of the games that went on to define the current generation of gaming were released in November of that year – World of Warcraft (became the paradigm for MMOs), Half-Life 2 (paradigm for single-player FPSes, also introduced Steam), and Halo 2 (introduced online multiplayer for console FPS). All three were very important to the history of video games.

        • Kamos says:

          Hm, I think the signs were there even before that.

          Around 1999/2000, the idea that games needed to be 3D for the sake of being 3D was born, and I’d argue that that was the point where game costs sky-rocketed and publishers definitely adopted the idea of cookie-cutter games to reduce risks.

          Things didn’t get really ugly until years later, but for me, that was when PC gaming started to atrophy. I remember I’d go “hunting” in places like Home of the Underdogs, looking for any good games I hadn’t played yet.

          • Giuseppe says:

            Well, if you want to talk “sky-rocketing” costs, you can look even farther back in time. In the early 90s the development cycle for a game still rarely exceeded a year. By the mid-90s things started taking years and years to do and costs went sharply up. When releasing games on CD-ROMs became a standard, game developers started doing things like lots of voice-acting, full-motion video or CGI cinematics, full soundtracks, more graphics etc. All of them contributed to rising costs.

            Personally I agree that around 2004 things started to change significantly, not necessarily in the way the games themselves were being made, but in the way they were being monetized.

          • Consumatopia says:

            Around 1999/2000, the idea that games needed to be 3D for the sake of being 3D was born, and I’d argue that that was the point where game costs sky-rocketed and publishers definitely adopted the idea of cookie-cutter games to reduce risks.

            It was worse that that–not only was 3D for the sake of 3D the norm, but it was too early. The 3D was absolutely ugly (remember PS1’s jaggy seams? I don’t just mean that it lacked anti-aliasing or texture filtering, which is arguably endearing, I mean the actually polygons themselves seemed to be crooked and jiggle around as the camera moved) and they hadn’t worked out decent control/camera schemes. I think that era is responsible for a lot of the emphasis on retro in the indie movement–because for a while the mainstream industry had moved outright backwards, producing games that were both shallower and more confusing, the worst of all worlds.

            At least in later years those shallow games had simpler interfaces and better graphics. I mean, they were still making crap, but at least they had figured out how to polish it, which counts for something.

          • Kamos says:

            @ Giuseppe

            Yeah, the cost of making games has increased year after year. However, it was only at a certain point that innovation began to suffer. It is impossible to say exactly when it has happened, but long before 2004, cookie-cutter molds became a standard for making games.

            I mentioned 3D because it was a costly thing that suddenly EVERY game had to have, or they wouldn’t get made. I hadn’t noticed how the CD-ROM also pushed the costs, that was a good observation…

            @ Consumatopia

            Indeed, 3D games were FUGLY. And they all looked the same because GPUs weren’t programmable at the time.

        • colw00t says:

          That’s a really interesting concept, and I see where you’re going with it, and I don’t even disagree.

          I really do wonder why OP feels that 2004 was THE DARK DAYS though. It wasn’t really a bad year, as these things go.

    • JabbleWok says:

      For me it was 1994, with Outpost. Never again. Well-written reviews and word-of-mouth count enormously.

  3. Disrespecting says:

    I really really hate pre order bonuses, and I’m not talking about trinkets figurines and maps, I’m talking actual playable content that you can only get by pre-ordering, that junk makes me mad.

    • Chmilz says:

      I don’t always pirate, but when I do, I prefer to pirate pre-order DLC that should have been in the game.

      • atticus says:

        I’m commander Shepard, and DLC is my favorite thing to pirate on the Citadel.

        Seriously, I paid 50£ for the game, so those three pre-order firearms and that bonus tracksuit are rightfully mine!

    • atticus says:

      My opinion: The only proper pre-order bonus should be a discount, and only that.

      Everyone buying the game should get the same game, the pre-order daredevil gets a discount for taking a risk, and the clothed deluxe hardcover mega-figurine limited edition should be available for everyone at launch, but in limited number.

      • Chmilz says:

        That big hunk of junk addition should be available post-launch to everyone, forever, because there’s massive markup for the publisher and this is about making money, isn’t it? If there’s a market, sell to it.

    • Giuseppe says:

      I have never pre-ordered a game, and I doubt I ever will. I don’t care about the trinkets; and I have no moral problem pirating a DLC that’s not in there because it was only available on pre-order.

  4. Hahaha says:

    Think of the small guys :(

    • cptgone says:

      exactly!

      people pre-ordering AAA have it coming (even buying at launch is better left to masochists with money to burn).

      OTOH, i don’t regret pre-ordering a bunch of indie games (e.g. Kerbal Space Program).

      • colw00t says:

        I make a distinction between a straight pre-order and “buying an indie game’s alpha so they can actually make the game.”

        Kerbal Space Program has the highest hours of fun per money ratio of anything I’ve ever played other than Dwarf Fortress.

      • thrawn says:

        Heck, if KSP stopped updating now, I’d still consider it well-spent money. But perhaps more to the point, I think this paradigm only goes so far. If a dev gives you a reason to trust them (like a playable demo and beta access for pre-order the way KSP did) I don’t really see what difference it makes if they’re big or small. Sure, it’s nice to help out the small dev, but it’s also good to treat bigger devs well when they treat you well. I think a “no pre-ordering ever” rule is kind of silly, but it certainly is important to consider all the angles, such as whether or not a dev is trustworthy (e.g. if they are not affiliated with EA or Ubisoft, which is sad, because BioWare used to be one of those devs that I’d trust with pre-orders). By and large, I’ve been pretty well satisfied with the large majority of the games I’ve pre-ordered, even the AAA titles. And if the customer is satisfied, I don’t really see how there is a problem with the purchase.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Crimsoneer says:

    I’m afraid sometimes the deals are just way, way too good to look down on. I got Bioshock infinite for £23 with The Darkness 2 and Bioshock – about £5 work of game, easy. So I paid £18 for Bioshock Infinite, give or take. Even if it’s perfectly average, I’d glady pay for that. I trust Ken Levine that much. I might get burnt, but I’m willing to play the odds.

    It’s just like Kickstarting. I realise I might be making a mistake, but I’m willing to risk it for a studio I support and believe in. Oh, and a great deal.

    • Njordsk says:

      yeah GMG really has amazing, agressive preorder. It’s hard to resist.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        It’s not that hard to resist if you a) have a little bit of patience and b) realize that you’ll be able to buy the game for a third of its pre-order price just a few short months down the line.

    • Low Life says:

      Yeah, some people have earned my trust and they’ll get my preorder money as long as they offer a good deal. The average 10 % off won’t be enough for me to preorder, but as you mentioned Bioshock has very aggressive campaigns (on Steam they’re offering XCOM with it, but the price is higher than on GMG).

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        That Bioshock XCom deal is a rare example of being extremely good. With most games, if they get so-so reviews, I will wait until they are about £15 before I buy. I have been doing exactly that with XCom. If I buy Bioshock: Infinite AND get XCom, then I have just bought both games for my ‘sweet spot’ price of £15 each. If Bioshock Infinite turns out to be so-so, I don’t have to wait the many months it will take to drop to the sweet spot.

        The only thing that could go wrong is if Bioshock is utter, utter shit – but even then I have played all the other games in the series and am likely to get it anyway. This kind of deal is the only one that could tempt me, because it actual makes total sense according to my usual buying habits of waiting for a £15 game. I also get to buy direct from Steam, as is my preference.

      • HadToLogin says:

        Steam offers Bioshock + Xcom for $60.
        GMG offers Bioshock for $30 and you can get Xcom right now for around $16…
        So, are those TF2 items worth $4?

        • SuperNashwanPower says:

          I wouldnt buy from GMG. Case closed
          EDIT: You also forgot the free copy of Bioshock 1 I will give to my dad. $4 is what, £2.50? I would pay that to buy from someone I trust AND get a free copy of Bioshock AND not have the hassle of ordering from multiple people and wait for postage.
          EDIT2: Also, your maths sucks and the cheapest I can see Xcom for is £14, which is $21. Bioshock Infinite is £26 on GMG. Thats a total of £40. So I actually save £10 by buying from Steam.

          Yes I am in a pissy mood tonight. Sorry.

          • Sparkasaurusmex says:

            Doesn’t GMG just give you a Steam key?

          • Premium User Badge

            Crimsoneer says:

            What’s the problem with GMG? They’re a legitimate retailer with keys directly from publishers, and give you a steam key….

          • x1501 says:

            There is no problem with GMG. They may have problems initially processing certain types of payments, but other than that, they are a solid retailer. There’s virtually no difference between buying Steam game keys from them or directly from Steam.

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            I just don’t personally trust them. My first experience was sufficiently bad, in a way that I have never experienced before or since, that I have no desire to use them. I’ve written about it tons of times already so I cannot be arsed to describe it again.

            EDIT: The massive difference between buying from them or Steam direct is that I have never had a single problem with Steam since I installed it 7 years ago. GMG fucked me off right out of the gate.

          • x1501 says:

            While I can definitely sympathize with you, it also sounds like you have no first-hand knowledge of the site beyond your initial, painful experience that seems to have happened a while ago. I also had a problem with processing my first purchase on GMG (some nonsensical error message about the site being possibly blacklisted by the bank when it was actually about a phone number mismatch), but after I sorted it out, I’ve been occasionally buying cheap Steam keys off them ever since with no additional problems at all. All I’m saying that considering that they seem to be trustworthy and their sale prices are often the lowest out there (they had the Civ V expansion for $3.15 once), you may want to consider giving them another chance, that’s all.

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            Well, ta for the explanation, its appreciated. However its the same thing with me as with Arnold Clark, when the rude cow behind the counter shouted (actually shouted) at me for bringing back the car half an hour before closing (I think she wanted to go home early or something). After shouting back and getting generally rather inhospitable towards one another, I said “sod Arnold Clark” and used Avis instead.

            Maybe if GMG sent me a teddy bear and a card with a LOLCat saying “We iz sowwee, pwweze 4give?” then I would try them out, but right now they are in Arnold Clark land.

            For the record / to provide a date, it happened with ordering Dishonored at release, whenever that came out.

  6. coldvvvave says:

    But I want hats for TF2.

  7. Lemming says:

    I do agree with the article, however I think we should also consider press that add to the hype of a game before release, and therefore by association promote pre-orders.

    It used to be a preview, then a review (possibly preceded by a demo), Now it’s an article every time a trailer is released, or there is a small quote from the game’s PR. An unfortunate symptom of internet based media, I realise. It’s not like you can sort the wheat from the chaff over 3 weeks before going to press like the old days. But it is within your power to control it.

    I think the unintentional hype-machine can afford to be toned down a little. What about just ignoring the PR guff? Interview developers only and refuse the interview if it’s marketing personnel. We all know it’s usually tosh anyway, but it’d be nice to see it dismissed entirely. Or turn the posts concerning trailer releases into a technical analysis of the trailer, rather than promotion?

    • monkeybars says:

      With the Internet, you don’t need to separate the wheat from the chaff — there’s no space restrictions like there is in print media.

      And if one site has a bunch of videos for a game you’re interested in, where another site doesn’t because they’re useless teasers, well, it’s hard to say if that’s because that site is curating good editorial content, or if it’s just missing things.

      I do agree we need more “we talked to this person” instead of “here’s a rewrite of what’s on the page that is linked at the bottom of this article.”

    • Hahaha says:

      YES that would be epic

  8. Premium User Badge

    Stellar Duck says:

    I preordered The Witcher 2. Of course, that consisted of pressing the button saying I wanted to buy it on release and then when it was released opting to buy it or not. I seem to recall I did that because of the price. They made the whole thing with equalizing the price via a store credit on gog.com and I think they threw in Gothic 2 or something.

    That was a sensible way for CDPR to gauge interest I suppose while not demanding that I fork over money before the game is out. I even think there was like a weeks grace period after launch to decide.

    And I have to shamefully admit that I preordered Crusader Kings 2 as well. I just wanted that game so badly, but honestly, I could have not done it and it would have been the same. Could just have bought it on release in any case. Though I guess the dynasty shields were nice enough.

  9. Hoaxfish says:

    I already commented in the other article (about waiting for sales), so in an attempt to not repeat myself…

    What I really don’t get about this sort of thing, and Kickstarter as well, is the larger physical “bonuses”.

    Okay… I want the game, and maybe I want a fancy metal case, and maybe a poster I can roll up, or a t-shirt I can wear… but why would I want a giant, er, statue or a helmet that doesn’t fit me? Hell, if I really want a t-shirt, or a poster, etc can’t they just sell it separately?

    I barely have enough space for one collection of game-cases, let alone all the weird paraphernalia that gets bundled in. If I went mad and bought one statue thingy… is it really likely I’m going to buy a second (in an equally mad purchase) or a third, unless I live in some sort of self-storage warehouse.

    We’ve seen a number of kickstarters where they run into trouble getting the physical objects made and distributed, and I can’t imagine it’s any easier once you scale that up to AAA title games (ignoring issues like making 1000+ bloody tits & torso statues that nobody wants)… it just seems like the money they’re trying to scrap together with pre-order silliness (to effectively pay for the marketing) could be gathered by not spending it on weird fetishistic junk in the first place.

    I guess this also extends to “special editions” as well as pre-order things.

    Also, wtf is up with all these 503 errors.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Yeah I find all those figurines and lunchboxes and so on completely baffling.. Comic shops still sell lots of statues, minimates and assorted other plastic crud though, so there must be a demand. Maybe it’s a nostalgic thing for adults who played with action figures in their childhood.

      Some decent manuals, reference cards or maps are always nice. Those things are arguably part of the game though.

      • colw00t says:

        I kind of like some of the feelies. I get them a lot of the time for games that came out a year or so ago. The Halo Reach version with all the addon stuff (journal, nifty box, etc) cost like $30 when I got it, so I thought it was worth the extra $5. I tend to lag about a year behind releases, though, so it’s a more affordable hobby.

    • Baines says:

      Anyone who doesn’t preorder is a potential wait to buy on-sale game buyer (which means you get reduced money in the future), a potential used game buyer (you get no money), or a potential non-buyer (you get no money.)

      So you come up with whatever gimmicks that you can think of to get people to pre-order. As long as you believe you are securing more profits than expenses.

      Kickstarter is an iffier profitable proposition largely because the people organizing Kickstarters have a higher chance of underestimating expenses. And people doing Kickstarters probably don’t have the infrastructure to make fulfilling bonuses easier. Pre-orders also have the trick where a publisher can just say “Oh, sorry, we only made 10,000 copies. Everyone else gets the regular version.” while you can’t pull that stunt on a Kickstarter reward after the fact.

  10. Low Life says:

    As much as we dislike the fact that a lot of games are still being released earlier in the US than in Europe, this sometimes provides a chance to first read up on reviews and then grab all the preorder bonuses.

  11. flipflop mcbop says:

    Genuinely don’t see a problem here. I know FULL WELL that if I throw some money down on a pre-order it is highly speculative at best and the risk is all mine.
    I didn’t pre-order Sim City as to me it just looked ropey from the outset, not much more than a gut feel based on what I was reading and seeing.
    But then I pre-ordered Sword of the Stars II and essentially wasted £30. I also pre-ordered the original Theatre of war for even more monies! Those are probably my two biggest losses, but that’s the chance I took.

    personally I’m not swayed by bundled ‘tat’, but I can see how some might be.
    But it’s your money, nobody is pointing a gun to your head.

    • thegooseking says:

      Right. A couple of games I really loved I pre-ordered, and probably wouldn’t have if I had waited to be subjected to the petulant whining that followed their release. Then I would have lost out.

      Of course, people will make arguments about rationalising those purchases, as if I’m somehow incapable of deciding whether or not I enjoyed something. People love to claim that the value you extracted from a game is illusory, which is of course nonsense. And in any case, if you think you’re having fun, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you really are.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aninhumer says:

      The whole point of the article is that there’s pretty much no reason to take that “chance”. You’re taking a risk with no reward. Whether or not you preorder, you get the game for pretty much the same price at pretty much the same time. The only thing you’re doing by preordering is voluntarily giving up your option to check the quality before you hand over money.

  12. Jenks says:

    The Starcraft 2 collector’s edition’s hideous, malformed box still sits on a shelf in my office as a grim reminder of the dangers of preordering (and also to stop buying Blizzard games).

    • colw00t says:

      I got the super-expensive Fallout 3 pre-order pack with the Pip-Boy desk clock and little Vault Boy bobblehead, and I consider it well worth it, considering how many fancy dress costumes I’ve used that Pip-Boy in. But I’m a Fallout nutter, what with the BOS tattoo and all.

      I actually bought the super-premium Halo: Reach thingummy about a month ago for essentially half the cost of the new game. The feelies on that one were really nice! I had a lot of fun reading the little notebook and stuff.

    • Premium User Badge

      RedViv says:

      Yeah, that’s really one ugly block of cardboard. Well, I thought, three years ago, that’s the style of the Terran faction. Let’s see what they come up with for Heart of the Swarm!
      And then I laughed at the first pictures that showed it would be basically the same box with a different paint finish. Nicely done.

      • The Malkavian Bear says:

        Unfortunately that seems to be Blizzards thing, just look at all the pretty much identical WOW Collector’s Edition boxes, still at-least those don’t look quite as bad as the SC2 ones.

  13. TillEulenspiegel says:

    the thinly sliced lifeless corpses of fallen trees

    You monster.

    I do hazily remember a time when the internet was treated as a bit of a joke, when publishing on the net meant you were probably writing a Star Trek fanzine. That didn’t last long, did it? I don’t miss print or physical media, but the degree of control it gives publishers can’t be overstated – from marketing to distribution to DRM to content updates. It’s all immediate now, for better and worse.

  14. Sander Bos says:

    I think the complete list of items I preordered were :
    World of Goo (they did kickstarting preordering thing before it was cool, way before it was cool, in 2008),
    Minecraft,
    Monaco,
    Trackmania Stadium,
    Arma III.
    And you know what, I don’t regret a single one of them.
    Too just broadly and bluntly throw out that preorders are not good is completely ridiculous eh.

    What *is* crazy is that most AAA title preorders don’t offer anything of value in serious reduction of price or otherwise (you will note from my preorders that I was playing something directly after paying every time). But even then it’s a choice, there are not that many lies in preorders, and if people are happy with it fine by me, and if they get bitten by a preorder they regret later, hey it’s their own fault, a learning experience, and prices of games are not exactly that it’s the end of the world for them.

    • Niko says:

      I don’t know about the others, but preordering Minecraft allowed you to play it. Ah, the days of living on a tiny island surrounded by FINITE ocean.

    • WrenBoy says:

      The issue with preordering though is that it rewards bad behaviour on the part of the publisher. If enough people preorder then publishers can get away with producing nothing more than lies and hype.

      Even if you dont preorder yourself you lose out as a potentially good game gets wasted and / or publishers are encouraged to continue with always online games.

      SimCity has apparently already sold over a million copies.

      • MattM says:

        I think that if SimCity only sells 2 million copies it would be a financial failure. Here’s hoping.

  15. Greggh says:

    All this SimCity coverage is starting to get kind of boring, Johnnie boy (not this particular article, but it’s obvious what caught my attention and drove me to comment this).

    Reader suggestion: why don’t you consolidate more content in a single post? Last week we had several posts about this particular game, that was more coverage of a single game than any other title had (IIRC).

    • Sander Bos says:

      As John said in a comment on the first page of the Simcity 4 free for Simcity buyers:

      John Walker: “You’re aware we don’t make more money by having a spike of readers in a week, right? Ads are sold ages in advance, based on long-term audience figures.”

      So they have post many articles about simcity, so that it really skews the long term audience figures so that they will get more advertisement money in the future. It’s not unlike that pre-ordering thing that’s all the rage with publishers right now.

      • Greggh says:

        Who said anything about ads??

        Jeez, I just made a (public) suggestion to John as a journalist. Your comment has nothing (constructive) to do with what I said…

        Also, note that this is artivle is clearly marked as an editorial post… A media organization publishes whatever-the-hell opinion they want in an editorial, with no need to be unbiased or objective whatsoever, even if it is not all the rage among publishers as you said.

        • Sander Bos says:

          > Who said anything about ads??
          John did. I repeated it.
          > Jeez, I just made a (public) suggestion to John as a journalist.
          I am sorry to hear that the ability on this site to react to comments makes you sad.
          > Your comment has nothing (constructive) to do with what I said…
          It presents a theory on the answer to your question “Why don’t you consolidate more content in a single post?”

    • John Walker says:

      Two responses:

      1) You have a scroll wheel. That’s the simplest solution when you think there’s too much of one topic. We’re sure posting a lot of other stuff at the same time.

      2) I posted each story when the information became available. I didn’t have two stories at once, and write them separately. And obviously I’m not going to wait on one story in case another one happens to come up later.

      • Greggh says:

        1) But have you wondered what happens when one scrolls through most of the site trying to find something to suit his or hers reading (obviously RPS has got something that very few other sites have, which I and others crave for)? But I digress… you are right, that is almost what I did: more SimCity news – read headline aand first paragraph, move on.

        2) Come to think of, it really was more a series of “news/posts” rather than a series of articles reviewing/scrutinizing the game. I guess that my impression was partly because the format of the site does emphasize small posts (ie. fewer lines) just the same as big posts.

        Anyways, it’s just a suggestion – and this is one of the thing I like about this blog and have to say: the staff read emails we send; you take the time to read (several, I would guess) of our comments, and EVEN ANSWER them, which is not something usually expected, since most of the time the comments section of anything on the web becomes a cesspool of whatnot…
        These things really gives a lot of positive feedback for us as readers, and I think you guys as journalists also learn quite a bit by interacting, too.

  16. Xocrates says:

    So, as I was trying to say before the server so rudely collapsed…

    Publishers will never revert to the demo system, and they won’t do it for the same reason you’re telling us we shouldn’t pre-order.

    Demos benefit publishers in exactly one situation: The demo is awesome, and the game isn’t. Good games will sell well regardless – but can be harmed by a bad demo – while publishers need players to buy bad games as blindly – or as misinformed – as possible.

    We can have thousands of opinions regarding whether a game is worth buying or not within hours of a game being released, for a publisher it makes no sense to invest on a demo unless they’re released well in advance of the game, often being unrepresentative of the final product, in an attempt to get us to pre-order.

    Nowadays, demos only make sense indie devs which need to be able to prove they have an interesting product and spread the word.

    Large publishers much rather have multi-million marketing showing only want they want us to see.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      I can sort of see your point, but have an anecdotal counter-argument :) I didn’t want XCom until I played the demo, despite the good reviews. I would never really be interested in strategy type games, but having a little splash around with it made me want it. Want it when it was cheap enough mind, but still.

      There’s also the amount of people who “pirate to demo”, and who then ‘accidentally’ forget to buy it and just, you know, finish the game. A good demo might help a bit there.

      • Xocrates says:

        That’s an interesting counter-argument since, by most accounts, the XCOM demo (which I didn’t play) was rather rubbish and completely mis-represented the game. The question then becomes whether the sale they gained with you, and others like you, compensated the sales they might have lost due to a poor demo, or whether those “lost sales” converted into full sales once the game proper was out due to good reviews.

        The second point regarding the “pirate to demo” is a trickier one, though personally I find it doubtful that they would have bought the game regardless. Frankly I would not be surprised if they got more sales out of the people who pirated the whole game than from people who would have played the demo (though this is entirely speculative).

        • SuperNashwanPower says:

          But .. I didn’t think the demo was rubbish, and would not have known it was not representative until I bought the game. Had I been a person who gladly spends £30 on games (I’m not, I am a cheap ass unless its awesome) that demo would have sold me. If other people also thought it was good, the demo would have sold more. Yeah it is anecdotal and totally not the same thing as doing a Who Thought The XCom Demo Was Good Survey, but yeah. There we go. I would put it in the “good demo” category.

          I am now debating whether to have ice cream before bed. It tends to give me really stinky farts.

          • Xocrates says:

            I think you misunderstood me. I wasn’t trying to counter your point, I was just noting that the overall impression was that it wasn’t a good demo, so I was wondering out loud whether the mere existence of a demo – regardless of quality – gave them sales or not.

            That said, it being a non-representative demo is a problem.

          • SuperNashwanPower says:

            Heh oh right sorry. My brain is mince tonight, long day at work.
            Also, you’ll be glad to know I opted for a shortbread biscuit :)

  17. Premium User Badge

    Nathan says:

    The key advantage to our digital oceans: preordering a game on the Thursday before it’s Friday UK release depending on how good early impressions and reviews from the US release have been.

  18. WMain00 says:

    Alternatively, why don’t games journalists do their jobs and hold the industry to account during the development stages of a gaming life cycle, rather than make gushing hype based previews with vague content and/or poor editorials?

    • Snargelfargen says:

      There’s so little information in previews that the only option is to talk about anything other than the game. How exactly is a journalist supposed to judge a product in alpha, especially when they are only given a specially curated glimpse at it? My favourite previews are the ones that talk about anything other than the game at hand (because there’s nothing to talk about yet). Cara Ellison’s C&C preview (in the sunday links) was pretty great.

      Admittedly some of the sleazier outlets do parrot a lot of the marketing fluff. Trying to read up on the new Elder Scrolls mmo is sheer torture. I’ve read 5 articles and a youtube review, all of which go over the same dumb bits of plot fluff in excruciating detail. Arrrrgh. Just tell me about the gameplay or shut up already!

      • MattM says:

        If there isn’t much game to preview then write a short article.

    • briktal says:

      You mean, don’t say “this game is good. It’s in your interests, as PC gamers, to participate in this game and its multiplayer options, because it is entertaining, solid, engaging in its systems and interfaces. It is a pleasurable thing to take part in, and I think really adds something to the gaming landscape.” then yell at people for preordering the game?

      • Low Life says:

        So wait, you think they should say something like “But are you willing to have EA arbitrate when and for how long you can play this after you have paid your money? I think only you as a consumer can answer that.” after that to make it more reasonable? That would be ridiculous.

        • briktal says:

          Even that line isn’t close to the post-release calling the game “inherently broken” and screaming “STOP PREORDERING GAMES”

  19. pullthewires says:

    Why is waiting a month (or more) so unreasonable, for single player games at least? I normally get my games one year or more after release, when for about £10 you get the game and all the DLC, most up to date patching, usually the best of the modding community’s fruits, and a decent idea of whether the game is any good or not? Also the game will generally run at near top settings on a mid-range PC by this time

    Of course, if everyone acted like I did, the whole system would probably fall apart…

    • Premium User Badge

      elderman says:

      Without the next-big-thing rush, the system would certainly slow down.

      The pre-ordering mindset baffles me. I rarely buy a game the year it’s released, either. That’s partly because of hardware limitations and a limited gaming budget.

      Maybe it’s also a social thing. I hardly know any other gamers. Maybe launch window rush is about being able to play and talk about it with friends?

      Or is it just a matter of checking the impulse to buy something that looks cool?

    • Arglebargle says:

      Once you actually get about a year behind in your gaming, it becomes much easier to pick up the Goty version of games that you know you’ll probably like.

      It also makes it much easier (and cheaper) to gamble on titles that you are on the fence about.

      I know I have the Witcher 2 to look forward to on some sale. (Though I would have probably gotten it on release, if it weren’t for the non invertable mouse and screen sizing debacles)

      • briktal says:

        But it does make it a lot harder to participate in discussions about the game or possibly even general gaming communities.

  20. Seafort says:

    I buy more indie games than any other games now as I don’t trust many of the big publishers/developers. I’m also backing a lot on kickstarter as so far they seem to be worth it a lot more than the supposed AAA games we get now.
    I haven’t preordered any EA/Activision/Ubisoft games for years as they seem to think we owe them something and I won’t support corporate greed from any company.

    I’ve recently pre ordered Bioshock Infinite and Dead Island Riptide as I loved both of those games prequels and I can’t see them messing those up. I also got a great price from GMG too :P

  21. Binho says:

    I do really miss reviews before games came out. I can’t stress that enough.

    I also really miss the DVD’s choc full of Demos, Mods and free older games that used to come with gaming magazines. It was a lot easier to judge games before buying them in ye olden days.

    These days there is so much hype, that I tune most things out and often even miss when games are released. To me at least, the lack of pre-release reviews really kills the build up to the release. Press hype doesn’t get me excited anymore. I’ve become to jaded and cynical about it.

    Out of curiosity, what year(s) was it that reviews before game releases got phased out? I know it happened, but it was so smooth I didn’t notice when.

  22. Baines says:

    Getting consumers to band together and stop pre-ordering is less likely than getting games journalists to band together and stop agreeing to review embargoes and PR-driven “interviews”.

    Maybe if games like Bioshock Infinite received absolutely no game site coverage, no interviews, no reworded reposts of press releases, no reposting of videos, and the days before release saw a prominent “This game was not made available for review” disclaimer, then maybe publishers would change their tune a bit. But that will never happen, because game sites are like people. It only takes enough who want what is best for themselves to maintain the publisher’s power, whether it be an “exclusive interview” (that gets reposted everywhere), the chance to post a release day review, free DLC, or another character skin for Call of Warface.

  23. progmeer says:

    I am glad someone sees per-ordering for what it is. It’s like a snake oil salesman that skips town to the next one before he’s called out for it.
    I still believe in per-ordering from companies that have good track record and have offerings that don’t hinder release gameplay.
    Saying we should stop Kickstarting projects is comparing apples to oranges, they offer an entirely different service.

  24. Wonderboy2402 says:

    I think kickstarter is a much better way of being a patron to gaming. The developers make the pitch, and displays their intent. We as the consumer can then decide if it something we want.

    From there we can assume a range of risks to support the game. No pledge at all, or scale it up proportionally based on our level of interest. The nice thing, is you can often get the game at a fractional price of other AAA games. $10-25 bucks generally.

    The greatest advantage of kickstarter is in the developer / community interaction. There is a swapping of ideas and understanding between each. In my experience the devs are very receptive to ideas or changes. I recently pledged in UNWRITTEN, a game that had to change their name. I suggest UNWRITTEN PASSAGE and they liked it so much they changed the name to that.

    I believe this is a much better format then “the suits” dictating terms to the developers, who must bow to their whims rather then the player base. It is now a more collaborative approach, with both sides benefiting.

  25. Skaz says:

    I know someone who pre-ordered Homefront. Huge trauma, a definitive vaccination.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Either it’s me you’re talking about, or there was one other person that pre-ordered Homefront!

      Yeah, that was definitely traumatic. It permanently changed my view on the subject of pre-ordering.

  26. alex_v says:

    I totally agree with the sentiment, but the problem is that ‘people’ (most of them) don’t have that idealised relationship with reviews or reviewers or the gaming press. Synthesizing the reviewing landscape around a game into a message you can trust is an art in itself, and not a simple one.

    And it’s all very well for core gamer releases that are well catered for by the enthusiast press, but try finding a reviewers consensus on a casual title, or one aimed at children for example – absolutely impossible.

  27. Acorino says:

    I definitely won’t preorder anymore because it burned me a bit in the past and I really don’t see much of an advantage for it anyway, save for a discount. It’s better to know what you’re in for than potentionally saving some money and get a game you’re not so happy with. And there’s always the option to wait until the price drops, anyway.

    Chaos on Deponia was a big disappointment. Was really excited for it, really liked its precursor, and then barely played it. The humor just…I dunno, it didn’t tickle my funny bone, and the gameplay didn’t pull me in either. Played it for half an hour, tops.
    Brütal Legend was a bit of a buggy mess upon its PC release, and it’s still getting fixed by the devs. So I had to wait until it got to a reliably playable state anyway, don’t know if it’s there yet.
    The Cave was okay, I guess, above average, but well below my expectations.

    There is always a great game out there already released and unplayed, so why preorder? I’m okay with carrying the risk by backing a Kickstarter project, but with Kickstarter you’re influencing whether a project gets made and how big its funds will be. With preorders the budget is already decided, and the game will come out anyway.

    I guess the Amnesia Fortnight deal was a bit of a borderline case.

  28. Heliocentric says:

    Not pre-ordered anything that didn’t have instant access ever…. Not a mug.

  29. Snargelfargen says:

    I don’t buy new games any more at all. I’ve regretted it every single time, either due to bugs, crowded servers, day one DLC or the release of bargain GOTY versions barely a year later.

    Lots of good games out there, there’s no reason not to wait a week or two.

  30. Ajsman says:

    Never was a fan of preordering games and I always avoided it. Then something came over me and I preordered Battlefield 3. Probably because of the nostalgia and all the good times I had with my mates while playing BF2. Well, that was a 50€ wasted. I would have been ten times better of giving that 50€ for a Humble Bundle.

    But now I can at least safely say I will never ever blindly give my money for another game. Fu*k BF3! I trust no one anymore.

  31. Premium User Badge

    Trinnet says:

    I didn’t preorder XCOM. I waited for reviews before buying. Then I spent months listening to people talking about colour coding their squad, something I couldn’t do because I bought the game the day after it was released.

    (You might remember this pre-order bonus featuring prominently in Alec’s series of diaries.) It might seem like a tiny feature, but I felt it’s absence keenly.

    So it’s not that I disagree with the article, but you’re essentially setting up the prisoner’s dilemma on a vast scale, yes it’d be great if nobody bought games until they’d been reviewed, but that’s a fairly unrealistic dream, and pre-ordering where we’ve confidence in the game and the studio means we don’t miss out on the things that everyone else is experiencing.

  32. Solidstate89 says:

    I’m normally not one to fall for pre-ordering a game, but I’m pre-ordering Rome II: Total War and there isn’t shit anyone can do about it. I need my Total War fix.

  33. en_zedd says:

    Hi, long time gamer, first time pre-orderer here…

    Last year I pre-ordered 2 games. These were my first pre-orders in 20 years of PC gaming. I prefer to wait for reviews and popular opinion before making my mind up. But both of my pre-orders were spurred on by a cloud of nostalgia… XCOM and Hitman Absolution.

    One of these games delivered on it’s promises. The other burned me so badly that it’ll be another 20 years before I consider parting cash before the game is done.

    But even if Hitman hadn’t been a stinking pile of simplified console fodder, I doubt I would have given the two games in the article a chance. SimCity’s always online DRM is a model that simply will not work (hell, I haven’t bought a Ubisoft game since AC2!). And the Aliens franchise has never really had a AAA title in my opinion.

    I am glad to have dodged the bullet with this rubbish being released. I don’t think 2013 is shaping up to be a very good year for PC gaming at all…

  34. cptgone says:

    “you got your more expensive version of the game, with that extra DLC or presentation metal box. And when that game turns out to be a massively pile of dung”
    …you’ve found a use for that presentation metal box ;)

  35. Inglourious Badger says:

    I’ve always chuckled at the phrase “Last chance to pre-order, ends today!”. Why can’t they just say the game is out tomorrow, or better yet, the review embargo will be released tomorrow? It’s all very silly. I have only ever pre-ordered a game because I knew I would want it (i.e. a sequel to a favourite, had a beta I enjoyed or one that’s actually allowed reviews before it launches) and there was a good discount I couldn’t refuse. As a rule I don’t buy DLC or extra hats or any of the usual gumf given away with these things, but then I don’t suppose they notice the difference if I still pre-ordered.

  36. Kefren says:

    The only game I ever pre-ordered was Bioshock, since System Shock 1 and 2 were my favourite games. The box arrived, and I found it required some sort of dial-up to unlock (I was on dial-up Internet then), possibly only working a few times. I’d never encountered it before, and hated the idea of it. I returned the game immediately for a refund and vowed never to pre-order again. That’s one of the problems – when the game’s released, it could be saddled with any old crappy DRM system. Poo on that, sir, I say to you. Poo on that.

  37. Kefren says:

    I’m sure someone will have mentioned this, but you can’t pre-order anyway. If you give them the money you’ve ordered the game, not pre-ordered it. Pre-ordering is what you do when you think about the options, then get your wallet out. What the term is supposed to mean, quite erroneously, is to purchase in advance of the game being released.

    The term DLC is equally stupid. Everything you download from GOG/Gamersgate/Steam is DLC. It is content. It is downloaded. Give me the olden days when you had games and expansion packs. Those terms work regardless of medium.

    • Premium User Badge

      Surlywombat says:

      I pre-order boxed copies all the time from online retailers. You are right, from download services its a pre-purchase.

      • Kefren says:

        Even boxed copies can’t be pre-ordered. You order it prior to the game being released. Whenever you pay money you are ordering the game, not pre-ordering it.

  38. dsch says:

    John, you realise you are expecting a large number of gamers to have the functional use of a brain.

  39. mmalove says:

    I said it before, I’ll say it again. If the general opinion of RPS is dissatisfaction with EA and their recent blunders with Simcity, the always on DRM, poor framing as an MMO, pre-order gimmicks, DLC, amateur coding, etc – please do your community a favor and STOP RUNNING DAILY ARTICLES ON THEM.

    You make salient points, but there comes a time when you’re preaching to the choir. Some have gone off and bought the game in spite of your harshest criticisms and warnings, some have heeded those warnings and waited. I believe many, including myself, never would have bought this heap of crap in the first place, and as good as it feels to beat the dead horse, it’s time to move on and hear great things about developers that are doing it right, rather than continue to mourn dissolution of Maxis into EA’s culture.

    • Baines says:

      So, if you don’t like something, you stick your fingers in your ears and close your eyes?

  40. Grey_Ghost says:

    Way ahead of you.

  41. thegooseking says:

    John, given that you were one of the most vocal about “no, actually, the ME3 ending is actually ok” (which I happened to agree with), how can you use reliability of “consensus from the internet” as a point in favour of this position?

    Whether you buy a game before you’ve heard anyone’s opinion or after, it’s still a risk. So far, games that I’ve bought because they were recommended have been a lot more often disappointments than games I’ve pre-ordered because I thought I might like them.

    I do agree that some form of play-before-you-pay thing would vastly improve the customer’s position, though. I thought that that would be a good use of cloud-gaming services; offering demos rather than full games. I resent installing something that’s only a demo, so I would love to be able to play it without that faff. Of course, what you lose there is the ability to check whether the game works on your machine.

    • Giuseppe says:

      Well… “Someone who knows their tastes regularly match mine, or indeed anyone else in the industry’s, will find that expert opinion useful in advance of purchase.”

      Of course buying something based on someone else’s opinion carries its own risks, but if you find a reviewer whose opinions usually match yours, you’ll know that his reviews should be a good basis for knowing whether to purchase something. It’s a hell of a lot better than “I’ll pre-order this game because the marketing is so convincing, the franchise is so big and, OMG, I just have to have that bobble-head.” At least it is to me; I don’t claim that what works for me works for everyone :)

      • Premium User Badge

        Llewyn says:

        I find that it’s not necessary even for the good reviewer’s taste to coincide with your own to be useful – it can be enough to know how it relates to yours and that it’s not arbitrary.

        Personally I find Jerry Holkins to be my best guide to games, although he doesn’t review as such and his taste is different from mine; when he writes about how a game makes him feel I get a good idea of how it would make me feel, even though the two might be different.

        The value in ‘expert opinions’ is in knowing how to relate them to your own, not in following them.

        • Giuseppe says:

          Knowing whose opinions not to trust is probably at the very least just as important as knowing whose you can trust :)

  42. Strangerator says:

    Ah demos, I remember getting loads of those attached to my stacks of thinly sliced tree corpses.

    Here’s the problem with demos. If 90% of AAA games are disappointing, and fail to live up to their hype, then on straight odds demos have a 90 percent chance of hurting sales. I’d argue that the demo for Kingdoms of Amalur probably hurt their bottom line (that and everyone was still playing Skyrim). It’s a game that promised much, but whose demo indicated that the developers had over-promised, and not brought all that much new to the table.

    The real problem in the industry is hype, and people buying into it. The fact that you’d mention “asking people to wait a month for the next big thing isn’t realistic” indicates that we (the bulk of gamers) have transitioned past the point where we consume rationally. The herd mentality leads us to believe that it is inevitable that we will purchase certain titles. Some people simply will buy ANY game from a particular franchise or developer, and will in fact engage in self-deceptive rationalization in defense of said games, despite the games being severe disappointments or even disrespectful of the consumer.

    Eventually, you have a huge base of people who not only bought the hype, but convinced themselves that what they bought was “a great game.” (This in turn sparks the Matrix-esque philosophical argument about perception being reality, or conversely the objectivist concept of “objectively good things”) These “great games” tend to spawn sequel after sequel, and mass perception becomes reality. This is why mediocre games with mediocre sequels are able to rake in the consumer cash, time after time. They just have to reproduce the same mediocrity so that the consumer is reminded of the first game, which they have already convinced themselves to view as “great.” In the battle of big PR versus games consumers, PR won a long time ago.

    There are plenty of them out there.
    e.g. – evolve-pr.com/
    Note: Just because you use one of these firms, doesn’t mean you’re trying to sell garbage games to stupid people, but it is such a powerful tool that nearly everyone uses it to compete.

    You know, like that show Mad Men. PR didn’t go away, it just got so big you don’t even notice it anymore. Even if John (the savage) Walker manages to convince all of us here on RPS to become rational consumers overnight, the hype engines will continue to churn on all other games media sites. The best you can do is make yourself aware of the situation, aware that you are being constantly assaulted with marketing hype, and make better choices as to what you buy.

    I have found it refreshing to see some truth being spoken to power here on RPS, and John (the savage) has garnered a fair amount of respect in my eyes for his efforts.

    • Arglebargle says:

      PR. It’s not just for breakfast anymore!

      And it never was….

      The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized
      habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in
      Democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism
      of society constitute an invisible government which is the
      true ruling power of our country. Our minds are molded, our
      tastes are formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have
      never heard of.
      – Edward Bernays (1891-1995) “Father” of modern public
      relations (PR) and director of the U.S. Committee on Public
      Information during World War I, on government propaganda

    • Giuseppe says:

      I remember a wonderful time when practically every game, at least every major game, had a demo. It was standard practice. There was a lot of hype around certain games 10-15 years ago too; but you could still usually tell if a game was gonna be good or not and, most importantly, if it would be a game for you based on the demo.

      Nowadays AAA publishers can practically get away with murder because almost no-one releases demos and large numbers of pre-orders and day-one sales are the norm.

  43. Ender7 says:

    I have not done many preorders, the ones I do are the ones where the company has got a lot of street cred and earned trust. Sadly, there are a lot fewer of them now. However, there are some companies I will not put money down until I see the game in action and read actual gamer reviews and NOT the paid off advertisment that pretends to be reviews (kotaku for example). And then there are companies I flat out refuse to spend a dime on (EA at the top of the list). There was a time I would have preordered a bioware game and not known anything about it besides it was coming out and its by bioware, after EA got them, we all have seen what happened to them and I will not touch them at all.

    Kickstarter is unusual, so many old school games and indie games coming out that I have backed a lot of kickstarters. I have no regrets, I am getting more hits than misses and want to see kickstarter grow. The problem with the old way of games being beholden to publishers is that the publishers would have too much control and ruin the game, stripping out fun/uniqueness for flow charts and gaming trends. Fuck that, I want a game to be FUN and unique. Down with the obsolete and make way for the indie/old school stuff!

  44. Skaz says:

    Pre-order is a wonderfull thing ! How could incredible games like “A game of Dwarves” ever sell a copy without that ?
    I hesitate a second to pre-order this game. Men, i’m so glad I din’t …

    NEVER – EVER – PAY BEFORE REVIEW !

  45. Yosharian says:

    The argument here is don’t pre-order games that are obviously going to be shit. Sim City – obviously going to be shit. Aliens: Gearbox, hello?

    I pre-ordered the shit out of Tomb Raider for about 66% of retail price, which I think is a good deal. I also pre-ordered a couple of other games recently which I’m perfectly happy about.

    Pre-ordering is worth it if you are going to pick up the game on launch day anyway, and if there is a reasonable chance that the game will be good. It’s also worth it if you get a GOOD discount (no, £2 off retail is not a good discount).

    You’re acting like we need to reinvent the wheel here (GUYZ, I FOUND OUT PRE-ORDERING IS BAD), when all that is needed is a little common sense. Evaluate the stuff you’re getting for your pre-order, and balance that against the chance of the game being shite. It’s not rocket science.

    • MrUnimport says:

      Yes, I think this seems fair. Capitalism as usual.

    • Baines says:

      Hindsight depends on what happened.

      Tomb Raider came out and was good. You had pre-ordered it, and got a good game for a great deal. You are happy, and use it as an example of using common sense to determine whether games are worth preordering. It *is* an example that you backed a winner.

      The problem is that, despite the evidence, the story could have gone the other way and we’d be seeing people using the same game with the same pre-release information and deal as an example of using common sense to avoid a dud. Instead of you posting, we’d see someone else mentioning the track record of Tomb Raider games, the “interactive movie” nature of preview footage, some controversial topics, and perhaps even the scale of the pre-order bonuses as evidence that the game was going to be a dud. Tomb Raider was not a guarantee.

      If, against logic, Aliens: Colonial Marines had turned out to be a decent-to-good if rough around the edges game, we’d see people saying it was common sense to expect it to be good because of Gearbox’s track record, the love the developers had for the Alien franchise, how they stuck with the project through thick and thin, and the like.

      A lot of games get pre-ordered. There are going to be a lot of people who have only success stories, just as there are people who only hit one dud, and some poor folk who have hit multiple turkeys. And in many cases, you can construct after-the-fact arguments for why a title was a safe bet, a risky bet, or a very likely failure.

      • Yosharian says:

        I have been burned before, I pre-ordered Crysis 2 and got badly burnt there, and the reason is that I didn’t do my homework. With Tomb Raider, I took a careful look at the preview footage and what the developers were saying, and I liked what I saw/heard. I particularly liked the idea of taking Lara back to her roots and seeing her develop into a hard-as-nails.. well, tomb raider. So it wasn’t the equivalent of throwing money at a lottery like you seem to think, although obviously there was risk involved – there always is. If you want examples of games I wish I’d never pre-ordered/bought at all, perhaps Mass Effect 3 and Dishonored in recent memory, although Dishonored wasn’t awful. Anyway, that is the nature of risk/reward, you don’t win every time. You can’t have it both ways.

  46. bigjig says:

    I guess one of the advantages of there being oceans on the internet is that those living living outside America are effectively given a 3-day window of opportunity to make an informed choice about preordering a game. Other than that though you’re absolutely right, preordering a game based solely on marketing materials is obviously stupid. A lot of the preorder bonuses are quite simply laughable – OP weapons and items? Really, why would you want to make the game any easier than the dumbed down guff it probably already is?

  47. Fox89 says:

    I put a reply to an earlier comment which was very anti pre-order, and for the most part I stand by that. HOWEVER… there are times when you can get a genuinely good deal.

    Take Bioshock Infinite. £24 pre-order at GreenManGaming plus a free copy of the original Bioshock PLUS one more free game from a selection of high quality titles. Now is that offer still going to be around week one? I’m not sure. Let’s assume not for the sake of argument and just look at the pre-order offer on its own. All the potential free games have plenty of reviews around, they’ve been out a while, so you can tell if you’re likely to get enjoyment out of them. Worst case scenario: you get two good games for slightly more money than if you bought them independently, plus one rubbish game. Not a great outcome but not a terrible loss.

    On the other hand, maybe you get three good games for £24. That’s extremely good value.

    I have much less of a problem partaking in something like this, and as long as you as a consumer are careful with the fact that you are taking a gamble. I also don’t think these kind of offers would ‘come forward’ if pre-orders were stopped altogether. Maybe I’m wrong about that one, but the good old days at the end of the ’90s didn’t have anything like the same kind of pre-order mania as we do today, and how many of those games bundled in older titles on their release? I can’t think of many off the top of my head that’s for sure.

  48. napoleon_in_rags says:

    “Monkey’s out of the bottle. Pandora doesn’t go back in the box, he only comes out.”
    -Saul from Pineapple Express

    Seriously, though. Preorders are such a massive part of the industry now that it seems ingrained in how every big game company does business. Even if all the PC-gaming hipsters on this site heed your call to arms, the majority of consumers have proven themselves to be massively illogical creatures, and will continue to preorder every Battleduty: Black Field 3 that comes out from now to eternity.

    Ahh, the failing of consumer capitalism. It assumes that said consumers will actually do what benefits them the most, when really, most people are stupid.

  49. captain nemo says:

    Further on from pre-orders, “season passes” are the leveraged derivatives of games

  50. Bhazor says:

    Except Simcity was obviously crippled and Colonial Marines looked like ass.

    So basically don’t preorder games when you know their going to be crap.