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

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.


  1. Kamos says:

    If a game doesn’t sell 5 million copies on day one, it is a flop.

    I understand why publishers do the things they do. I understand their business model requires them to over-hype games and maximize day-one sales. However, the idealist in me thinks that their business model is absurd / retarded, and the more they push those day-one sales, the more I think that:

    1) They think that what they’re selling is so bad that people won’t buy it once word gets around.

    2) They’re making something so disposable and unremarkable that people won’t talk about it, so they don’t count on it to sell over time at all.

    I’d rather have a business model where games are a craft of love and people buy them because they are good.

    The thing that troubles me is that there is this giant bubble of people buying games they don’t even care about. There are people out there with hundreds of games in their “backlog”, and willing to spend perhaps 15 minutes on a game they paid $60 for. In a way, I think gamers themselves are pushing for games that are more and more disposable.

    • Sherlock says:

      I hear you. I have more UNPLAYED games in my Steam Library now than I had across every Nintendo console of my childhood. I remember wanting to go back and 100% a game, or do it again on the hardest difficulty, or play the multiplayer in my bedroom with three mates to DEATH for months on end. Now I buy a game cheap, play it for 45mins, and move on. But it’s a habit I need to change.

      You have to think about it like this, though – Games are now making more than movies in opening week sales. They’re possibly the most popular form of media entertainment now. Imagine your local DVD bargain basement and the amount of shitty content in there. Many films you could quite easily pick up for 50p-£2 and waste 90mins of your life watching, only to dispose of. But we don’t do that. We leave them to rot. Games are becoming like that, but people haven’t wised up to it yet. There will still be a lot of beautiful immense games out there, we just need to learn to weed through the garbage to find them.

    • Baines says:

      There is also the desire to maintain the system, because that part of the system currently favors the publishers.

      You run the preorder system on games that you know are good so that people don’t see “Preorder bonuses” and immediately think “That’s an obvious turkey.”

      Publishers put review embargoes on more than just their turkeys for similar reason. They want to maintain their power in the system. They don’t want something like the movie review system where everyone knows “This film was not made available for review” translates to “The studio knew this film was going to tank hard. They at least want to get what Friday and Saturday money that they can before word of mouth buries it.”

  2. mpk says:

    John, as usual, is right.

    The contempt shown by publishers towards their customers is increasingly palpable. The end product means far less to them than the next quarter’s results.

  3. Carra says:

    The only games I’ve pre-ordered these last years are those by Blizzard and they haven’t disappointed me yet.

    Else I’ll just await the reviews to see if it’s any good.

  4. Jimbo says:

    Wait for reviews! Which will all tell you everything is amazing anyway, whether it is or not.

    “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.”

    It’s not about saving a trip to the shops (like shops even have PC games), it’s about the £5-10 you’ll save by having a boxed copy delivered to your front door on release day, compared to what you’d pay on Steam. Which is ridiculous but that’s how it is.

  5. bab says:

    kk ill stop spending money on things I want until video game experts on the Internet tell me I’m allowed to. It sure sucks that those two or three really bad games I didn’t pre-order because i didn’t think they would be good means nobody can ever buy anything until we get a thumbs up from you guys whose opinions on the very serious business of video games are obviously more right than our own judgment :( I should never have ore-ordered Deus Ex 3 or Dishonored either even though the pre-release coverage here told me I would love it and it turned out I did.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Damn, you sound bitter about something. Your inability to curb your habit of impulse-purchasing, maybe?

      • bab says:

        Well, do you only do anything in your life after consulting people you’ve never met over the internet? The sheer hubris of saying that the only way we can be satisfied is by the advice of an ‘expert’ is ridiculous and is telling us to abandon our own judgement in favour of absorbing the opinions of self-appointed gatekeepers because obviously, they must know better than ‘normal’ people who are incapable of forming their own ideas. Why, have you had a terrible experience pre-ording a game recently? I haven’t, and most of the people around me haven’t either (even the ones who did buy Sim City, despite the bungled launch and mismanagement, they are still playing and enjoying it). I do feel sorry for people who either misjudged or didn’t understand what they were buying when they put down their 10% fully-refundable-before-pickup deposit at JB but leading to the conclusion that therefore, because these games didn’t live up to the hype in the view of some prominent figures, nobody should ever buy anything without consulting the opinion of self-appointed experts is nigh-totalitarian (and incredibly boring).

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          You still sound bitter about something. You need to get over the fact that this article forms an opinion, nothing more, nothing less.

          • bab says:

            Really? Can you not come up with any response to an argument other than I “sound bitter”? (I’m not? Where are you even getting that from? Unless you believe that people giving a viewpoint that’s not yours automatically makes them aggressive?) Because I can say you sound like a toffee-nosed ponce, but that’s not making any meaningful progress in the discussion, is it? But if someone disagreeing with an article you like the author or viewpoint of makes them “bitter” then bitter be I, I guess, if that helps you discard other viewpoints as ones not worth considering.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            Yeah, definitely bitter.

          • bab says:

            So… what is your problem exactly? I can’t tell if you’re a moron or a troll but you definitely seem more interested in accusing me of being something I clearly am not than engaging in anything approaching an intelligent discussion.

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            If I’m accusing you of anything, it’s of being a complainer. You’re bitching about a fucking opinion piece. And we’d most likely be having an intelligent discussion if you had seen fit to add anything substantive to begin with. Instead, you started off with a highly vitriolic rant that indicates you may be offended that Walker is potentially calling you out as a shitty consumer.

            People who come here purely to rag on the writers tend to get trolled. I’ll stop trolling you as soon as you stop acting like a bitter forum basher.

          • bab says:

            Oh, so you ARE a moron! Say hi to Mr. Block List for me :)

            Maybe we’d be having an intelligent discussion if you even tried to discuss or refute my argument instead of attacking me directly. Maybe if you could see my initial post for what it was rather than a “rag on the writers” (It’s not?) you’d be intelligent enough to know what a discussion actually is, and recognise that just as they have the right to post their opinion (as a directive) on the internet, I have just as much right to respond to it with my own – you see it’s a two way street, that’s how the internet was envisioned all those years ago, and I find it laughably ironic you’re complaining so terribly about me providing my opinion yet defend their one so vigilantly.

            But thanks for playing, get back to me when you grow up a little! (Seriously, “Calling [me] out as a shitty consumer”?! This isn’t about me, it’s about pre-ordering, you’re the only one that’s seemed to take this so personally. And where did I say I was offended? When I dared question that I have a different opinion than the almighty gods of RPS you seem to worship?)

  6. caulder says:

    I’ve been saying pre-ordering is terrible for years. Good to know I’m not only right but also ahead of the curve.

  7. Megazell says:

    Every single time I hear ppl complaining about a video games it seems to be about pre-ordering a game that either did not live up to expectations or that just does not work…What did you expect to happen? You paid for nothing and you got nothing in return. I don’t see the problem? More of a reason for me not to support retail.

  8. Bobka says:

    I pre-ordered the HD edition of Age of Empires II on Steam. Am I a bad person?

  9. Ravelle says:

    Pre-ordering is fine, just be sure the game will be some quality or has some nice collectables like they have with collector editions.

  10. stupid_mcgee says:

    Let’s see how well this holds up once HL3 comes up for pre-order.

  11. Belmondo says:

    You didn’t convince me. I’ll continue to pre-order games, in my thoughtful budget-conscious way. See, if it’s a game I’m excited about, I don’t WANT to read reviews before I play it. I don’t want the experience spoiled. Even if you bracket plot elements with spoiler warnings, just the TONE of your review can be a spoiler. And it’s not just reviews, but headlines, comments, forums, the whole gaming community I’ll have to avoid until I buy the game at the expected discounts post-launch.

    And, hey, who do we blame for embargoes?? Web sites are afraid to break embargoes because then publishers will no longer give them review copies before launch day, yes? Well, if you’re going to smugly tell me not to pre-order, I’m going to smugly tell you that it’s OK to post a review of a game AFTER it launches. Really, it’s O-K.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Don’t read the reviews then.

      Jesus H. Christ, some of you people show a glaring lack of self control.

      • Belmondo says:

        Um, isn’t one of the points he makes is that we should wait to read reviews before deciding to buy a game?

        Mother Mary and Joseph, some of the people here are melodramatic!

        • SkittleDiddler says:

          Do you make all of your decisions based on some guy’s video game blog? Read the reviews or don’t read the reviews.

          • Belmondo says:

            Wait, that’s MY point. Why should I read reviews? Get it now??

          • SkittleDiddler says:

            My question to you is this: ignoring Walker’s stance on reviews (which you’re putting way too much stock in, IMO), what does reading them — or not reading them — have to do with your personal decision to pre-order games? You’re simply complaining about an opinion piece that is obviously not going to have any impact on your spending habits anyway.

            The only thing clear about your original post is the tone of needless self-justification that radiates from it.

          • Belmondo says:

            I’m not going to ignore his stance on reviews because that’s the thing I’m commenting on. And I don’t think I’m putting too much stock in what he says about them: the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs are about reviews, the paragraph that begins “Subverting the review model…” and then especially the one that begins “No, I don’t think I’m the Great Arbiter Of Games…” which seems pretty key to everything he’s saying.

            It’s hilarious that you’re picking a fight with me when–I’m serious–you seem to be making the same point I’m making: Why should reading reviews play a role in our decision to buy a game? You might want to read those paragraphs I pointed out again and then read my comment again, focusing on what the words on the screen are saying rather than trying to discern what tone is “radiating” from them….

  12. TheNob says:

    Okay, makes sense. I stop preordering.

  13. Maniac says:

    I agree with your editorial to some extent – I myself do often prepurchase games, but only when the press I trust has been kind to it thus far, and the developers have proven themselves to be great and enthusiastic about their work, and when theres a proper incentive for me to do so. Take a look at the Bioshock: Infinite preorder on steam. It’ll get you Bioshock 1, which was an excellent game, it’ll get you 7 Team Fortress 2 items (and they’re “genuine” quality / rarity, meaning they can be sold on the Steam Market – – Often for 2+ euros, often alot more), and hopefully, granted its unlocked, a copy of X-COM.
    So here we have a preorder incentive in the way of two great games that’ve received alot of buzz and some stuff that you can, if you’re arsed, sell at a decent price, making it just like a mail-in rebate-thing, really.
    Now… When the incentive of my preorder almost equals, if not tops the value (or rather, cost) of said preorder… Then I’ll definitely do it.
    But caution is always something that needs to be used when preordering, atleast if its a dev you dont utterly love and trust aswell as when theres no real incentive for doing so.

  14. PopeRatzo says:

    OK. No more pre-orders for me.

    I think I’ve pre-ordered only three games in the past decade. Batman:Arkham City was one, because I enjoyed Arkham Asylum so much and wanted to encourage such games. Far Cry 3 because Far Cry 1 had been one of my favorite games and Far Cry 2 was soooo close and I believed 3 would be better for some reason. The third is Bioshock: Infinite because I hoped that if I pre-ordered it would make Ken Levine stop talking to me every day for chrissake.

    I’m thinking that the the only way I want to see another video with Ken Levine in it is if it’s a cage match with Gabe Newell where they put a camera in the middle of the cage and they fight to the death over who gets interviewed. And the winner gets eaten by a hungry lion.

  15. Krouv says:

    The last game I’ve bought blindly without reading any kind of critic commentaries was the god awful Matrix game back in 2003…. Needless to say, I vowed to never make such a mistake again. Now I just impulse buy games recommended by the Hivemind. :)

    • MrUnimport says:

      Hey, I rented that game as a kid and thought it was tons of fun!

  16. honuk says:

    There is no possible reason to preorder anything. You give people money in return for nothing. Pretty sweet deal for them. For you? Not so much. If you want to own a game, buy it when it comes out. It’s not complicated. I haven’t pre-ordered a game since Final Fantasy VII, which came out in 1997. I pre-ordered it because I was 13 years old. I am no longer 13 years old.

    As with everything, it’s about identity. People will gladly pay people money to be able to say that they are the kind of person who would pre-order Bioshock or kickstarter I-Remember-When RPG #45.

  17. zacharygordon703 says:

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  18. Potocobe says:

    I have pre-purchased exactly two games. CIV5 and X-COM. One I got burned on and the other was delightful in ways I did not expect. I learned my lesson with CIV5. From then on I have done my research and of course, No DEMO, No MONEY is the best rule of thumb for me.

    This article has gotten me to wonder about whether I believe I can tell when someone is bullshitting me on the internet. Sim City almost got me… I played the demo they released and just smelled something fishy in the way all of the late game features were teased at me by the little sim people wanting stuff I couldn’t give them and the observation that the populace did not seem to be paying attention to what I had been doing as far as health and fire services and such. I would wait for consensus. I still want to play it though. I really liked the feeling of laying out zones like a Vegas dealer on my curvy ring roads. And destroying houses because my park had too much grass to squeeze in between two widely spaced houses was fun anyways. It made me feel like a real city leader. Stomping all over my little people and throwing them out of their houses for the children. They need a place to play so their parents will go to work and get Off MY LAWN!! I digress….

    Could we please have an article/editorial exploring the finer points of bullshit detection as it relates to the exchange of funds for implied future fun via video gaming technology? (Say that out loud! It’s fun!) Why do they want my money so soon before I get to see it? Isn’t it any good? That’s like a shady drug deal…At least let me smell it first.

    | RPS Feature
    | Bullshit 101 : Smell it before you step in it
    | 10 (or other useful number) signs that an impending game release might be a stinker.
    | By Whoever

    I would read an article/editorial like that.

    • running fungus says:

      “I have pre-purchased exactly two games. CIV5 and X-COM. One I got burned on and the other was delightful in ways I did not expect.”

      *nods knowingly*

      “I learned my lesson with CIV5”


  19. malkav11 says:

    These days, especially with GMG, I’m typically getting anywhere from 30 to 50% off when I preorder, plus goodies. I certainly wouldn’t bother for a mere 10%. And although I’ve certainly preordered stuff I didn’t wind up playing much or until considerably later, I think the last time I can recall being genuinely burned by a purchase was a post-release purchase of Master of Orion III. I was so in love with the previous game that I rushed out and bought it without reading reviews.

    The key is to pay attention, not preorder a zillion years ahead of time, and only do it with reasonably known quantities.

  20. njolnin says:

    Nah, I’ll keep pre-ordering games. I think it gives consumers an advantage. No one forces me to get those “deluxe” editions (and I never do). Some companies are giving more meaningful benefits to entice consumers, such as free games ( Bioshock: Infinite gives great bonuses. They’re offering a free copy of the original Bioshock and XCom). More importantly, I only put money down for games I’m confident about.

    John, you keep harping on this issue, but I think there’s some points you’re underestimating, particularly when you say there’s NO benefit. The cost benefit to pre-orders really add up. GreenManGaming, for example, has given me massive discounts-the last 4 new games I pre-ordered from them were available for $35 or less. All told, I’ve saved a lot of money on purchases that I enjoyed. How is this not a benefit?

    The distinction I want to make is that there truly are some games that I’m absolutely, 100% positive I want to purchase and play on release. CDP’s or Frictional Games’ next titles will be games that I want to play, no matter what you or any reviewer says. Surely we all have games in mind that we’ll get on release day, no matter.

    If I can save 10%-20% (or more) on the game, then why not?

    In the case of Frictional Games, pre-orders were important to the health of the studio. I think it’s fine if the publisher/developer also benefits from pre-orders.

    I reserve pre-ordering for those games that I’m confident I’ll enjoy. For other games I’m less sure about, I’ll wait for reviews and a discount before I buy. If consumers are just will-nilly pre-ordering games that look good from a single trailer, well, that’s a problem that can be remedied by more information, not stopping pre-ordering altogether. I notice that games journalists frequently withhold any strong criticism until the game has actually been released. That’s something to look in to.

    I agree that those people who plopped down $60 for Aliens: CM seem look poor saps, but on the flip side, for example, I saved $15 on Dishonored, and paid only $28 for the Deus Ex: HR pre-order. Following your advice would put a noticeable dent in my wallet. We need to better inform consumers to aid their choices, though Aliens: CM ought to have seemed like a stinker a mile away.

    • Chris D says:

      Well, how confident are you that you can tell a good game from a bad one before release? If you’re 90% accurate and you’re getting 10% off then you’ve broken even once you’ve set your savings against the money you spent on a game that you’d never have bought if you’d waited.

      I wouldn’t say never pre-order but, if you’re making a habit of it, I don’t think the odds are in your favour.

      • njolnin says:

        99% confident. Never really regretted a single purchase, even (or especially) in a few cases when the game did not get strong reviews from most sites. Like I said, I only pre-order when I’m confident about the game, so I don’t do it often. Put it another way, I’d want to play these titles on launch day anyways, so why not save some money?

        Also, I kind of question the math there. First, it’s more than a years since I settled for a 10% discount-some place always discounts more than that if you look hard enough. My judgement would have to be way, way, off for me to go so far as to pre-order a game that I’d then never want to play. At the worst, it would be something that I’d buy at a discount later on, so I consider it an acceptable risk. Closest I’ve come to a “disappointment” was Hitman: Absolution, but even then I played it for 28 hours and had a much higher opinion of it than RPS did.

  21. running fungus says:

    “Let’s Not Pre-Order Games Any More, Eh?”

    SimCity: did not bite.
    But on the basis of L.A. Noire and XCOM? That’s a mofo deal.

  22. onsamyj says:

    Let’s have a deal: if “BioShock Infinite”, which I happily preordered for no apparent reason (I don’t have, but don’t really want “X-Com” or first “BioShock”), would be bad of mediocre, I stop preordering, but if it’s gonna be good, you stop preaching, mkay?

    Correct me if I wrong, but RPS people get games for free, so for them preordering bonuses don’t matter, but for most of us 10% off, free DLC, free game, or even all of that, is really good bonus.

    It’s your job, as game journalist (or blogger, or whatever) to warn us about games, because you know about them more. Not say it’s gonna be bad, because you never sure before playing full game, but just say you concern about something. And what did you say about “SimCity”, hm? Nothing.

    I’m pretty sure, that “Dead Space 3” is in trouble partially because of microtransactions and co-op in horror game. Gamers were aware of that because of RPS and other publications, and decided not to support those changes.

    I can and would be judging, when to preorder, when to wait, when to buy, when to not, but I need your advice, and you advice is “don’t buy game until everyone know it’s good”? Wow.

    P.S. Those brits *cought*TB*cough* with their white man’s burden…

  23. nearly says:

    That preorders are a great boon to them makes me think that they would have little to no reason to include the preorder incentives as week 1 offerings or part of the retail game. I certainly did not see any reason for why they might do that in this piece.

  24. Crate says:

    I agree with John’s article, but I live in India, where the prices for PC games upon release are no more than $20 (Rs. 1000). Also, Bioshock Infinite preorders are being sold with a copy of Bioshock at only $20! (link to flipkart.com). Those two games are a combined value of $80 (almost) everywhere else! I am able to buy games with a multimillion dollar budget on release day for no more than $20, which I am still unable to comprehend. Console games like the recently released Gears of War Judgment are $55 minimum, which seems like daylight robbery in comparison.

  25. Uthred says:

    I think its a bit disingenuous to suggest that pre-ordering is a “con”, no one is being swindled here. The publisher is entirely up front about what the buyer is getting, generally the game plus early or exclusive access, the buyer is entirely aware what theyre doing. Who’s being swindled? It’s a classic case of caveat emptor (and like every other market you weigh up what you know of the product based on previews and decide if you want to risk getting it on release without any reviews available). Just because its a purchasing method you dislike doesnt make it unethical or a con

  26. Wetcoaster says:

    I can count the number of games I’ve bought at full retail price in the last decade on one hand with fingers left over. Most boxed games I don’t buy until they’ve had three or four price drops or the compilation has had a price drop.

    I am a bad, bad customer.

  27. derbefrier says:

    I have pre ordered lots of games some I liked some I didn’t.
    I bought lots of games years after they were released. Some I liked some I didn’t.

    Doesn’t matter either way. eventually your gonna get burned.

    I must admit I have become a lot more hesitant on pre orders then I used to be and its mostly because of this now expected buggy releases, especially for online games like sim city and multiplayer games.

    • unbias says:

      Ya, but if you purchased a game years later, the “cost” or risk of that purchase was probably a cheaper mistake. Buying day-one, through pre-order is normally not worth the long term cost. I will say though, if amazon or someone else does a crazy deal, like they sometimes do and offer $20 off simply for pre-ordering a game I was interested in anways, I’ll do it.

      Also, if there is a specific genere and/or title that is “rare” or doesn’t get enough attention, I pre-order it:

      1. To try and show the market that there is demand for that type of game

      2. To make sure I get a copy

      Otherwise, I wait till after launch and I can see what the community, my friends, and reviewers think. Not because I live paycheck to paycheck, because I dont. But because I want to make sure I’m getting the best deal as a consumer, instead of letting them take advantage of my impulse, due to my love of teh hobby.

  28. Lobosolitario says:

    I find post-ordering to be much more effective. A year or two after release, everyone is clear on whether a game is good or rubbish, you get all the DLC and expansions in one bundle, and a much better discount than the preorder.

  29. MadTinkerer says:


  30. bstard says:

    The Caliph of Dung-on-the-Hill approves of this tirade, and calls for a jihad on any preoderingfidels.

  31. Greg Wild says:

    Amen to this. My financial situation has changed recently, so simply cannot afford to waste money on a AAA turd.

    On the other hand, I’m totally okay with a kickstarter. Crowd funding something I actually want made, rather than some shovel ware EA and their ilk are telling me I want to buy is a totally different scenario.

  32. aircool says:

    Pre-Ordering is a risk, there’s no doubt about that. However, a developer/publisher with a good track record is enought to give you the confidence to pre-order a game, particularly if you’re interested in those CE’s (I love the Space Marine CE and happily bought it without having any idea what the game would be like. Fortunately, it was much better than I expected). I pre-ordered GW2, but didn’t bother with any of the CE’s etc… as it was all pointless ‘in game’ stuff.

    As for EA? I’ve never recovered from Neverwinter Nights 2 and BF2142 which were both horribly broken when released, and Mass Effect with its dodgy copy protection that crashed legit copies of the game a few minutes of play. I had a momentary lapse of reason when I pre-ordered SWToR, which had a rubbish CE (compared to the billion times better Warhammer: AoR CE), and was a really shit game to boot. However, I was in a slump at the time and needed cheering up.

    It’s not so much the pre-ordering that’s the problem, but companies making shite, broken games. As it happens, that’s been a problem for a long, long time.

    • P.Funk says:

      “It’s not so much the pre-ordering that’s the problem, but companies making shite, broken games. As it happens, that’s been a problem for a long, long time.”

      If pre-ordering is a risk as you say then you need to treat a risk the same way any investor would. The current state of the market place is rather hostile towards the gaming software consumer. Its not a good time to invest ahead of results. Best to be safe. 10-15 years ago? Great era to invest early in a game because back then the press relationship was different, games were made differently and frankly… the market was just smaller and so it was run on a different kind of publicity and popularity. If you’re the same consumer but the sellers have changed the person they’re selling to, you need to be aware of that.

      If people were as careful with pre-ordering as they ought to be then you could pre-order just fine on a case by case basis and have good faith that it would be worth it. Today however people freely allow themselves to be abused by the system and they pay for it. EA is bad, but its customers are worse because they’re the battered wives who refuse to press charges, ie. stop pre-ordering.

  33. alilsneaky says:

    I have never preordered a game in my 20+ year gaming ‘career’ and never will.

    It’s beyond stupid, you don’t buy something before you know anything about it.

  34. bill says:

    In 20+ years of gaming i have never once pre-ordered a game and never ever understood why people do it.

    I guess I could possibly see the point back in the days of physical copies, where the store might not have the game you want on launch day and you might have to walk around a few stores. But even then, the reason they didn’t have the game was because they wanted to encourage you to pre-order it because that’s when the store managers got their bonus – so pre-orders actually incentivised them NOT to stock enough of the game.

    But in a digital world it makes zero sense. You give up your major advantage of actually KNOWING WHAT YOU ARE BUYING. And you get a crappy discount that is usually no better than launch week sale prices anyway.
    Why on earth would anyone do that?

    I have, however, spent money on DVD collector’s editions that come with nicer cases and little statues. At least at that point I know if the movie is worth buying.
    though even with those, I now mostly regret spending extra to get a load of geeky statues that got stuffed in a draw after a few weeks and forgotten.

  35. sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

    I have a rule – never pay over £10 for a game. Eventually all games fall below that price, and by that time they are usally bug fixed and with lots of DLC and there is a consesnous as to if they are any good or not. Easy.

  36. ner0 says:

    Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen.

  37. Squishpoke says:

    According to Steam with preordering Arma 3 and Bioshock Infinite, your average gamer has not learned their lesson and they are still determined to destroy the games industry.

    • P.Funk says:

      Arma 3 is a rare exception. Namely it entirely disowns the concept of keeping the game hidden away til release day and instead gives free and full access to the Alpha with no restrictions or NDAs in sight. This means that months and months ahead of time its possible for the public to be deeply turned off of the game.

      In many respects the Arma 3 Alpha is the diametric opposite to the EA model. Rather than shutting the press out of reviewing the product til after release and then putting intense pressure on them to review a certain way, Bohemia has turned the entirety of the niche Arma community into the press. They will play it, explore it, review it, make suggestions, give feedback on development, and report bugs. This is nothing like EA and it deserves to be recognized as such.

      In the case of Arma 3 you’re not only getting a better look at the game than pretty much any other (that isn’t on kickstarter anyway) during development, but you’re going to learn more about this title before buying it than in nearly any other case for a game of this quality.

      Its pretty cool really. On top of that for $33 US you’re getting Alpha, Beta, and a full version of the game. I imagine the full version will go for around $50 so thats a 33% discount for buying during Alpha and getting Beta. Think about that. Often enough you’re paying MORE to get access to this.

      Anyone who lumps Arma 3’s alpha product in with the SimCity and Aliens: CM disasters is seriously missing the subtler details.

  38. P.Funk says:

    Kickstarter is not a pre-order. Kickstarter is a form of crowd investment. It often includes incentives and benefits such as access to Alphas and Betas and often enough a discounted or complementary version of the finished game, but these benefits are not specifically the reason for putting money into a kickstarter.

    Kickstarter turns the end user (at least hopefully the end user) into the publisher and bypasses the likes of EA. Its nothing like a pre-order.

    People think far too personally about their money. There is a difference and if you don’t see it you’re just thick.

  39. belgand says:

    And if I wait anywhere from 6 months to a year, maybe less, I can often buy the same game with all the DLC on sale for $5-10. My backlog is huge as it is, why am I in such an obscene hurry to be playing the latest game?

    I’ve actually heard a somewhat reasonable idea to play games that are a few years old. Not only are the games themselves much cheaper, but the hardware you need to run them is older and significantly less expensive as well. Your performance and cost goes up and you get to play the exact same games, but in a more polished and patched form. The downside is that this doesn’t generally work with multiplayer games where the fanbase may have moved on, strategies have changed, or you’ve otherwise missed out and heavily story-based games where if you wait too long it might be spoiled for you. Not to mention the inherent pleasure in taking part in the community and reaction to a game. It seems that this vanishes much faster these days than it does in the past with a game already being “over” for many players within a few weeks of release. After two or three months it might as well have come out several years earlier.

  40. Delvaris says:

    Long time reader but I actually signed up to say this: I generally don’t pre-order a lot of games. I see them as you do a calculated risk. However as of late, well really since the Table of Doritos and associated antics I just…I don’t feel I can trust you guys anymore.

    No you specifically John and RPS you guys are pretty much the only reviews I take seriously, maybe Rev3Games though I do have some issues with some comments from them. (Tara Long: “Users are pettty,” which I can somewhat agree with but still could have been better phased. I find it very disconcerting what happened to Rab and how there’s insistence all over the place that the swag and the trips to europe and such don’t influence reviews. Which, again you didn’t take the trip to Europe to drive a ferrari or whatever it was but there comes a point where “The lady doth protest too much.”

    I am also disappoint in the lack of editorial control, in general mind you, shown by sites that give scores for Sim City. What they played was a late preview and they all knew that. They knew that they were not playing a product that represented the retail version and they scored it anyway. Ben Kuchera wrote a pretty decent editorial after that talking about how you should trust the review but the entire time I was reading it I thought “WHY WRITE IT THEN?!” Then with Metacritics insistence on no score changing, which is ostensibly to protect you guys from publisher pressure you end up with a situation where Sim City gets to keep it’s 9.5 from Polygon and not the 8 (first revision) or the 4 they ended up with.

    So I think some of this blame rests on you guys to an extent, and I get embargos and access and everything but John you’re a wonderful writer and editor I would support you to the end of the earth, with a subscription fee if I had to and I would wait for games if you or some of your collegues would just be willing to break embargoes that are for truly bad games or more importantly ones that had been blatently false advertised like Colonial Marines.

    So what I am saying is that from the vast majority of sites I as your READER feel like they are compromised simply because they defend against it so vigorously and have a tendancy to blackball people like Rab, and threaten him with libel suits (though, thankfully Ms. Wainright has admitted that was a mistake she was very sorry for- since she was young she gets another chance). It seems like any time people come in, especially from the inside and make accusations about enthusiast press being too close to PR there is a smear campaign followed by “deflect, disavow, and deny.” and it unnerves me.

    So for me with Bioshock Infinite it comes to this: XCOM which I can give to a friend, a free copy of Bioshock which I was planning to buy on steam anyway, and Bioshock Infinite which may be good, despite the fact that they are currently acting with poor confidence by giving exclusive review to IGN. I still hope it’s a good game, I still think that it will be a compelling experience even after the spoilers, which I won’t mention. Just if you go seek them out keep in mine the 3rd golden rule on the internet “everything sucks out of context” and the 2nd rule of history “hearing it from a friend of a friend of a friend who has edited gameplay video is just slightly better than reading it on the internet.”

    Ultimately saying “wait for reviews” is fine and good, but what happens when you don’t have a lot of confidence in the reviewers? I mean the only game this year that hit where I gave them creedence was Aliens CM (I hadn’t pre-ordered but was looking forward to it) when it was universally negative and the publications brought out the “forbidden numbers” below 7.0, it told me something about the quality of the game. However if Bioshock ends up with a Metacritic ranking of say 85-95 what does that tell me given that AAA titles are rated on a 7/10 scale? So since you don’t have confidence in the revewers it sort of comes down to “Well I won’t know until I play the game I might as well get a couple of free games out of it or a cool Power Loader statue or whatever.

    Idunno, maybe I’m wrong. It’s late over here in ‘Murka

  41. WS says:

    About Kickstarter being compared to pre-ordering… The two are completely different in every way.

    With pre-orders, you pay a company for a game it is already making, essentially telling them that you’re a sucker and they should withhold content to fleece you later (you are DLC marks) and that you are perfectly happy if they give you garbage.

    On the other hand with kickstarter you are pledging (look it up if need be) your support for an idea that you would like to see materialize, and -in any good campaign- like to take part in shaping though direct communication with the developers.

  42. AdelieOnline says:

    Happened too often recently where I don’t know where to pre-order the game from, and find myself comparing the DLC that probably doesn’t matter from different stores. It’s really kills my hype for a game…

    I think a really good point is that if people stopped falling for the pre-order “bonus” trap, we’d see a lot more demos out for games for us to try out and decide if we want to buy (or pre-order) ourselves. But do you think that there are ways to fix this seemingly industry-standard issue? My friends and I actually started a company that specifically targets the pre-order market with an early bird cash discount rewards method. Our solution was that since pre-ordering games right now solely benefits stores/publishers, why not kick back some cash to the buyers for making a potentially risky commitment to buying your game. We’re testing out a concept which gives people who preorder early enough a cash discount, with the earliest buyers for getting it for free. We’re about to test our alpha (if you’re interested, adelieonline.com).

    My main point though is: I think that people who preorder and give their money in faith that the game they buy will be good should get it cheaper than people who wait until all the reviews are out to make their purchase.