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RPS Asks: Have You Ever Regretted A Pre-Order?

Was it worth it?

Featured post REGRETS

Question: Have you ever regretted a pre-order?

I was thinking about this because of the Bethesda review policy announcement chat. As you can imagine it circles back round to ongoing conversations about pre-ordering and reviews. Generally my advice on the matter is “don’t do it” but that’s actually a truncated version of a more complicated sentiment: “Don’t do it unless you feel informed enough to make a judgement about the game’s worth to you given whatever factors you want to take into consideration personally, or if you think there’s a robust enough refund policy, or if the actual quality of the game maybe just isn’t a huge part of why you want it.”

It doesn’t really trip off the tongue, that.

I don’t tend to feel the need to pre-order games. I never have felt the need, so I don’t really have a wealth of stories to choose from for my own pre-ordering regrets or successes. At least part of that is because, until recently, I didn’t have a group of friends with which to discuss them so it didn’t matter whether I was up to date with anything. I wasn’t going to get a game spoiled and there was no mileage in being able to say whether something was good or bad in that first week. It really takes the pressure off in that respect.

I got into Destiny post-release but have since pre-ordered all the expansions and things. That’s more because I’m comfy with the developers of that game in the sense that I trust what they’ve done so far and am happy to keep investing. I don’t exactly feel the need to pre-order, but given I assume I’ll be picking it up anyway I don’t mind just laying the cash down when I remember, which tends to be when friends are chatting about it on voice comms before it comes out. I don’t know what the relationship would be like if a paid expansion bombed. I guess it would depend on what the problem was, how they addressed it and a few other elements as to whether it eroded the goodwill that’s built up for me there.

The only other time I can remember pre-ordering was for Skyrim, which I picked up on Xbox 360. I actually went so far as to book the whole day off and had to explain to my editor at the fashion publication why I wanted this one day in November at home. We had a slightly confused conversation about dragons and swords and Ayleid ruins as I explained my attachment to Oblivion and that I was excited to do the next thing, given I’d long since mined out the previous game’s world in terms of activities.

I wouldn’t say I regretted it, exactly, but it was definitely a case of not quite gelling with the game for a fair while. Looking back, what I’d wanted was more Oblivion. I’d have been far happier with just a big chunk of DLC or something to do with the characters I’d grown attached to. Skyrim is the game people tend to prefer of the two, but for me it was a bit of a damp squib because of how my own relationship with the game interacted with the marketing hype. I think I ended up spending part of my day off on Skyrim and part of it baking or doing some chores or whatever as my interest waxed and waned.

I’d think a lot of people have had moments like that which teach them something about how hype works and whether or not they want to learn to resist it.

Adam: They have and I’m one of them. Hello!

I very rarely preorder games, partly because I’m so busy these days writing about the blasted things that I rarely find time to pick anything up that isn’t work-related, and partly because when I do find that time it’s often a few months after a game has been released. There are exceptions though and they’re predictable ones: annually released sports games. I only preorder rarely, but I always end up buying them regardless of reviews.

It’s a weakness of mine, the desire to buy a new Madden, MLB: The Show, Football Manager, WWE and FIFA (PES this year actually) every year, but these are games that always make me happy for at least a while. Because I know that I’m going to buy them, I often (though not always) preorder if I see a good deal. Even when any apparent improvements are slight, there’s a satisfaction in having the shiny new version of a thing that serves as a comfort blanket rather than a shot of adrenaline or imagination. And, yes, over the years I’ve bought some duds, particularly when it comes to the wrasslin’ games.

I’ve never regretted buying them though – the money has already been put aside because I know the release schedule and I know, broadly speaking, what to expect. “This is a bit shit,” I might say to myself a few days later, but that’s about it. I’ll still play with friends from time to time, and poke at singleplayer modes even if they’re undercooked. Part of that is because I find games interesting in and of themselves, so picking at the slightest of changes and trying to figure out what it does and why it has happened is a form of entertainment in itself.

This year was slightly different though. I had a week’s holiday right around the time when No Man’s Sky came out, and I ended up with an unexpected couple of free days during that break. One was the release day for No Man’s Sky on PS4. I bought it through the PlayStation Store so that I could play at midnight, and play at midnight I did. All told, I probably got forty hours out of the game: the first ten I loved, the next twenty I endured, the final ten I felt sad during because I was remembering how good the first ten had been. I was always going to play it, for professional reasons if nothing else, but I wouldn’t have been quite as keen to buy it that night if I’d already read reviews from people I trusted. It’s not the money that I regret – my choice, my loss – but a good review would have told me that there was nothing beyond those first hours that was likely to appeal. Going in with expectations calibrated would have been useful, and maybe I would have waited until later.

One takeaway from this is that I’m happier to preorder the expected, even when I expect mediocrity, than I am to take a chance on the experimental. That’s a bit rubbish, isn’t it? The opposite is true when it comes to regular post-release purchases though. I read as much as I can about all of the weird and wonderful games that I can find, and I end up buying far more than I’ll ever find the time to play. Essentially, pre-orders are reserved for games that I know I’ll buy no matter what, or impulsive late night digital purchases when I’ve got too much free time on my hands.

In a lot of ways I wish I’d held off on No Man’s Sky, but even at the silly price I paid, it was almost a pound per hour spent, and that doesn’t seem too bad, even if I spent some of those hours becoming increasingly disenchanted. It’s those hours spent, rather than the money, that I regret. If I’d known I wasn’t moving or building toward anything, I’d probably have given up much sooner. A good review wouldn’t have told me that the game was bad or good, but it might well have let me know that whatever it was, it wasn’t going to appeal to me for long.

Oh, and I bought Thi4f ahead of release because I really really wanted more Thief. That one I do regret.

So yes, have you ever regretted a pre-order?

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Philippa Warr

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