Today, I want to talk a bit about whether it is worth it to pre order video games, and why this practice may have gotten worse over the years.
2023 has been a crazy year for me in terms of gaming; lately, I’ve been on a Pokémon kick, playing lots of games from Pokémon Violet, Pokémon Sword, and even went as far back as to play Pokémon Red on the 3DS Virtual Console. We’ve got a new Zelda game coming out this year as well. More recently, Hogwarts Legacy will be coming out in just about a week by the time I finish writing this article.
I have to admit that Hogwarts Legacy is a game that I have been looking forward to playing more than anything. I’ve been a huge fan of open world RPG game and the Harry Potter books, and from what I can see from the trailers and gameplay showcases, this game is shaping up to make my own game of the year list.
There was once a time when as soon as I got hyped up for an upcoming game, I would be very eager to pre-order it at my local game store and beat the rush of fellow gamers. But times have changed, and pre-ordering games is not the same experience as it used to be. As the years have gone by, I’ve become a little more wary of buying games long before launch day.
The History of Pre ordering Games
Before we talk about the way the practice has fallen out of favor, we need to take a moment to look back on how this whole thing got started.
There was a time long ago, when video games were distributed on cartridges and CDs. Right up until the early 2000’s, the only way to plays games was on a physical format; there were no such thing as downloadable apps or Steam. If you wanted to play Halo on the original Xbox, you had to go to the store and buy the game in person… provided it wasn’t sold out in stores wherever you lived.
Back in those days, game publishers had a duty to ensure that they had enough copies of a game at launch day. The internet was still in its infancy, so it wasn’t like companies had the privilege to look up hashtags and find out how many people were interested in their games. The publishers had to go through all the work of making the physical games, manuals, and packaging, so if they didn’t have enough copies, customers would be upset, and likely lose loyalty.
On the flipside, they had to ensure that they didn’t make too many copies of a game in case it doesn’t sell well. The video game crash that took place in 1983 resulted in a ton of unsold Atari games getting buried in a landfill, and because of that, it was critical for game companies to have the abilty to forecast all of that interest in a game.
At some point from the 2000’s onward, many stores and game retailers started to learn that they could make note of upcoming games that customers really wanted, so that they could order enough copies from publishers. This also had the benefit of providing said publishers with some solid evidence to show how much attention a game was getting, thus allowing them to manufacture enough physical copies of a game.
And so, pre-ordering became a commonplace practice.
The Case for Pre-ordering?
Now that we have a bit of background knowledge, I’d like to discuss some of the pros and good reasons for why pre-ordering can still be a good thing, for what it’s worth.
First off, pre-ordering provides a way for loyal customers to show their love. I might be sounding a little bit idealistic here, but that is the truth. Brand loyalty is a big thing, and is often the reason why we come back to play the sequels. But for many other consumers, they just see another upcoming game and will just wait until release. As an incentive to play the game, companies can offer up perks for pre-ordering. Pre-ordering often comes with additional benefits such as exclusive in-game items, bonus content, or limited edition physical items like art books or collectibles. Again, if you’re a fan of the franchise or developer, and want to have these exclusive items, pre-ordering might be right for you.
Secondly, pre-ordering gives companies an opportunity to properly plan for launch day. If they know how many people are interested via pre-sales data, publishers will have information to prioritize the development and refinement of those games. Now, I’m no game developer, and I cannot speak for anyone, but if I was a publisher who knew that thousands if not millions of people were interested in my game, I would do everything to ensure that game was made to perfection. Pre-ordering not only shows the devs some early sales data, but it can help them secure funding for future projects. If you trust the company and want to support their efforts, pre-ordering can be a way to do so.
Going off our second point, by pre-ordering, you ensure that you’ll have a copy reserved for you on launch day, reducing the risk of the game being sold out or unavailable. Mind you, this point is only viable if you looking to get a physical copy of a game.
I know it’s a hot topic, but Early Access can sometimes be good for a game. If you have the privilege of experiencing the game before its official release, you have the chance to provide valuable feedback and potentially influence the final product.
Don’t Pre Order Video Games: It’s Outdated!
Now that we’ve covered the good, let’s talk about the bad and ugly stuff of this practice. Let’s start off by saying that pre ordering games is an outdated practice. While pre-ordering video games has its advantages, there are also a lot of good reasons why you might not want to preorder.
The word “Pre-Order” has taken on a new meaning these days. It used to be that when you pre-ordered a game, you’d put a small amount of money down for a payment, and then pay the remaining full price of a game at launch. In this day of digital downloads, it isn’t really the case anymore. Take one look at Hogwarts Legacy on Steam, and you’ll see the words, “Pre-Purchase” …
“When you pre-order a game, you’re just commiting to paying for something that some assholes in California haven’t even finished working on yet.”~ Eric Cartman (South Park Season 17, Ep 7 – Black Friday)
Even if a game is just about done development and testing, the fact that many gamers are buying the game before launch date means that they are on the hook for whatever game gets shipped. Just as the above quote from Cartman states, if the devs haven’t finished making the game, we could end up with an unfinished game.
The ugly aspect of all of this, is that companies know that we’ll come back for more anyways. These days, we know which game studios are the biggest in the industry; Nintendo has a longstanding history of top quality Mario games that always sell like hotcakes. Rockstar Games managed to make a game so big that it made more money than most Hollywood blockbuster films. Year after year, the Call of Duty series remains a top-seller, in spite of its lack of innovation.
As soon as any of them announce a big game, we as consumers ignore any sensible skepticism in favor of being the first to play the next best game.
I like to think of this “preorder culture” much like the tipping culture that exists in the US these days; you pretty much feel obligated to pay upfront before anyone even starts prepping your order. And if you don’t pony up the money, chances are you’ll end up with an undercooked mess that may be missing a few bites.
How Can We Fix This Mess?
I’ll be blunt, the easiest solution would be to stop pre-ordering games altogether. Were it so easy, however. Asking the fans of a highly anticipated game to hold off on pre-ordering is like asking a stubborn politician to change their views, even if it is for the greater good.
But instead of trying to tell you to stop this outdated practice, I’ll end this article with a few takeaway points; some food for thought the next thing you think of putting money down for something:
- Educate Yourself about the risks: Know of the potential downsides of pre-ordering, such as unfinished games, misleading marketing, and unforeseen delays. If more people know, the more likely that their informed decisions may help steer the industry in a better direction.
- Share Reviews and Feedback: Emphasize the importance of waiting for reviews and feedback from trusted sources or fellow gamers who have played the game after its release. Encourage people to seek out comprehensive reviews, gameplay videos, and discussions to get a better understanding of the game’s quality and whether it aligns with their expectations.
- Patience is a virtue: If you wait to purchase a game later, you might be able to get better value by getting a game at a discount, or maybe a “game of the year edition” with DLC. By waiting, you can potentially save money. Furthermore, waiting allows for game-breaking bugs to be found and fixed.
- Empower yourself! There’s a cause for everything, and the gaming industry is no exception! Maake your voices heard by delaying purchases until you can make more informed decisions. Consumer demand can and will influence developers and publishers to prioritize quality, transparency, and player satisfaction.
- Consider Alternatives: Instead of pre-ordering, consider waiting for a game demo or trial version. This approach allows for a more informed purchase based on personal preferences and the actual quality of the game.
Anyways, I hope that these little points help provide you with some info. At the end of the day, the decision to pre-order or not rests with yourself.
Thanks for reading, and until next time, have fun!