Just over ten years ago, when I was just a precocious preteen who adored his PS2, those five words in the title would have been almost unheard of. We still overwhelmingly bought games from brick-and-mortar gaming and electronic shops, even on PC, and downloading whole games was still something of a novelty, if not entirely impossible given NZ’s shitty internet. Pre-ordering meant you were guaranteed a copy at launch without having to wait in lines or for new stock, and you were pretty much assured that the game would at least be playable since patching was still fairly new, especially on consoles.
Funny how things change in such a relatively short time. Since then, we’ve seen two whole console generations, with a massive array of innovations and evolutions in both hardware and software. Internet connectivity, once an optional extra, is now an absolute must to get the most out of gaming experiences. You can now buy and download whole triple-A titles without a disc to be found, as well as little extras as DLC. Patching is done all the time.
And yet, we still pre-order video games. To the detriment of everyone involved.
The absolutely appalling states of some of the largest triple-A launches over the past few years has proved that the industry is willing to sell us unfinished products. Developers are becoming more complacent with regards to bugs; the assumption that “we can just patch it up later” is all too prevalent, and it is to the detriment of the final product.
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To pre-order now is to buy something where you don’t even know if it will be any good, or even playable. No other sector of the entertainment industry has shown itself to be so arrogant that it will sell us something that they haven’t finished producing yet. You wouldn’t see a blatant animation error in a film as it would have been spotted in post-production, so why should we allow game-crashing bugs to stay behind in a major release just because it can be fixed later? It’s simple—we shouldn’t. If developers can’t guarantee that their games will work at launch anymore, then everyone who pre-orders will just be throwing their money away.
But this is nothing compared to probably the most blatantly anti-consumer practice the industry is engaging in right now: pre-order bonuses. The name is a bit of a misnomer since what they are really doing is taking parts of the game that were made during the main development time and making them available only to a small subset of the player base. In the most egregious cases this includes game-altering objects such as weapons, extra in-game currency for multiplayer, and even entire sections of the story. Some games have even advertised their pre-order bonuses before a trailer or screenshots were available, most infamously Evolve, a game that turned out to be a platform for DLC and nothing else. Remember that game? Don’t worry, neither does anyone else, considering it was released in February.
The game that finally convinced me to never pre-order a game is one that’s still in development, but has already produced the worst pre-order scheme imaginable. Square Enix has put together a program called “Augment your Pre-order” for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. It lets you choose the digital pre-order bonuses you want to get for your Day One edition of the game, selected from five different tiers that unlock progressively based on the publisher’s (unknown) pre-order goals for the game.
The first tier, the only one unlocked so far, allows you to choose between a skin pack and a special weapons loadout. Tiers 2 and 4 have somewhat optional yet still substantial things: choose between a sample of the soundtrack and a digital artbook at 2, and between a comic book and a novella at 4. At tier 3, an extra mission is unlocked. At the highest tier, the whole game unlocks four days early. These will only happen if enough people pre-order.
Let me repeat that: these will only happen if enough people pre-order.
I nearly lost my lunch when I saw this. This is a sales manager’s fucked-up wet dream come to life. You cannot put content behind a wall like this; we don’t even know how many pre-orders there have to be to unlock the higher tiers. It’s marketing an illusion of choice, yet there is no choice at all. Hell, we still don’t know if the game will be any good, and this scheme is all they’ve been pushing.
This is what is wrong with pre-ordering, and why it needs to stop right now. For the love of the gaming gods, please vote with your wallet and do not pre-order games anymore. It will make the industry better, I promise.