Watch an ad for the hottest new video game, and you’ll see those familiar words flash up at the end:
It seems that every publisher wants you to put down your cash for their new game months before release. You might do so instinctively, but we’re here to tell you why you should stop pre-ordering video games…
What Is Pre-Ordering?
In case you’re not familiar with the practice, pre-ordering a video game is the act of paying for a game before it’s even released. You can do so with a physical copy as well as a digital copy of the game.
Typically, when you pre-order a physical copy, you don’t pay the full amount upfront. In-store, GameStop will take a minimum of $5 to reserve a copy, then you pay the balance when you pick it up. Pre-ordering from Amazon charges your card for the full amount once your order ships.
Meanwhile, pre-ordering on the PlayStation Store charges you immediately. Xbox Games Store pre-orders use your account balance right away if you have in your wallet; otherwise it will charge your credit card around 10 days before launch.
Three Main Reasons Not to Pre-Order Games
Let’s get into the main reasons that pre-ordering (one of the ways modern gaming sucks) is such a bad idea.
1. You’re Gambling on a Game’s Quality
When you pre-order a game, you’re paying for it upfront based on a marketing campaign or glossy pre-release trailer. Before the game releases, you have no reviews, footage from YouTube or Twitch, or other impressions to go off.
This is a problem because game trailers and other advertisements are not always true to the game’s final form. No Man’s Sky is the best example of this in recent years.
Released in 2016, No Man’s Sky is a procedurally generated space adventure game that the developers claimed could create up to 18 quintillion planets. It started off as a small indie venture and quickly grew into a much-hyped game when Sony got involved.
Upon release, No Man’s Sky received heavy criticism for lacking a lot of the promised content, and the developers went silent. A Reddit user even compiled a list of No Man’s Sky’s missing features.
No Man’s Sky sounded and looked amazing. Using screenshots and videos that weren’t actually from the finished product (known as “bullshots”) led to a false sense of the game’s quality. But hundreds of thousands of people were sorely disappointed when they bought it at full price.
2. You Pay the Highest Price
Games aren’t cheap. Most major releases cost $60 at launch, and that doesn’t include any DLC (downloadable content) released later. By pre-ordering, you pay the highest price for a game that in all likelihood will drop in cost shortly (especially if the game doesn’t receive good reviews).
Two years after No Man’s Sky’s botched launch, the game has received multiple major updates and is actually worth playing. But you can grab a copy for just $20 now. Often, games drop by as much as $20 just a few months after release.
As an example, I bought Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition last week for $12. That includes the full game (originally $60), The Frozen Wilds expansion ($20), and other minor items that were only included in more expensive deluxe editions (more on that below).
Additionally, the discounts many game retailers offered for pre-ordering are gone. Amazon Prime used to offer 20% off if you pre-ordered a game or bought it within two weeks of release. It cut this back to pre-orders only a while ago, and recently changed the policy to instead provide a $10 Amazon credit for pre-ordering “select games.”
Starting August 28th, Amazon (Prime) is giving $10 Amazon credit for select game preorders. This is replacing the 20% off prime discount. Preorders placed before August 28th will still receive the 20% off discount https://t.co/JWGM2v7Kbp pic.twitter.com/xY6igLHDQv
— Wario64 (@Wario64) August 20, 2018
Meanwhile, Best Buy’s Gamer’s Club Unlocked program, which offered 20% off all new games and pre-orders, is gone too. Thus, pre-ordering doesn’t offer any real savings anymore.
Even worse, you’re locked into your decision if you pre-order digitally on PS4. The PlayStation Store states “cancellations and refunds are not available except where required by law” (good luck with that). However, the Xbox Games Store does allow you to cancel pre-orders.
3. You’re Supporting Lousy Practices
When you pre-order a game, you’re a guaranteed sale in the publisher’s eyes. Instead of having to guess how many people will buy the game, it has a good idea of the sales to expect.
This leads to the big game studios continuing bad practices. If they know the game will sell millions no matter what shape it’s in when released, why put the effort in? Assassin’s Creed Unity is a great example of a shamefully broken game that was still released.
Game demos, once an important way to try before you bought, are all but extinct. Why would a developer offer a demo when it knows you’re going to buy the game anyway? And with multiplayer-focused games, access to the beta is usually restricted to a pre-order bonus.
Similarly, lots of single-player games have exclusive missions and other content spread across retailers via pre-orders. Ordering from Walmart might grant one mission, while Target offers another. This slices up the game and makes it impossible to have everything at launch. The original Watch Dogs had so many editions that someone came up with a spreadsheet to keep track of them all.
— Franky Magic ? (@NotFrankTurner) May 27, 2014
Some pre-order bonuses border on ridiculous. 2016’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided had a ludicrous scheme where more people pre-ordering the game unlocked additional tiers of bonuses. At each tier, you picked between two rewards that you wanted, meaning that you couldn’t have everything. And to get it all, you had to buy the $150 collector’s edition.
Thankfully, this scheme was scrapped before launch. But it shows that you can’t put anything past game publishers when it comes to pre-orders.
Refuting Common Pre-Order Arguments
Now that we’ve discussed three major reasons pre-ordering isn’t worth it, let’s address some of the commonly-cited benefits of pre-ordering.
1. You Get a Guaranteed Copy
In its inception, pre-ordering was a solution to a problem. Shipping too many copies of a game is a waste, while not having enough means that some players might miss out. Pre-ordering, then, allowed stores to forecast how many copies they would need.
But once game series like Call of Duty exploded in popularity, pre-ordering became unnecessary. When a new game in a series like this releases, stores stock hundreds of copies. You can easily pick one up on release day without pre-ordering. Furthermore, you can always grab a digital copy.
2. Pre-Order Bonuses
Most pre-orders, especially for the limited or collector’s editions, include a bunch of extra items to incentivize you. These can include extra missions, cosmetics, or usable boosts. More expensive editions might even have a statue or art book included.
Almost all of the time, these pre-order bonuses are laughable. The exclusive missions are nothing special, and will likely appear in the inevitable “complete edition” a year down the road. As mentioned above, this is a shady practice because developers chop up parts of the game to sell as pre-order inventives.
Cosmetics don’t change anything about the game, and the figurines/art books are no rare gaming treasures—they’re almost always cheap junk and inferior to what you can find elsewhere. As an example, I regret buying the Pip-Boy edition of Fallout 4, which ended up being a dumb gimmick.
Even worse are the one-time boosts. A bit of extra XP or in-game consumables just gives you a head start and can even cheapen the early experience.
The pinnacle of this stupidity is Sonic Lost World, which gave you 25 extra lives for pre-ordering the game from Amazon. Not only are lives not a big deal in most games, but this takes a reward usually earned in-game and gives it to you for money. That’s low.
3. It’s a Franchise You Love
It’s tempting to pre-order a game from your favorite franchise, especially with the bonuses discussed above. You might think that it’s a safe bet to pre-order from a series you love, but this isn’t always the case.
You’ll probably luck out with a consistent series like Zelda or Grand Theft Auto. But you don’t have to look far to find disappointing entries in major franchises.
Resident Evil 6 was panned almost universally, and disappointed even diehard fans. Sonic Forces was a letdown (another mar on Sonic’s history). Even Batman: Arkham Knight, a great game in a respected series, had an atrocious PC port that basically rendered the game unplayable at launch.
Every game has the potential to be disappointing. Save yourself the money and heartache by avoiding pre-ordering, and reading reviews and thoughts from others first.
When Is It OK to Pre-Order?
I’ve argued why it’s a bad idea to pre-order in almost every case. But there are a few cases where it’s an understandable option.
One is if you’re pre-ordering an unknown game, especially if it’s an import from another region. If pre-ordering is the only way you know you’ll get a copy, go ahead and do so. But this is not the case for 99% of games or players.
Another is pre-ordering a digital copy so you can preload it. Most systems allow you to download a pre-ordered digital game before release so you can start playing at midnight.
While this can prove helpful to those with slower internet connections, the problem with gambling on the game’s quality are still a concern. Consider whether you really need to play the game at midnight, or if you can wait an extra day in order to check out the reviews on trusted gaming sites.
Pre-Ordering Doesn’t Benefit You
It’s vital to remember that pre-ordering isn’t for your benefit. Publishers and game retailers want you to pre-order so they can get as much of your money as early as possible. When you pre-order, you help cultivate the practice.
And just because you don’t play the newest games doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Reddit’s /r/PatientGamers is a community built around playing older games, so give it a look to see if waiting is the answer.
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