Pre-order culture is still massive, despite there being fewer reasons than ever to do it and way more risks. So let’s talk about why it’s still a thing.
Way back in the old days, when games were still pushed out on chunky pieces of plastic, going to your local store was the only way to get hold of the newest games. Your choices were either show up at opening time (or queue outside if other people had the same idea) or risk them selling out before you got yours. This happened a lot, right up into the 2000s.
This was also in the days before games could be patched after release, meaning developers and publishers put in an incredible amount of effort to find and fix bugs before launch. Of course, they still happened every now and then, but not as frequently as we see today.
Why Pre-Ordering Is Pointless Now
We live in an era of pre-downloaded content and day-one patches. Digital content can’t sell out, so you know at the very least you’ll be able to get a copy of your game when you want it. Well, assuming the download servers work, of course. Let’s not even get into that one, Diablo 3 (and probably Anthem when it comes out).
You might be thinking of picking up a Collector’s Edition, with strictly limited extra pieces. Definitely tempting, and it’s definitely possible they could sell out. But most of the time, even if they do sell out, these extras will be on eBay before the end of the year. Unless you’re a dedicated “it stays in the box” collector, you’ll almost always be able to get the extra bit you want.
When Your Pre-Order Goes Wrong
At the time of writing, the latest pre-order to go wrong is the Fallout 76 Collector’s Edition. People who paid extra for this are now complaining that instead of the canvas version they expected, they got a cheaper, more flimsy plastic version instead. That’s not good news, especially when you consider my next point.
You don’t know how good a game is going to be until it’s been reviewed by unbiased sources. Even a developer with a solid history can release a clanger every now and then. Fallout 76 is only the latest example. Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, Call of Duty, Need For Speed and plenty of others have had bad installments along the way. If you pre-order, you’re handing over your money before you know whether you’re getting a good one or a bad one.
Bugs. These days, pre-ordering usually gets you the game a few days before mainstream release. That means you’re essentially paying full price to beta test the game. You can (and should) expect bugs that will (probably) be fixed by the main launch. You could have game-breaking issues, or (and yes it’s super rare) system-breaking glitches. I’m looking at you, 3rd party DRM software. There are plenty of examples to choose from here, but the faceless Assassin’s Creed glitch is probably the one everyone’s thinking about.
Why Pre-Ordering Hurts Gamers Long Term
Unless you’re signing up for some kind of ongoing payment subscription game, once you’ve handed over your money for the game, the developer owes you nothing. You might think they care about patching bugs to keep you happy, but they don’t. They only support games after release because it would be really awful PR if they left them alone. But they technically don’t need to.
By giving the developers money before you even know if the game works, you’re basically saying that you’re happy to put up with whatever broken piece of software they give you. Don’t do that.
Make developers earn your money. Make them prove that their game is worth buying before you buy it. Stop pre-ordering video games.