These days it’s popular to hate on the pre-order; in fact I believe House Biscuit has chosen “We do not Pre-Order” as the official words of their house. That said, I’d be remiss to not drop a flying elbow on this dead horse and see if I can get a few kicks in before it becomes sad.
Pre-Orders have been criticized harshly for good reason, the general consensus being that the rewards for pre-ordering don’t justify paying for a game long before you know if it is any good. I think we can go farther, because while there were reasons to pre-order years ago, those incentives have dried up, leaving a pointless practice behind.
Pre-ordering a game does two things for the customer;
It guarantees your copy of the game will be in the store on launch day.
For some, the guarantee of their copy is important to play a huge game like Call of Duty or Halo immediately after the midnight launch, or others just want to know for sure when they go to purchase the store will have it in stock.
Provides a bonus to the consumer.
These bonuses can be anything, a Halo lanyard or key chain, an extra in-game skin or weapon, bonus missions that would otherwise be DLC (or will be in the future) or your bog standard Horse Armor-style pre-order incentive.
Both of those ideas sound logical on paper, but they have both become outdated by the way gaming works in 2015.
Guaranteeing a copy of your game made sense when nearly all games were purchased in physical form and when to play a game as soon as possible meant queueing up at GameStop for the midnight release. While physical copies of games still exist, they are far from the only option for gamers; you can download via Steam, Origin, GOG and several other services if you are a PC gamer. If you game on a console, the Xbox Marketplace and PlayStation Store let you preload a pre-ordered game so it is good to go at midnight on launch day. Issues with Internet access still necessitate a physical copy, but in 2015, pre-orders are no longer the solution to this problem.
The bonuses provided in-game however are now the primary reason to pre-order a game, which makes sense. When you’re faced with the choice of pre-order or miss out on this awesome Harley Quinn mission, or lose this one gun all your friends get that you won’t, the decision to pre-order is understandable. But to get all those fun goodies you still don’t need to pre-order months in advance. You can make that critical call of whether to pre-order a week or so before launch, when you know if the game is any good and those sweet pre-order bonuses are still on the table.
Last year I talked about how review embargoes can be predatory; by setting the review date on or after release date, publishers can maximize sales before negative reviews come out. In one case, Assassin’s Creed Unity (a famously buggy mess) had an embargo set after the release of the game, while Dragon Age Inquisition (which was well received) had its set a week before its release, the same is true of the recently released Witcher 3 that also got glowing reviews. If a game is worth pre-ordering, the reviews will tell you weeks before; if the game (and its tantalizing pre-order bonuses) is garbage, then you’ll hear radio silence.
I pre-ordered Destiny three days before it came out cause the reviews were decent, I knew I was going to get it and figured “what the hell.” I didn’t pre-order Advanced Warfare, and lo and behold, there were dozens of Day Zero Editions on the shelves. In these cases gamers are in a strange scenario where you can have your cake and eat it too, take zero risk and get the rewards.
Pre-ordering isn’t just dumb at this point. It is illogical pure and simple.