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Pre-ordering has become a dirty word in gaming. What once was a tactic used by stores to guarantee customers a copy of their game with maybe a physical gift attached is now a vehicle for developers and publishers to push Day One DLC, content purposely excluded from the final game, which jacks up the price of the game’s “full” experience. Two men shared the disdain for pre-orders.

Devon Kelly and Carl McNeill met while working at Blizzard Entertainment, both In-Game Support Representatives for World of Warcraft. Leaving Blizzard, they decided to start a business that would hopefully change pre-orders to bring value back to the consumer. The two created Pixeltique, a crowdfunding site with a different approach to pre-ordering. Kelly answered a few questions through Skype about Pixeltique, explaining the process more thoroughly.

TechRaptor: What made you decide to create Pixeltique?

Devon Kelly: It was a progression of ideas that we had had from previous business ventures, that came about from benchmarking other sites. In this case, the closest idea to Pixeltique was Massdrop; but that demonstrated too many problems for my liking. Shipping was almost always something that you lost out on when you managed to reduce the price of a product, so get rid of shipping and only do digital things. That would be the basis.

Massdrop is a site selling items from computer keyboards to cutlery. Users band together by voting on a product suggested for the site. Once a product receives enough votes, Massdrop contacts the vendor on behalf of a group to discuss discounts for the product. This site formed the basis behind Pixeltique’s structure, though there are differences.

DV: From there, we knew we’d face problems of just making the AAA bracket listen to us, and our customers. So the idea developed once more, allowing us to make a consumer campaign system get the reductions on games at launch and cause enough work for companies to think twice about using silly pre-order schemes.
We know full well, pre-orders are a dirty concept in a digital age, and rightly so. So tried to make Pixeltique as pro consumer as possible, progressive refunds once goals had been reached on products, plus the campaigns.

There is a lot of real world evidence out there to show this type of letter writing campaign works, and works well. From the most basic governmental changes in laws, to pressuring big corps into doing the right thing.

TR:So how does Pixeltique differ?

DV: Come to us, tell us what game you want. We’ll add it, once enough people vote on it, we’ll take order. From there, the campaign starts. When you log in, you can see a “poke the dev” (not me) and that will open up a twitter or an email template with all the details of the producer, the developer or publisher that will likely be able to help. At that point, we will go to bat for gamers. If there is enough people, we can go to the table and negotiate price drops and stretch goals. Then refund people once it’s all done and dusted.

Example being, if you spend 100 on a game (those days are coming too fast where games are gonna be that price), and then the customers are able to get a 50% reduction, we’ll give you back 50 and give you a key to redeem on whatever platform it might be on. 

pxl1

When we got to the table to negotiate, we aim to set up progressive declines in the price as we go, and try and secure as much game for your money as possible. Because there will always be the risk that no matter what, the game is going to be bad, and you were simply the victim that was promised “the game will get better after a few patches” or what ever else. You might have already lost your money otherwise, if you had waited and it was never really corrected to a state that was  conveyed via marketing materials.

We can only hope with consumers focusing on companies like this, that the quality of games will go up, if only in production and stability quality. If not, well you have a lot of consumers who are already in the mind set of telling the right people what the problem is so it can be fixed, quickly. It’s different, because I haven’t seen someone organize game consumers in this way, and it doesn’t seem that anyone has tried to. Apart from a few viral flair ups on the net, there has been very few and far between positive outcomes for gamers who have been subject to the AAA tactics. In a consumer context at least.

TR: So basically instead of extra content people get discounts?

DV: That’s how we intend to start, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to have a separate campaign for the DLC to be bundled with the original title. However, lets simply get our proof of concept done before we stretch our capabilities. The site is only designed to deal with reduction goals ATM. Version two, we’ll make it a bit more flexible.

TR: How would you set up the tiers for each campaign? Do tiers differ between campaigns?

DV: Once we think there is enough interest in the game, we go to the developers, we will see what they can give us, and then we’ll push our luck to get more and better reductions/per unit prices for orders

TR: What if the developer turns down the offer?

DV: The game goes to market at the full price as it would be on other platforms. The only reason a develop would turn down a offer like this is lack of people involved. Think of it like this, when you have a very public campaign, there are more people looking at it than just the ones from the company. Investors for one, they can sit there and see that a clearly bad move has been made by the company they invested in and apply pressure to have it resolved. In addition, you will probably have a very vocal group of gamers who joined Pixeltique in the hopes of getting said discounts, but now run a greater risk of not getting value for money, they are likely to be loud about it as well.

It’s a lot of extra work for the games companies to deal with, and no one wants that.

TR: Do you think offering extra content for a pre-order, the way most pre-orders function, is anti-consumer?

DV: Not inherently. However, we are living in a world where market distortion between gaming platforms and development goals is a real thing. This is created by companies, and needs to stop, naturally. That is where the anti-consumer problem is, because it’ll always be one excuse and not a reason why the game is in a poor state, why it’s over priced or why content was cut and then resold later. More and more often, games are reaching consumers in a sorry state, and previous to that we had to wait about 10 years for any sort of refund system to go the first basic step towards protecting consumers from this type of thing happening. Not to mention EU mandates for refunds that were ignored (to the best of my knowledge) I would love to have to buying power to get the game and the season pass for all the cut DLC to be a realistic price and together from day one, but with out support that is simply unrealistic. Active silence on pre-orders won’t do anything but provoke marketing departments to come up with even crazier schemes to get your money, or worst of all, cut content to be later resold if they feel the initial offering is in a bracket that could be exploited. While I understand these aren’t the whole responsibility of marketing, they are a major part. Look at the Augment Your Pre-Order campaign. Clearly, before that arrived companies were well aware of how much pre-orders were disliked, but still, just another crazy scheme. Thankfully the consumer backlash has put a stop to that, and it can be utilized to do other things as well, if the incentives are correct and aid the gamer.

Augment Your Pre-Order was a campaign designed to promote and encourage mass pre-ordering of the upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. The idea behind the campaign was that the more people pre-ordered, the more tiers of rewards would be unlocked, and customers would have to choose which gift they wanted at each tier. The campaign was designed to mimic skill trees in a way to “customize your load-out,” but the campaign received significant backlash. The problem was that players were still paying for day one DLC, some of which would never see the light of day if enough pre-orders weren’t reached, and even with your pre-order you were forced to leave some items behind. Square Enix cancelled the campaign, opting to release a Collector’s Edition with all the content from the campaign at $139.99.

dxpre-order

TR: So what do you worry will be Pixeltique’s biggest obstacle to overcome?

DV: Convincing people who were burnt by pre-orders in the past to help out, knowing it can make a difference. I perfectly understand the idea behind it, but the system isn’t going away until there is an active movement to deal with it. It’s why we are doing the refunds, because we know people are utterly skeptical. Trying to give as much of a buffer as possible.


With the rise of Kickstarter, crowd funding has become popular with many developers and companies, and unpopular with many who felt burned by numerous failed kickstarters or lackluster releases. Kelly and McNeill seem to be on the right track to reducing that day one cost of the full game, but might be too reliant on altruism.


Kyle Lawrence

Staff Writer

I like games with unique styles so long as they have the gameplay to back it up. Some of my favorite games are Rayman Origins, Katamari Damacy and Super Metroid



  • Azure

    Now preorder tier’s where you get discounts the more people that buy into it, is as good as it can get really.

  • cptk

    Am I right in thinking that you basically commit to a pre-order the moment you hand over your cash to pixeltique?

    If that’s true it’s only a case of the publisher’s PR team saying it wouldn’t be fair to offer a discount to one group of gamers over the other and accuse the site of bullying. They then wait until release and collect all that big cash pot.

  • Devon Kelly

    There can be more done with this model, and the more people emulate it the better it can be for every consumer to come.

  • Azure

    I wouldn’t though it would be far too easy to go back to the current format.

  • Devon Kelly

    The idea that a gaint AAA company is being bullied by it’s own customers isn’t going to go down well, when most of these companies have demonstrated very anti consumer tactics in the past.

    But I can see your point. I have no intent to be heavy handed with companies, and we’d like them to work with us to give the best for their customers and our gamers. But it being unfair? No, i’d disagree, Pixeltiques gamers are helping getting the word about the good work a company which can only be good for all involved.

  • Devon Kelly

    The idea that “if this works just one” other companies will spring up and do this kinda thing, is a real possibility. Once this is out and done as a proven concept, you can expect a lot of pro consumer platforms to really target pre-order setups

  • jimkatai

    If you aren’t already doing this, it might be a good idea to approach it from a sort of “embedded” angle. Instead of acting as a vendor site, you could act something like Paypal and be a sort of service that is added to game preorders, as a whole. Basically, once you demonstrate interest in the game and the publishers agree, they could decide to manage their preorders exclusively through your system, and then your system relays those preorders through the normal game vending outlets like Steam, Origin, or their own distribution platforms. I could see how this would have its own issues in setting up, though. Great idea, and I’ll be keeping a look out. 🙂

  • Devon Kelly

    Somewhat close to what we are doing. The idea is to keep the
    cash until the last moment and use it as leverage when negotiating. But yes, once the interest has been deemed high enough, I will open the game up to orders. Even if the consumer campaign fails, you get the game at the same price that it would be everywhere else.

  • jimkatai

    Yeah, I figure some mix would be appropriate. Exclusive preorder arrangements would obviously be the dream, but you have to get to that point first. :p I checked out the site and it looks good. How you described the model, it seems to fit pretty well between preorders and games that would be kickstarted, since there is sometimes a time-gap between the two events. Have you thought about targeting Kickstarter games as a way for them to warm up to their pre-order release for their second round of crowdfunding? They likely wouldn’t be the Triple A releases you were targeting, but given the quality of some of the games facilitated through Kickstarter and the like, it might be a good gateway into negotiating with Triple-A publishers.

    This will be the last time I try and run your business for you. Sorry about that. :p Just excited about your proposal. 🙂

  • Devon Kelly

    The site is having a few issues due to load and it being on a shared server, so check back in a few hours for the full “experience” – Man I feel dirty saying that, makes me sound like someone from apple with an app that just says “hello world” or something equally simplistic.

    I have an upcoming project proposal targeted at kickstarter style games, and the problems they face coming up when I have a little more revenue to play with and fund my way around other projects.

    I’d personally like to avoid exclusive orders on my site, it only serves to exclude someone somewhere, and frankly I can’t abide by that. But the buying power to do something like that, would be something useful to gamers.

    As for kickstarters, they are free to come to us with their game; we’ll happily add it and go from there, but I don’t think it’s a needed inroad to deal with AAA companies. Someone will be watching all the buzz generated by pixeltique people and wonder why the hell no one is communicating with us.

  • cptk

    Thanks for the reply.

    I’m sure there is little sympathy for AAA companies playing the victim, I was poorly suggesting they would play on it being unfair to retailers and other customers if they provided a special price at launch to one group of people. Publishers are understandably pretty single minded at trying to hold their price at launch to capitalise on hype before becoming more pragmatic to maximise profit.

    How does the negotiation work? It feels a little like you’re paying full price for the product and then appealing to good nature in order to get something back. In my experience without the option to walk away I’ve never manage to get anything discounted.

    Perhaps it would work better as a platform for Indie games to get exposure so you agree a discount with the indie dev in advance based on the number of people who commit. This gives all the ‘members’ an incentive to plug the game and get the word out and the developer gets much more cash than originally hoped and in a fairly short space of time.

    Please don’t take my cynicism as discouragement because it’s a noble cause and I hope the idea takes off because both sides have something to gain.

  • Devon Kelly

    > How does the negotiation work?

    I can’t pretend I have all the answers, or know how something like this will go, it’s never been done before, so I won’t promise you anything (golden rule right there). But by virtue of getting us to the table with all the already visible support from the gamers, it’ll go a long way to establishing how much we can reduce the items.

    >It feels a little like you’re paying full price for the product and then
    appealing to good nature in order to get something back.

    Yes you are paying full price from the onset, but you get refunded based on any goals that have been reached, so the incentive is your own, as Pixeltique will keep the money and use it as leverage to negotiate with, and getting the keys and refunds in quickly before the launch so everyone can preload.

    >paying full price for the product and then appealing to good nature in order to get something back.

    This was touched upon in closing remarks, by Kyle.

    While you are relying on other people, this is meant to be a protected system that will appeal to early adopters with a sort of anarchist mind set (for want of a better phrase). They can get their game, and take a fair whack at current system while doing it.

    Look at it from any view you want, pre-orders won’t go anywhere unless there is strong and focused response.

    >Perhaps it would work better as a platform for Indie games to get
    exposure so you agree a discount with the indie dev in advance based on
    the number of people who commit.

    This is something that I hear a lot, and when I initially did my research on the matter, these are the demographics I polled and sent my questions too. If you phrased it like “would you accept 300 pre orders of your game for 30% off per a unit?” they all jumped and said yes, with out exception. If you said something like “Would you sell on a campaigner site that, allowed customers to promote your game in-order to get discounts” they almost always answered with “We have a silly number of indi shops, and you’d be another one taking an ever bigger cut from out tiny profits”

    While I can see why people would like this to go towards an indi set up, it wouldn’t address the problem we all have to deal with in gaming, and I think given the examples we see constantly out in the media, this is the best tool for the job. Until I make version two ofc!

    >Please don’t take my cynicism as discouragement because it’s a noble
    cause and I hope the idea takes off because both sides have something to
    gain.

    No worries. This is perfectly good and constructive, and I’ll be sitting here till I’m much older and greyer to discuss it with a smile on my face. Usually I get huge amounts of vitriol because they are stuck (understandably so) in the anti pre-order house of biscuit mindset, and kinda refuse to give an inch when trying to explore the potential of the project.

    So thanks. 🙂

  • mbits

    Here’s the thing: I have almost 3,000 games I have purchased on Steam over the last 11 years. I am not leaving. Steam is where I want my titles. I even skip over discounts, because I’d rather get it on Steam. For instance, Greenmangaming is selling Syndicate before release for like $37 and Rainbow Six Siege for $40. But it’s through uPlay; not Steam. So . . . nope. I didn’t get either one. Great prices… but not on my preferred library.

  • Devon Kelly

    If the game is sold on steam, you get a steam key as stated in the article. I am not making a new platform, it wouldn’t be a good business move at this point for the reasons you stated above.

  • Dom The Elegy

    This is like putting a band-aid on skin cancer. It might make you feel better because you did something about it, but the underlying problem is still there, still causing damage and will probably still kill you in the end.
    Pre-orders need to end. Cut that tumour out once and for all.

  • Devon Kelly

    It’s a per-product campaign system and these are only the first steps to solving the problem outright.

    Once enough people do it, and generate so much extra work for the companies
    that it costs them, they will avoid anti-consumer pre-orders.

    If you don’t want to run the letter writing campaign with Pixeltique, then
    everything will be a Band-aid. Unless some big corp comes in, and take
    this kinda idea, exploits the crap out of it, then we are all back to
    square one.

    Edit:formatting

  • Dom The Elegy

    I think the solution is much simpler than that. Don’t buy pre-orders, ever. But I get that that’s probably a hopeless battle since so many people care about their little feeling of prestige when they have a slightly different coloured hat than the rest of the players. It’s Lisa VS Malibu Stacy all over.

  • Devon Kelly

    Smithers broke the fastest!

    It’s not even about having a physical copy, it’s rarely about prestige, it’s really more about manipulation and market physiology and the neo classical market distortion. You are right, in thinking that it’s a hopeless battle if you employ the active silence tactic, because that will just spur marketing departments to think of “better incentives” – and when they go to far, we have an example of my business model in action, just with a lot less people for the “augment your pre-order” debacle.

    How many on the PC subreddits, who’d normally be anti pre order have Fallout ready and waiting? Loads, and we both know it. Why? Because of the hype, and it’ll be that way until we actively do something about it.

    While the semi murky terms of service say mods will be free, or that only bethesda can charge for them or something else, the bread crumbs dropped on the side walk are more than enough to send the base into a frenzy.

    What I am trying to do, is utilize that commitment to actually effect change, and as I stated in my interview, there are plenty of examples everywhere.

    Unless some huge player comes into this game with likely unclear intentions, this really is the first necessary step solving the issue.