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.
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.
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.