On Pre-Orders And How They Still Suck

I’d like to give Wildstar another go, but with the server chaos ongoing and the frustration other people are having, I don’t see the point. Sitting around waiting isn’t really what I want to do with limited gaming time. The concern, though, is that my interest will run out before stability happens. Disgaea 5 is coming out soon, and Rock Band 4 will arrive not long after that. Stars Beyond Reach is in beta, as well, from quirky strategy game developer Arcen. There’s a lot going on. By time Wildstar is playable, I may not care a whole lot anymore, and I’m worried that I’m not alone.

I also wanted to write a blog post about the new release, but right now it’d mostly be about the instability and downtime. Kicking Carbine while they’re down on that is helpful to nobody whatsoever, so I’ll just wish them luck instead.

Deus Ex Pre-Orders

I’m excited for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. I was NOT excited for their absurd and now cancelled pre-order scheme.

Square-Enix really missed the mark here, for a couple of reasons. The biggest one for me wasn’t the tier 5 release date thing (although that’s also foolish), it was making people choose rewards. They have two rewards a tier, which means both things are being made. Why are you only giving me one of them when I’m giving you money blindly this far out? Who in marketing thought this was a good idea?

This type of pre-order unlock scheme has existed for other games, and didn’t generate this kind of anger. The main difference is that there wasn’t any options. XCOM: Enemy Unknown did it, and it went just fine. Their rewards included things like a free copy of Civilization V, and they never made you choose between rewards. If it was unlocked, you got it.

Giving people choices can backfire horribly if it makes people feel like they’re missing out or being ripped off. Sometimes, it’s better to just dictate the rewards and let people enjoy the bonus stuff they’re getting for being willing to give you money up front before knowing if the game is any good or not.

IMO, this was less bad than per-store absurdity like…

Rock Band 4 Pre-Orders are BS

In terms of terrible preorder promotions, Rock Band 4 has it nailed. Most stores are offering a 30 song pack for preordering. Amazon is offering four other songs. PSN is offering ten different songs on the digital version. Xbox Live is offering twelve different songs from PSN for the same thing, which is pretty goofy because a digital version on Xbox One won’t even work without either new instruments or a physical adapter you still have to go out and buy.

This is entirely ridiculous. First of all, I should not need a table of data to figure out where to buy a game from. Secondly, are these “exclusive” songs going to be available for purchase elsewhere, or did they just lock 26 songs up forever based only on how you bought the game? I can’t even buy the Xbox version even if I wanted to because doing so would wipe out all the songs I purchased on PS3 (which carry over to the PS4). Telling me that because I was a previous customer I’m not allowed to buy a Weird Al song is fucking bullshit. I’m hoping Harmonix isn’t that stupid and this stuff will all go into the store for everyone else, but I’ve been proven wrong before.

The only difference between this and Deus Ex is that I know what marketing is thinking in this case: $$$. Amazon and the others are paying for these special promotional bonuses. Best Buy isn’t, for example, and doesn’t have one (although they did have a sale going). Brad Wardell of Stardock has talked about it in the past, and how the business behind it works. The retailers want something extra to pitch so they get more sales, which matters quite a lot when you have over $200 instrument bundles sitting in inventory to sell. But still, it’s extremely player hostile.

Pre-Orders Are For Suckers (except maybe on Steam)

Assassin's Creed Unity Face Bug
Face rendering is planned in a future DLC

This all comes around to the general problem with pre-orders: they’re for suckers. They are a relic of the days of retail distribution, where stores needed some idea of how many copies to stock, andfor niche games there was a very real risk of running out due to limited print runs. These problems don’t exist in a digital distribution world. In today’s world, they are just a bad idea. A game is never more expensive and buggier than when it first comes out.

For players, you buy it sight unseen in the hope that it lives up to the billing. That’s a crap shoot, even with known franchises. People learned that the hard way from Assassins Creed: Unity, and Batman: Arkham Knight. AAA studios do not need (and don’t even get) your money before the game is released. If it’s worth buying as a pre-order, it’ll still be worth buying two weeks after launch when it’s clear if it lived up to the hype or not.

Pre-order bonuses are meant to counteract that. They’re to entice you with little things in order to get your money before you can find out that the game is a broken mess. Marketing loves them because they work with the hype machine and help insulate against a botched release.

Gamers should not play along.

Although there is a bit of an exception on Steam now, as it’s refund policy allows you to get a refund on a pre-order after release within the standard 14 day/2 hour played limits. That is a huge equalizer in this situation, and I’d be a lot more comfortable doing it on Steam than I would on another platform with that policy in place.

As it stands, I’ll probably be a sucker and pre-order XCOM 2. It’s hard not to be a sucker for one of my favorite games, especially with the refund policy offering some protection.

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