It’s no secret that several games throughout this, and last generation, launched with major issues hindering their overall experiences. With as many games releasing in broken, or sometimes unplayable states, does it make sense to continue pre-ordering, or buy games on Day 1? Is this pre-ordering culture healthy for gaming?
Consumers used to preorder video games because they weren’t readily available on launch day. If you wanted a hot new release, you had to either hope they had some left when you arrived, wait in line, or (incidentally) preorder the title. Games like Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, and Metal Gear Solid 3, were incredibly difficult to find during their respective launches. People often waited in lines, stretching across buildings for some of these large releases, and the excitement was genuine because people were excited to get their hands on these games, and they knew others would have to wait to play them if they didn’t wait in those lines. Publishers didn’t have as many ways to distribute games to consumers, nor did they ever really know just how many people out there were investing in video games. Personally, I was lucky to have grown up in an area where video games were very much a part of most teenagers lives; everyone from magic card players, to football players, played video games, and the local gaming stores always had steady traffic. This was another reason why pre-ordering titles was such a popular, and sometimes necessary, part of gaming culture.
Many years later, online retailers like Amazon began offering video game sales, with often better prices than the local stores. Soon, it games became easily accessible and obtainable, so the primary reasons for preordering games diminished. However, somewhere in this game availability transition, retailers started partnering with publishers to offer incentives for preordering. Some retailers gave you access to special skins, or early access to assets you would otherwise have to fight harder for. Some, like the recent COD Advanced Warfare, let you play the game a day earlier than others who didn’t preorder. Conversely, some games have retailer specific preorder bonuses which means the only way to get the full breadth of preorder bonuses for a game, you may have to preorder the game from several retailers- or opt to wait until they become available for purchase at a later date (example: Batman Arkham City).
So how do publishers benefit from preorders? Preordering ensures strong initial sales for titles, giving publishers an idea of what to expect moving forward. It gives the title an extra burst of sales before any of the feedback about the game can shift public perception. Preordering also gives publishers a great set of metrics to base their future plans on, and allows them to assess how they’re utilizing and maximizing resources, but sometimes doesn’t tell the whole story on how a game will perform over the course of it’s year. Consumers on the other hand get preorder bonuses (which arguably, could just be a part of the final game instead of just a preorder bonus), the convenience of seeing a game they want and immediately getting it on day 1 (which again, isn’t hard nowadays, especially with digital distribution), and knowing they are supporting a particular developer with a full priced purchase.
It’s hard to justify paying full price for most games these days, especially with the abundance of quality titles that have been made available at discounted rates. I recently picked up Shadow of Mordor for $30 on the PSN store, as well as TitanFall for the Xbox One, for $12.48, with the full DLC packs included. Both of these games came out this year, with one of them releasing just a month prior to purchase. Other titles have seen great discounts, and some have even received free DLC due to the issues they’ve faced on launch.
Assassin’s Creed Unity launched with a laundry list of issues, ranging from visual character deformations, to physically being dropped through levels, and shoddy/inconsistent frame rates. The game has been patched to fix many of these issues, but people who payed full price for the game were at the biggest disadvantage, having experienced the game with these issues still in-tact. As an apology, and good-faith to consumers, Ubisoft (wisely) announced that the DLC would be free of charge, which softens the blow of the frustrations people had with the title.
Halo Master Chief Collection also suffered some issues with it’s launch. While some have stated that these issues have been fixed for them, many are still facing issues with matchmaking post patch. Before this patch however, a large number of gamers were simply unable to connect to online matches, which is arguably the biggest reason to play Halo games. Those who were able to play online, were greeted with game breaking lag and glitches, or were often times disconnected due to network errors and instability. Again, early adopters were punished, but 343 studios announced that there would be reprimands moving forward, likely in the form of DLC.
Driveclub, again, is another example of a game that released in a broken state, with players completely unable to access the advertised features (of which made Driveclub what it was- a socially connected racing title). Gamers were unable to create clubs, access online races, or compete through the leaderboards, all after the game was already delayed by a year, and the Playstation plus version was indefinitely postponed. Point is- games have been releasing in broken states for a long time, even dating back to Battlefield 4 and GTA online. Yet, many of these games have had extremely strong pre-sales.
Perhaps a part of the issue, is the huge (and steadily growing) number of people buying games now, versus the older days in which gaming was much less mainstream. Perhaps our expectations are set too high, and we shouldn’t expect games to work perfectly 100% of the time. Conversely, perhaps publishers/developers are getting comfortable with their strong pre-sale numbers, and assume that they can deal with whatever issues they face later as long as they reap the benefits of those initial sales numbers. Maybe the solution, is to be a bit more patient while we allow developers to “iron out any of the kinks” after launch. This may be asking a bit too much, especially considering the growing number of people who have already been patiently waiting years for particular titles to release. Either way, games will continue to release in buggy or often broken states due to a variety of unforeseen technical issues (often related to large volume of players overloading servers) but gamers lose nothing by holding out on preordering for a mass majority of titles. What are your thoughts? Will you be preordering most games moving forward? Will you hold out? Let’s discuss!