It can be easy to fall into the trap of pre-ordering. You know you want the game, so why not buy it right now? It’s so tempting, and you hate waiting. But stop and think before you buy. There are many reasons to avoid pre-ordering a game, and the gaming industry has turned pre-orders into a predatory business practice.
The game industry relies on hype to sell games. That’s just an unavoidable fact. It is much easier to get people talking about a game before it comes out than convincing them to buy the game based on its merits after it comes out. That’s why teasers, trailers, and advertising as a whole exist. Pre-orders only increase that effect. People aren’t just talking about the game, they’re already buying it. It must be good if everyone is doing it! Then, gaming news websites can report on the sales of the game, turning it into a peer-pressure phenomenon all before any reviews can come out saying that the game is only so-so.
Of course, overhyped games bombing on release has been an issue since E.T. The difference is, pre-orders offer a softer landing for bombs to drop on. For example, let’s think up a game at random; let’s call it Fallout 76. Fallout 76 is part of a major franchise that had a lot of hype behind it, but at the same time, fans were cautious due to the departures the game takes from the rest of the series. When it came out, it got very lackluster reviews. Still, through the power of pre-orders, it still sold 98,894 copies of the game on the PS4 and 102,126 copies on the Xbox One, though the pre-sales numbers for PC copies are unknown.
To encourage the pre-order cushion, gaming companies often offer bonuses to go with their game, but they only do so if you pre-order. Sometimes, these bonuses entail things that affect gameplay, like items or XP boosts. Although, often, the stigma of “pay-to-win gaming” keeps games from offering anything that gives too much of an advantage. So, instead, they offer things that don’t affect the game: in-game cosmetics, real-life props or merch, and, the worst one of all, early access, which essentially lets you pay to playtest the unfinished game.
And yes, most times you will be paying more when you pre-order. Many games that rely on pre-orders will put their game on sale just a short time after release. Fallout 76 had a Black Friday sale where they sold the game for $40, a 33 percent discount, only a week after release. When games do this, they can profit from selling the game to full price to eager gamers, then get a second boost in sales from players who were on the fence. If the game appears on Steam, it can be discounted further through Steam sales. Anyone who pre-orders the game is essentially getting ripped off.
The reason for this is because pre-orders don’t sell the game; they sell the brand. Once the game comes out, more players can look into whether the game is actually good. Fallout 76, for example, got a lot of attention for just being a Fallout game; even with the criticism it drew from fans, it received much more hype than if it had been an unrelated game. When a company can make money based on the name of the game alone, they churn out lower-quality games, and pre-orders allow them to do that.
Because here’s the thing, Fallout 76 is considered by some to be a good game now. It doesn’t have the bugs and stuttering framerate and general lack of things to do that the game had on release. When the Wastelanders DLC actually adds NPCs to the wasteland, it will probably resemble a Fallout game. Unfortunately, this will finally happen almost a year after the game’s initial release. The money that Bethesda got from pre-orders allowed them to release what was essentially an unfinished game, knowing that they would get at least something from sales before the game was even released.
Overall, the pre-order trend is a predatory practice that allows game companies to cut corners and rely on name recognition rather than quality. The best thing to do is save your money, wait to see if a game looks good before buying, and let companies know that they can’t rely on pre-orders anymore.