Do you remember a time when a game would be released and you would just buy it, no strings attached? Do you remember a time when you got exactly what you paid for nothing more, nothing less? I remember that time, a time when some of the best games ever created did not presume that I needed a pre-order, micro-transaction or remaster in order to be satisfied. Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, 007 Goldeneye, Mario 64, Final Fantasy 7, Crash Bandicoot. The list goes on of classic games that are not only re-playable but not payable. It is to this effect that I make my second jab at the infected gaming industry in reference to pre-orders.
Allow me to propose something. Think of something material you love, could be anything so ill-use a phone as an example. I come to you and tell you I have this new phone I intend to sell, it has the desired specification, looks great, will meet your expectation, why I even show you some pictures a trailer and tell you that you can have one when it releases for a price. Sounds great right? Well now your money has just brought you a Galaxy Note 7, it has exploded and your left feeling not only deceived but angry from the money you have put down. Now I give this analogy as it is exactly parallel to the disgusting practices within the gaming industry when you take the time to really think about pre-order culture. There was a time where you brought a game, enjoyed a game and then moved on, which was not a bad thing as I never felt Mario, Zelda, 007 or even Banjo-Kazooie where missing content or were too short. Then we had the 2000’s where pre-orders were creeping into the industry, hailed as a shining light where you can pay money to guarantee your copy in a world where publishers were trying to be reactive to fears of the great Atari Game Burial which started in 1983. So here is my first problem…. there is a contradiction between the outdated concept of what a pre-order is sold to you as and what it actually functions for. I will quote you from the GAME website help page for pre-orders “pre-ordering games is the best way to ensure you get your copy when it is released” which may have been relevant fifteen years ago, however with the rise of popular franchises such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, publishers have created large printing runs anyway meaning that if you do not pre-order then you will likely still be able to purchase the game from retailer anyway which I can anecdotally vouch for. In basic terms, pre-ordering is an outdated concept of securing a copy of a game by paying money for the sole reason of helping marketing forecasters predict sales while giving early investment to publishers when they have not earned it. high-profile cases of straight misleading look no further than Alien: Colonial Marines or the more recent No Man’s Sky, which promised you the world, made you pay an early fee for the right to own a game that will not run out of stock physically or has no volume limits digitally, and when failed would already of had a portion of your money reinvested before you can even mutter refund.
So in a desperate attempt to keep getting your money early publishers added pre-order bonuses and collector’s editions as incentives, which many may think is worth it but I say is a scam. The problem with pre-order bonuses is that it never feels like you’re getting anything extra but more acquiring content cut from the game, which along with DLC is becoming more evident as games such as Battlefield 1 and especially Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s “augment your pre-order” can attest too. So now pre-ordering has gone from unnecessary to demanding only allowing you to own all the launch content for a game you will pay the full price for, on the premise, you pay money early and pledge allegiance to the publisher which I honestly believe is a joke. This is why collectors editions should be great but are a shambles, as these, in theory, are actually finite products in most cases which actually justifies a pre-order service. But because of severe content cutting you either have a publisher like Ubisoft which you need a spreadsheet to navigate various collectors editions creating ridiculous uncertainty and contradicting the limited nature of the product, or you get collectors editions which charge you double or even triple the games value for a host of content cut from the main game, a season pass which has no guarantee of satisfaction and sometimes a physical item which could be the best or worst thing ever made.
The biggest solution is also its biggest problem. Ideally, if nobody pre-ordered games in an almost anti-establishment fashion, developers and companies would have to fix or remove pre-order in response which on a microlens is what happened to the augment your package debacle. But how do you galvanize against not a process but a culture where the impatient or the victimised will part with money just so they are guaranteed that one cosmetic or virtual item? even me fellow reader is a hypocrite, who will pre-order purely because I do not want to be the person who pays the full price for a game but does not receive the cut content attached to pre-ordering. It is a truly precarious situation of an industry dictating the terms of how we part with our money whilst not offering anything in return, far removed from the old days where you got what you paid for from an industry with passion rather than power through the prostitution of gaming.