The act of pre-ordering involves throwing down money for a product that isn't out yet, hence the term. In earlier gaming generations, pre-ordering was a handy way to guarantee that you get the game in your hands day-one, especially if said game was released in extremely limited numbers, or it had a very high chance of selling out.
Pre-ordering has become superfluous thanks to the increase in digital distribution, reducing the likelihood of a game selling out. However, this still hasn't stopped publishers from pushing pre-orders for upcoming titles, and in conjunction with digital extras being included with a large percentage of games nowadays (that being DLC), they will push pre-orders by offering said "incentives" as so-called "Pre-Order Bonuses" with the main goal being to secure as many day one sales as possible in order to impress investors. In recent years it has become common for games to come out broken and filled with glitches, yet due to pre-orders the game still gets tons of sales from costumers who were unaware that the game was broken until it came out.
What was once a method of convenience has now been abused for publishers' own financial gain, with varying degrees of extremity over the past decade. Starting with the 8th generation of gaming, this has become stigmatised as "Pre-Order Culture".
Why This Practice Sucks Now
- With some exceptions, pre-ordering doesn't benefit the consumers anymore, especially with digital games since those can't even sell out on release day on digital platforms like PlayStation Store, Xbox Live, Steam, etc.
- Some publishers put very little effort into giving even half-decent incentives for pre-ordering their games, usually in the form of useless cosmetic stuff, like alternate costumes, or one time use upgrade packs.
- As the consumer, you are basically putting down a lot of money upfront before it even comes out, and there is no guarantee that the game will be any good; if it isn't, then you just wasted $60/£50 on a game that you didn't know was going to be any good or not!
- Greedy publishers like EA, Activision, and Ubisoft have been known to remove small portions of the game, and sold that as pre-order incentive, only to later release that same piece of the game later on, with a price tag attached to it.
- Some games now have convoluted spreadsheets with numerous versions of the game that have completely different pre-order content. This does nothing except create an illusion of choice, which the late TotalBiscuit discussed in one of his videos about pre-orders. Retailer exclusive P.O.B's are especially guilty of this Speaking of....
- Retail outlets like GameStop have partnered up with big game publishers to get their own exclusive pre-order content, which was a scummy practice because once again, it left potential buyers confused over which edition of the game they should buy.
- No matter which edition you pre-order, you are still going to be missing out on some content one way or another. Thankfully, retailer exclusive pre-order bonuses have died off in recent years.
- In some cases, the publishers of an upcoming title will either announce pre-order bonuses before showing any trailers or substantial gameplay, or they will announce a bonus without telling us what it actually is until later.
- Take-Two Interactive is guilty of the former when it came to Evolve; the publisher announced a slew of pre-order bonuses before even showing off even a trailer for the game, let alone gameplay footage.
- In the latter's case, when Tomb Raider 2013 was up for pre-orders on Steam, one of the bonuses had no description hinting at what it was meant to be at first.
- Bethesda added Fallout 76 for pre-order on digital stores before even showing the trailers on what kind of game this is.
- The dreaded "Tiered" pre-order campaigns; these will stagger pre-order bonuses by adding more content as pre-orders climb. When a Tier threshold is reached, everyone can select the next lot of items, giving the illusion of choice by allowing consumers to customise their loadouts. Again, they are still missing out on content no matter what they go for.
- Publishers will often use pre-order numbers to generate artificial hype for an upcoming title, but half the time the game ends up being an underwhelming product that nowhere near lived up to said hype, infamous examples being Watch_Dogs, and Assassin's Creed Unity.
- When it comes to games with multiple editions, some games actually have spreadsheets to help buyers decide which version they want. The end result is another jumbled, confusing mess. In theory, you would have to buy numerous editions, if not EVERY edition of one game if you really, really want all of the content.
- Sometimes games will have special content that are locked behind codes that are only available with pre-order copies, they're usually not much stuff but it usually hurts knowing you don't have everything.
- There are pre-order bonuses done right, such as God Of War (2018), Hellblade, and SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle For Bikini Bottom Rehydrated.
- It can be pretty cool getting some goodies when you pre-order a game.
Examples of Egregious Pre-Order Campaigns
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was a notorious example of the "Tiered" pre-order campaign, in which each Tier was locked behind a hidden, arbitrary number. The fifth/final tier allowed 4 days early access to the game, which did not go down well with consumers. Luckily, Square Enix, decided to cancel the campaign and offer everything in the campaign straight up after immense backlash. This practice has since been mockingly dubbed Content Divided by gaming journalists like Jim Sterling.
- Watch Dogs had a pre-order campaign where many stores and various online shopping sites got various pre-order items. Eventually, this became a convoluted mess that required a spreadsheet to know which one had this and that. The split content includes retailer exclusive, digital only, collector's editions, and content only available to PlayStation 4 players.
- Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare had the Day Zero promotion, where players pre-ordered and logged in to the servers to collect various bonuses such as extra weapons and assets. However, this flopped because many people had trouble logging in and the digital download version had many issues on multiplayer. The big thing is that the Day Zero promotion only gave pre-orders the game a day earlier than it's release date.
- Assassin's Creed Unity's pre-order campaign allowed buyers to use a virtual slot machine to win physical goodies to generate hype, which isn't the issue here; the issue is that the game itself was eventually released in such an unfinished state that the game needed several patches just to bring up to an acceptable state. It is also one of those games that spear-headed the inclusion of microtransactions in full priced games.
- On the subject of Assassin's Creed, Gamestop ran a pre-order ad for Origins that outright mocked the practice with the infamous image of a dumbfounded camel, followed by "Sorry. The Bonus Mission is Blocked... Unless you Pre-Order Assassin's Creed Origins". Gamestop was heavily criticized for running such a distasteful ad that made light of the abhorrent nature of pre-order culture in the modern gaming age.
- Bethesda began the run-up to Fallout 76 by taking pre-orders for the game before even clarifying what the game was going to be. One can only imagine why that is in retrospect, given how Fallout 76 turned out.
- The aforementioned Evolve became notorious for its DLC abuse, but Take-Two offered up an over-powered monster as a pre-order bonus, alongside an arsenal of other pre-order content; again, before showing a trailer for the game.
- Anthem's release date was heavily skewed to favor players who pre-order it by releasing it one week earlier than the official release date.
- Infestation: Survivor Stories, Wild West Online and other games made by Sergey Titov use pre-orders to lure in unsuspecting customers to pay a hefty price then dump them with an incomplete game filled with microtransactions.
- Any game that includes a season pass as a pre-order bonus within a digital deluxe edition is essentially pre-ordering DLC, since it allows instant access to DLC when it becomes available, but these tend to be released at launch anyway.
- Some season passes are over-priced to kingdom-come, sometimes costing more than the game itself; like Dead or Alive 6's own Season Pass, which costs $92.99. Even Nintendo is guilty of having an over-priced season pass for Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valencia ($45 compared to $40 for the game itself).
- Titanfall had a season pass that gave map packs. However, sometime later the maps were made available for free.
- Destiny had an expansion pass which only gave The Dark Below and House of Wolves. However, the expansion pass was never updated to include The Taken King and Rise of Iron.
- Batman: Arkham Knight had an expansion pass which only gave short episodes monthly at the cost of $40.
- Pre-orders can also have some useless gameplay bonuses.
- Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus had a pre-order bonus which gave the user red armor, which only had 5% damage reduction.
- Sonic: Lost World had 25 extra lives.
- EA Star Wars Battlefront had early access to Jakku which only lasted one week.
- Remember Me had extra melee combos.
- Pre-orders of games even can have sometimes crappy items/merchandise that are really worthless to have. Some include:
- Those who pre-order Street Fighter IV receive awful thumb war masks that are really cheaply made.
- A badly made RC Gears of War 2 Tank that can't even move correctly, which is extremely useless.
- A plastic commemorative coin that came with Super Mario Galaxy pre-orders that didn't even resemble a coin from the Mario games. A similar gold coin also came with Super Mario Odyssey.
- A Sand Globe for those who pre-ordered Resident Evil 5 but the problems are just badly made character models, and the sand does not move very well.
- A banana Wiimote case Donkey Kong Country Returns
- A poorly made football with the Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag logo labelled on it for those who pre-ordered the game.
- GameStop Italy offered a pack with glow-in-the-dark condoms and two cans of Red Bull to those who pre-ordered Infamous Second Son.
Recommendations for Safe Pre-Ordering
Despite the negative aura surrounding pre-orders nowadays, there are still some safeguards consumers can utilise to protect their wallets, and ensure a higher chance that they are getting their money's worth. Such safeguards include (these are all simply recommendations):
- NEVER under any circumstances pre-order a digital game. Digital games do not sell out so there's literally zero reason to ever need pre-ordering one other than the artificial "rewards" pushed by AAA publishers.
- Activision in particular has started using demos to incentivise digital pre-orders, with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2, and now Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time. Do not fall for this, as demos, like BETAs, should NEVER be used as pre-order incentives.
- The obvious thing to do: Wait until the game comes out. Wait until reviews start pouring in to get a general idea of what this game is like, then you can at least make an informed purchase or wait until a drop in price at a sale.
- If a AAA game has a customization shop but no monetization, that is a sign that the publisher is planning to add microtransactions post-launch after all the reviews are done. Keep that in mind before deciding to pre-order the game.
- Try to learn as much about a game you are interested in before placing a pre-order; the more information you have, the less risky it is to make that pre-purchase. Again, another example of a more informed purchase. You can go to forums, publisher websites, check Youtube videos, news articles, etc. to get the information you need to make informed decisions like these.
- Avoid pre-ordering games for new IPs. A new IP has yet to prove itself in the market, thus there is a risk of pre-purchasing a game that may flop critically. Established franchises like Uncharted or Ratchet & Clank are fine to pre-order since those two franchises have strong track records for quality titles.
- If a game comes out with a demo before release, play it first. This is another way of helping you to make an informed purchase, since you will experience a small portion of the game first hand pre-release. This way, you can make absolutely sure you'll enjoy the game when it does come out. Keep in mind however, is that in some cases, greedy AAA purchasers even locked demos behind paywalls/pre-order culture in order to maximalize their profit, such as Activision with remasters of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2, as well as Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time which is going too far, taking greed to the a whole new level.
- If you still prefer physical formats, then online retail giant Amazon is one of the best places to go for pre-ordering games; they will not charge you for the product until it is dispatched, they frequently have small savings on pre-orders, and of course, there's the "Pre-Order Price Guarantee", which will save you money on the game should its price go down between your pre-order and the game's release.
- Some games do give you something worthwhile as a pre-order incentive. A lot of AAA games, when preordered, can give you worthwhile items (such as steelbooks) that are a good example of preordering games that don't give you useless bonuses or poorly made merchandise:
- A greatly detailed 24-itch statue of Connor from the Assassin's Creed III Collector's Edition.
- A decent replica of Master Chief's helmet in the Halo 3 Legendary Edition.
- A replica of the care package and a working Dragonfire Drone from the Call of Duty: Black Ops II Collector's Edition.
- A replica of the red loot chest from the Borderlands 2 Ultimate Loot Chest Edition.
- A working Pip-Boy alarm clock and lunchbox from the Fallout 3 Collector's Edition.
- A statue of the Songbird from the BioShock Infinite: Ultimate Songbird Edition.
- A working and wearable Pip-Boy 3000 from the Fallout 4 Pip Boy Edition.
- A replica of the Juggernog Perk Cola from Zombies in the Call of Duty: Black Ops III Juggernog Edition that even comes with working sounds.
- A detailed set of 'Lucky 7' poker chips and cards and the 'All Roads' comic from Dark Horse Comics in the Fallout: New Vegas Collector's Edition.
- Some preorders can give worthwhile gameplay bonuses, such has Halo 3: ODST, which had the popular Halo character Sgt. Johnson as a playable character in the Firefight mode and Halo: Reach, which had the legendary Bungie fire helmet effect from Halo 3 as a armor effect, or even some games like Heavy Rain for pre-ordering Detroit: Become Human, or Doom 64 for pre-ordering Doom Eternal.