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Pre-Orders and Missing the Point

Buying a new game, especially a AAA title these days is a pretty harrowing experience.

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Assassin's Creed Unity PreOrder

Once upon a time, if there was a game coming out you wanted beyond all else in life, the game came out, then you bought it, everyone lived happily ever after.

Jump forward a few decades and picking up a new game is like filling in a job application. Aside from deciding which device you’re getting it on, which is another article altogether, you’ve got to decide which edition you’re going to buy and even which retailer you’re going to buy it from.

We’re in a world that’s going out of control with pre-order bonuses, retailer exclusive DLC and other little extras, all of which are being shoved in your face before the game’s even been released. DLC and additional content has always been a prickly subject amongst consumers, the thought that you’d pay 40 to 50 big ones for a brand new AAA title, only to find yourself being peddled more game for more money down the road was frustrating. Games aren’t cheap, and to some, the thought of shelling out even more cash towards something they’d thought they’d already bought was abhorrent.

While this still happens, I’d argue that it’s gotten several times worse. Now, you’re not just going and buying the game, the picking up the additional content down the line if you liked the game. Now you’re getting people trying to upsell you season passes, forcing you to commit to buying DLC for a game before you’ve even played it because it’s “cheaper that way”. A particular trap I’ve fallen into this year with both Titanfall and Watch_Dogs. DLC should be the companies reward for making a game so good I want more of it, not something they’re trying to trick me into buying because I’m aboard the hype train.

On top of this, you’ve got retailers trying to urge you to pre-order and get the ‘Legendary Hat Pack’ or the ‘Hard as Fucking Nails’ Edition only available in their store. I feel this is because as the AAA titles continue to swell and become more bloated, publishers are becoming more afraid that their gargantuan cash cow is going to keel over under its own weight. Thus they market the games as much as possible to try and guarantee as many purchases as they can in the months leading up to the game’s actual release to keep the people upstairs happy about the huge financial investment every game seems to be these days.

This is one of the thing that is frustrating me the most as a video game fan, it’s what makes me want to turn away from Sony and Microsoft as they continuously try to consolidate their massive franchises through crappier and crappier business practices. It’s not just them though, the big publishers, who are approaching console developer notoriety at this point, are maybe more guilty of this.

Surprise surprise, it is Ubisoft that is the worst offender, with a number of the entries in the Assassin’s Creed series suffering copious amounts of frivolous extras and the recently released Watch_Dogs both needing a spreadsheet to decide which one to buy. Watch_Dogs was ridiculous to the point that sites have had to compile wikis detailing the different versions and what is included within them. An essential tool when you’re trying to figure out which of the ten versions of the game you were planning on buying.

The upcoming smash hit/white elephant from Bungie; Destiny, is also suffering much of the same problems here. Forcing the gamer to pick yet another side and potentially deny themselves content. Despite this same content most likely becoming available to all somewhere down the line for a cost.

The retailers are somewhat guilty in causing this, but that isn’t to say we should take to them with the torches and pitchforks. Being a highstreet video game retailer is no easy task in this day and age, with the proliferation of digital distribution and online retailers such as Play and Amazon, getting games without even leaving the house is a dream some are truly living.

They need to take every advantage they can, and months of marquees outside their store labelling the next big game as ‘exclusive’ is more than likely to attract those less savvy to the workings of the video game industry into their store, getting them another precious pre-order.

The problem with pre-orders though is that they’re no longer important. Gone are the days when stores were the only place to get your new release, the limited number going to the lucky few. Now, publishers are well aware of the number they’re hoping to move ahead of time, and make sure retailers have more than enough for anyone who walks thorough the door wanting a copy, pre-order or not. That, coupled with the ease of digital distribution, it is nearly impossible for a game to be unavailable to you upon release.

Let’s make a hypothetical scenario. Look a Joe Average, strolling past his local video games retailer. He’s been seen all the T.V. adds about Ultra Gritty Shooter 2014: the next big game, and just so happens to see posters and marquees that label the title as exclusive to this store, so in he runs hoping that he can get his pre-order before they hit their limit. So now you’re thinking “Hey, it’s not so bad, the exclusive advertisements might have been for some small piece of additional content, but he still got that content.” Well yes, but when push comes to shove, these pieces of content aren’t worth the effort it would make to deviate from the method you’re happy with usually using. A alternative skin for the main character you’ll never use or an exclusive mission that will more than likely disappoint.

How often this hypothetic situation plays out? I can’t say, I’d like to say that it’s not very often, but based on the massive amounts of pre-orders games like Assassin’s Creed and the Call of Duty gets, maybe I’m giving Joe Public too much credit. Then there are the more savvy consumers who keep away from this pre-order nonsense, but see a pre-order bonus that, for some reason, they simply must have. Now they’ve got to go out of their way to pick up the game somewhere they normally wouldn’t all for some silly, optional piece of content that should either not exist or be available to everyone as a paid extra.

The final problem this is all causing is that publishers don’t feel the need that they have to sell us these games anymore, they’re already well aware that we’re interested months in advance with pre-orders for some games reaching the millions before any gameplay has even been seen (Arkham Knight). It’s for this reason that we rarely see game demos outside of conventions anymore. Focus on the product (specifically the no frills version of the game the thrifty consumer will play) is splintered as developers need to come up with extra content for the game for each of these different packs, or may even strip content from the game to make up the numbers.

I know I’m a like a broken record about this, but this industry is becoming too bloated and businesslike. AAA titles are supposed to be the console-selling games, the titles that Joe Average will be picking up and making up the enormous numbers that these games sell. So he I am, at the final paragraph asking the inevitable question: How deep is this rabbit hole going to go? We’re well on our way to a singularity of stupid if things continue this way, with early access on steam selling people unfinished games right now, how long till we’re kickstarting Ubisoft’s Watch_Dogs/Assassin’s Creed crossover 10 years before it even comes out?


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Enjoyed this article?

Found it interesting, entertaining, useful, or informative? Maybe it even saved you some money. That's great to hear! Sadly, independent publishing is struggling worse than ever, and Thumbsticks is no exception. So please, if you can afford to, consider supporting us via Patreon or buying us a coffee.

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If flip flopping the line between cynicism and enthusiasm was an illness then I would have a nifty obscure disease named after me, but seeing as how it has yet to be diagnosed, I'll settle with just being inconsistent.