Are Pre-Orders Really That Evil?

Dave Irwin

Dave Irwin


on July 17, 2014 at 2:00 PM

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to One Hit Pixel.

During the summer months, procrastinating on the internet takes more of my time than actually playing games thanks to the summer drought. With a lack of upcoming releases compared to previous years, this lull is particularly painful. Yet summer also brings forth a slew of pre-order incentive announcements for games in the pipeline, something that Polygon’s Ben Kuchera has written a piece urging consumers to keep away from.

His argument against pre-ordering is that it isn’t consumer friendly, instead benefiting publishers with guaranteed income streams (because who cancels their pre-order?) and retailers because it gives them an indication of how many copies they need to order from the publisher to meet demand, thus limiting shelf space.

To quote directly, “You’re fighting a problem of potential scarcity, a problem created by the retailer”. Pre-order incentives are also damaging the market by favouring one retailer over many others. “That’s not marketing, that’s consumer hostility.” This is just a vertical slice of his argument against pre-orders though, so you should have a read before coming to your own thoughts on the matter.

Up until fairly recently, I was of the same thinking. I hadn’t pre-ordered a game for several years, loathed the very idea of it, and honestly had no reason to even consider. Heck, the last thing I pre-ordered was my Nintendo 3DS.

However, as of the past few months, I too am guilty of fuelling this particular flame.

I first pre-ordered Destiny with the intention of getting into the beta. In this case, the beta is the closest I’m ever going to come to play it before release due to the MMO style nature of the game. I see it as an investment in producing content for this website, for giving you a heads up. No doubt many will just play it as a sneak peek of the hottest new IP from a veteran studio. From what I’ve seen so far, I like the ideas being put forward- a fact that is vital to the can of worms that was opened, because I wanted to show support for another innovative gameplay idea.

Evolve was a game I immensely enjoyed during my limited time with it, simply due to the reactions that came from the others present and playing. Strangers and friends alike gathered to take on one stomping brute of a monster that was being controlled by another player. Some took on a leadership role, but everyone was talking to each other. Observing one particular game was deeply intense because of just how close things were getting. My time as the monster provoked the opposing band of journalists to argue about the best course of action after I dispatched their lynchpin.

This is the dawn of the next-generation multiplayer experience and to me that’s why I pre-ordered: to show support for ideas that I like. In my eyes, the only reason you should pre-order any game is to show support for ideas, not necessarily the developers themselves. However, this doesn’t extend to single player only experiences. I agree with Ben Kuchera that pre-ordering particularly single player games like Alien: Isolation is a stupid idea.

When something is multiplayer focused, pre-ordering guarantees you the copy from day one so you’re ahead of the curve. It’s important for those who want to play with friends or those who want to play competitively. Those who pre-order single player only games, no matter what the bonuses are, are succumbing to aggressive marketing. Pre-ordering a new games console is also a case of supply/demand as retailers don’t make a huge profit from new games consoles unless they’re part of a bundle. You know the ones; buy the console, a game, and a branded accessory pack? They make money from those accessories!

But I digress. Single player games tend to depreciate faster than any “profitable” multiplayer offerings, unless you have Mario or Zelda on the box. This is generally due to the fact that people sell finished games back to a retailer who puts them in their profitable pre-owned sections. When this happens, their business practice is to “upsell” pre-owned copies in favour of brand new ones which neither the publisher or developer profits from. Therefore, aggressive pre-order campaigns are a sure-fire way of making a little more money before the need for DLC comes up. It’s an ugly business and generally I don’t want a part of it. Do I still want single player games? Absolutely! Some of the best games out there are single player only. I’m just not wanting throw all the chips down and declaring myself all-in.

However, one factor isn’t taken into consideration in Ben’s article and that is PC pre-ordering, including Early Access. Some may say that Early Access isn’t linked as you’re “helping with the development of the game”, but what difference is there between the Destiny beta and signing up to an Early Access project to the average consumer? It’s another aggressive marketing technique that consumers shouldn’t fall for unless they really want to help with the game. It’s also a double-edged sword as gamers may forget about a developer’s Early Access game by the time it comes releasing the full version, there may not be enough hype for the game to generate sales.

Steam pre-orders generally debunk Ben’s argument about supply/demand as you can’t physically run out of digital copies. However, it reinforces his argument that the aggressive marketing damages consumer’s rights, as there are Steam exclusive pre-order bundles that shut out the likes of Green Man Gaming and GOG. In fact, Steam has an overwhelming monopoly on PC gaming as most online retailers sell Steam keys as well as DRM-free versions. Then of course you have high-street retailers selling Steam currency.

So be wary dear reader. Pre-orders are an ugly business that is slowly becoming more and more unpleasant by the year. After these two pre-orders come through, it is unlikely that I would pre-order again unless a similarly exciting and innovative multiplayer experience appears that is likely to be sold out. Even then I would have reservations.