Thursday, July 10, 2014

Yes, Pre-Orders are Bad for the Industry. Stop Telling Yourself Otherwise.

Image: Gawker

This started out as an "explain like I'm five" translation of a recent Polygon article on the same subject, but by the time I finished, it felt worthy of a blog entry. Enjoy the copy/pasta:

Companies want to ensure they will get their money back from making the game. Instead of waiting until the game comes out for people to tell their friends about the game, they'll give you free stuff for pre-ordering. To them, waiting until release day to find out their return is sort of like you waiting until payday to know how much you're making for that period (this analogy really only works for hourly employees versus salaried). Unlike us, they are putting money into a product and may or may not get that money back, so they need to find a way to get a fix on what their return will look like.

This guarantees that you, the consumer, gets bonus content (or, rather, added value) to your purchase, and the company has a quasi-guarantee of ~$60 coming their way at a pre-determined time. I say "quasi-" because you can cancel the pre-order at any time (unlike Sony). $60 is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of people, and those people don't see value in the game at $60; that's why they'll wait for it go on sale, buy it used, or - like me - rent it. Adding value to the purchase by incentivizing it with bonus content is their goal, and hoping that, with that content, you will see the value in a $60 purchase, and not wait for a sale.

On the surface, it appears they're giving you free stuff for being a loyal fan. Deep down, this is their way of ensuring investors that the games they're investing millions of dollars into will be successful. Moar pre-orders == happy investors == happy CEOs. This also locks you into a particular retailer - Amazon, Best Buy, and GameStop - and makes you a loyal customer, because they'll dish out bonus reward points for pre-ordering. You'll have a pool of reward points, and you can only use them at that retailer. Here’s the important bit: you're not a “loyal customer” to that chain; your wallet has become a slave to that company.

Like Polygon says, this is like a restaurant saying you can only get a side dish with your entrée if you order the entrée before you even show up or see how it looks, or even read food critics' reviews on the food. It's also like a realtor telling you that if you wait to do a walkthrough on a home (rather than do it earlier on during the sale process), you wouldn't be able to have windows in your house.

If a company is willing to give you 1/3rd of the game's price back to you just for pre-ordering - or an entire content package to play as the heroine from the original movie - you should be worried for the game's outcome, regardless of how it was eventually received. Sega is also limiting what news outlets will be able to broadcast the trailer for the Aliens: Isolation, which is also a poor decision. Some pre-order incentives are so otherworldly, you wonder how this practice can continue.

These are Infamous-branded condoms. If you
keep pre-ordering, more shit like this will happen.

GameStop is looking to fund the development for exclusive content that you can only get by pre-ordering games through them. Think that through: this is in-game content you can only get if you pre-order a game through only one, specific retailer. This could very well become bonus content that isn't made available later down the road to anyone. Yes, there is a chance this could become GameStop pre-order only. You wouldn’t be able to get this content even if you buy the game Day One or Week One at GameStop; no pre-order, no bonus content. That's just one danger to this.

This plays out horribly for the entire industry. The only people this benefits is the CEOs, as they can sleep soundly at night knowing a product will sell. Before you say “but the consumer benefits with extra content”. No. This is not a benefit for us; it’s a detriment. This forces you to buy through one particular chain. I get the value of a “loyal customer” program like My Best Buy or PowerUp Rewards, but by locking in game content to a pre-order doesn’t add value to a purchase, it removes value from a game.

Pre-orders are bad for the entire industry. Stop pre-ordering. It's that simple. You're probably thinking "well, I want to make sure there's a copy at launch for me". Unless you're pre-ordering something incredibly obscure, there is zero need to do so. I worked for Best Buy for years. I was there for 80% of the seventh-generation of systems (Wii, Xbox 360, PS3), and for your major releases, we had hundreds of copies of a game. Teh Haloz? Nearly a thousand copies. Your Call of Duties? Again, nearly a thousand. My store had the second-highest foot traffic in the district (purely because a DC metro stop wasn't two blocks away), and this was normal. Even those obscure games sat on the shelves for months and were never sold, probably because they never dropped from their $60 price tag until they went EOL, and only dropped less than $10 from the original price. 

There's always a copy, there's always a way, there's never a need.