Digital Preorders are a Ridiculous Scam - Stop Encouraging Them

There's just no reasonable justification for the practice of encouraging pre-orders for digital goods. It's a scam.

A fool and his money are easily parted, and modern video game marketing wants to make fools of us all.

When Preorders Made Sense

In the real world, pre-ordering an item has often been a sensible way of ensuring that you got what you wanted. This is, of course, assuming that you are certain it is the item you want, because you have read reviews and so on, right?

Whether it was a weekly comic book or the latest Porsche 911 model from your local dealership, chances were good the retailer would only receive a limited number and there'd be no guarantee they'd still be in stock by the time you sashayed in.

That's when tapping the folks behind the counter to hold onto a copy for you (I'm more of a comics man, you can keep your fancy cars) was the sage thing to do. Only the simple-minded would leave it to chance.

When They Still Make Sense

Queue, Queue!

For particularly popular items that you want right away, preordering or getting to the store early is prudent. But if you're considering camping, you should perhaps re-assess your values. If there is that much demand, they'll likely make some more.

It's not like iPhones are made from meteor rock and there's only a couple of tonnes of it in existence.

No doubt, come the November releases of Sony's PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, we'll see herds of hyper-materialistic console consumers and desperate Christmas shoppers take to the high streets like rabid zombie sheep in a no-holds-barred fight to the cash counter.

They probably should have pre-ordered.

It'll be a sad sight which will show how pathetically materialistic and impatient we have become, but it's understandable to an extent. The combined forces of marketing, scientifically developed addiction strategies and the social/family pressures of Christmas make slaves of us all.

When Preordering is Inexcusable

Consumer Idiot of the Year Award Goes to...

The really inexplicable, gold-standard stupid award has to be reserved for those who pre-order digitally downloadable games.

But the really inexplicable, gold-standard stupid award has to be reserved for those who pre-order digitally downloadable games. Digital products are infinite, they can't go out of stock, there will be no delay as you wait for the next batch to arrive, there is no urgency.

... Other than the urgency artificially created by the forces of marketing.

Of course, the Sith Lords of Sales have that covered, they'll offer you an incentive. A free game, a reduced price, something, anything to make you commit to their product without anyone having tested it.

Why are they so desperate to get your money so early?

Did they go over budget and have to organise a desperate pre-release cash grab to pay the bills and if so, how rushed is their product? Do they know they've got a poor game that will receive a critical mauling so they want to grab your money and run?

There's just no reasonable justification for the practice of encouraging pre-orders for digital goods. It's a scam.

Time is On Your Side; Use It

Needlessly throwing away money on digital pre-orders is behaviour that evokes the highest facepalmery.

Game are so frequently in need of more work at release, they almost always get better with time post-release, so why should consumers rush?

Until buyers--and publishers--learn these lessons, we will continue to see gamers charge like lemmings over the precipice of pre-ordering toward the jagged rocks of the next Aliens: Colonial Marines, Sim City, The WarZ, Diablo III, Duke Nukem Forever, Hellgate: London, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and many more...

Wait for the reviews, let developers iron out the bugs they left in to meet the shipping date, let somebody else suffer the disappointing game experience. We live in an enlightened age of information and communication. Let the internet work for you, don't let publishers use it to make you dance for them.

My advice: don't get mugged - stay away from digital pre-orders.

Featured Columnist

Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.

Published Sep. 26th 2013
  • Chris Peters
    I completely agree with what you are saying. In my experience, the only reason people pre-order a game is so they can tell other people they pre-ordered the game. Hell, I know a lot of people who pre-order the game, go to the midnight release and then not touch the game for months. There is a common sentiment going around, especially with PC gamers, that just owning a lot games somehow grants them the mystical title of "hardcore" gamer, despite the fact that they don't play two thirds of them. Just because I own a lot of race cars doesn't make me a race car driver, so if I own a lot of games, that doesn't magically make me a pro. A bit off topic I know, but I wanted to take the opportunity to vent my frustrations. There are a lot of alarming trends in the gaming industry right now and I honestly think that it's becoming too big for it's own good. It really isn't about the games anymore and is instead about how much money can be made in the quickest way. That's how I feel anyway.
  • AlexNYR
    I think the only part about digital preorders that I disagree with you on is that it's perfect for iTunes. I don't have to go searching for that new album my favorite band is releasing, I simply click on my account, log in and click download. Convenience is key for that type of digital preorder and iTunes doesn't charge your card until the album is released anyway. Other than that I think you're dead on!
  • Anon_5467
    Anyone who rushes out to get the newest game is parting with more money then they have to. So it's not "Understandable to an extent." It's a privilege you pay for. And if you're not getting any bonuses for the pre-order, then yeah, you are just impatient. And camping out/zombie rush is the height of immaturity and carelessness with time and money.

    I only pre-order when I want to support a company or get some extras. Otherwise why not wait until the game is half the price? It happens to many of them. So it's weird to say supply matters ('digital = infinite so don't rush for those') but it's okay to rush to get a physical copy? Supply means nothing. If a company cannot burn some plastic discs and print enough paper labels in time I would say that is intentional--to keep the supply low and demand high. Nintendo apparently does it (as store employees repeatedly tell me about their Christmas stock/sales).

    So it's not excusable, it's admitting you have extra money to burn and don't care too much about it.

    On another note, why on earth would anyone trust "paid" reviewers? I find it totally easy to give an unbiased review. I may totally love playing a game, but I still know when most other people wouldn't. Yet most reviewers out there don't know how to keep their personal likes and dislikes out of the final score. 13 year olds yabbering on YouTube is expected, but paid reviews are often not much better than the whining you see everywhere.

    However, sites like Metacritic give an actual broad view of a game (good and bad), and YouTube let's you /see/ it before it's even released locally. That is how we can get an idea of what it's like ahead of time. And then we can sell games we don't like or finish early.

    The same goes for products other than games as well. So you were right about one thing at least. We live in the information age. Too bad advertising and limiting supply works on human nature, which hasn't been updated in the past few hundred thousand years or so.
  • elric_7889
    No offense there is 2 fatal flaws with your argument one being that digital download will always be available. They are not always available when u want them case especially with mmos if they are a too popular at launch companies will stop the digital download for a time so that they can sell the physical sales while increasing player limit on servers. And the second flaw is the argument that the review is always gonna be correct for you I've seen many review saying all the same and then I try the game out and end up feeling completely different
  • [[Deleted]]
    I think MMO's are the worst culprit in this.

    Typically because they have to pay back investor money (I think Blizzard and Square-Enix are the only in house funded), they want to offer up a quick in-game free-bee in order to drive initial sales to pay back said investors and like cattle gamers rush in to pre-order box'd and Digital Copies in order to get that free in game mount, or hat, or w/e.

    Sadly, were looking at a section of the game industry that would actually benefit from a slower start sales... almost every if not all MMO's released in the last few years have the "week 1 migrane" where everyone's itching to get their name reserved and get their free in game loot to show off to the rest of the crowd whom... yes has the same free loot. The result is errors, server overloads, long queue times, ect... that all leads to the trolling and whining that accompanies that.
  • Amy White
    Former Editor in Chief
    Agreed - you have to wonder about the tradeoff they're making. Sure, they may sell more up front, but those initial players will spend their server downtime talking about how terrible the experience is, and that bad taste will linger long after week 1.

    Obvious examples abound of spectacular launch failures, but even successful games that have survived and thrived feel the sting from initial launch rush. I adore ArenaNet and am a longtime Guild Wars player, but there were some things broken in the first week of GW2 that I believe had a long term impact on the way players interacted with the game.
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    True, Half-Life 2 had to survive a car-crash launch associated with the then woefully clumsy Steam platform.
  • Germ_the_Nobody
    I agree with some stuff, but then I got to the actual digital part and it just confused me.
    How is it stupid to pre-order a game digitally if you know you want it? Sure you could wait until the day it's actually playable, but if you were going to buy it anyways, why not just pre-order it?
    I'm just confused.

    Most digital pre-orders do come with some sort of incentive so I'm even more confused.

    The people I think that are idiots are the ones that base whether or not they want to play a game or buy it based on someone else's review. /wink
    I have nothings against reviews. I certainly don't allow them to decide for me.

    And somehow the people that pre-order a physical copy they end up hating are smarter than people that pre-order digitally?
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    I'm sorry if my article wasn't clear. I thought I covered the flawed reasoning behind incentives for pre-orders. It's effectively "if I give you $10 dollars now, I can punch you in the face later and you won't mind so much."

    I don't think a consumer can "know [they] want it" as it's not been released yet. They can, however be conditioned to *think* they want it, but that's not the same thing.

    Case in point, look at all those people who got burned by pre-ordering Aliens: Colonial Marines, thinking they were going to be getting a fantastic addition to a canon they loved, but instead got a turkey.

    There is a principle at stake here - if consumers allow distributors/publishers to abuse them, they will.

    Let the buyer beware is all I'm saying in essence.

    Of course if you're *certain* you're buying a good product, then have at it. But you're leaving yourself open to being a victim of cynical and opportunistic marketing.

    If you're happy to spend your money without researching your purchases then that's up to you. But ignoring reviews and feedback from real people whose jobs are to give you some insight without you having to waste your money is pretty foolish in my opinion.

    Of course, consenting adults can do as they wish. Including ignoring good advice. Trusting hype over considered opinion is madness in my opinion.
  • Germ_the_Nobody
    The issue I have is that you might as well just say the same thing about physical pre-orders.Singling out digital doesn't make sense in the way you're putting it.
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    Pre-ordering physical stuff is still not ideal due to lack of product knowledge, but there is at least the limited stock angle.

    Digital products are infinite so any urgent demand is artificial, therefore there is no need for pre-ordering. There are no distribution challenges, no stock issues. If they incentivise it, you have to question the motivation for wanting you to pay before you can research the product.

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