Originally I meant to have a simple response/reaction to Jim's latest Jimquisition about preorders, but the post spiraled out of hand.
Anyways, as I wanted to mention, the latest Aliens game was the last straw for me and preorders. I'd realized a couple weeks back just how disillusioned I was becoming with the concept when I found myself unable to preorder the latest Sly game, despite having fallen in love with the franchise with its HD collection and subsequently finding myself ecstatic when I heard news of Thieves in Time.
Despite everything, including a price drop and a cross-buy offer for my lonely PSVita, I simply could not put down a simple five dollars towards it.
I tried to justify to myself that I was simply trying to cut back on my spending, and with Metal Gear Rising coming out in the same month, I probably shouldn't force another game in my budget. However, I did the math and I could still eat, pay rent, and even have plenty left over after picking up the both of them, so clearly it wasn't that.
I then pretending that I simply didn't know enough about it. That was the case with Crysis 3 after all, where I found a game I should have heard a lot more about suddenly appear on signs and such all over the place. I even found some evidence for this theory that I could use, with the lack of a demo or screenshots for a long while. However, I've bought games from developers I trusted or based on reviews and recommendations from people I respect with far less about the game to go on than what I knew about Sly 4. Hell, I often avoid news about games that I preorder anyways, so this couldn't be the explanation.
My true feelings were revealed in a conversation with a Gamestop worker when the reviews came in afterwards. The person working there knew I preordered games and knew I had the money, and due to how little copies had come in, they were confused as to why I risked missing out on the game.
I replied that the other two mascots of the PS2, Jak and Ratchet, had failed to live up to expectations lately (which was particularly disappointing to another worker I knew there).
When Colonial Marines dropped, I knew how disappointed a couple of people I knew were going to be, but beyond empathy I also began to feel paranoid. The Metal Gear game I was waiting for was right around the corner, and even though I'd tried the demo (though the first time I got it from the ZoE collection, it had given me proper cause for concern with the state it was in, though the second time around dispelled that problem), trusted both key parties (Platinum and Kojima), and had faith in it for years, I became filled with doubt about the final product.
The only thing that kept me from going out and cancelling my preorder to wait for a proper review is something so simple I'm surprise I haven't just shrugged and gone ahead with the canceling - a skin for the main character.
The practice of preorder bonuses has always been amazingly bad, but for the first time I actually feel like they're a sort of binding clause or, probably more aptly put, a miniature hostage scenario, where refusing to give into demands results in you potentially losing something forever (I still haven't seen Bayonetta appear for everyone on Anarchy Reigns).
The worst part about it is that these items, as many before me have mentioned, are items that the previous generation of gaming would have been unlockables, given to those that invested heavily into the game. These people would be your long term fans, ones who would preorder without incentives so long as you kept the trip to those unlockables worth it.
The gaming community used to be an amazing web of people who slowly learned from on another, even with sites like GameFAQs around, as the secrets in games were passed along from group to group, where circles of friends would get together and share what they had learned with one another.
Rumors spread throughout boards and forums that were akin sometimes to challenges as they often involved complicated series of actions that needed to be tested to see if they were actually true. Thus, the lifespan of any particular game and how long it sold for depended on how long it took a majority of gamers to explore most of its secrets.
The fact that these unlockables are now used to simply ensure that early sales are good rather than adding depth to the game is already hard to bear, but the truth is that they are also constraining, forcing fans who might still pick up the game early on to obey the timetable set by the publishers or else risking losing part of the game while its still free. Being a fan of a game still involves having all of the game's various parts unlocked, but the investment to get them has shifted from time, skill, or simple curiosity to cash.
But the other risk is just as great. Assuming you decide to stick with the preorder till launch, you risk losing cash due to a bad game. You can still choose not to buy the game, but your deposit is lost unless those in charge of your preorder are particularly benevolent.
Actually things get a bit more complicated than that. It's easier to explain through example though, so let's look at a couple of games that I got burned on preorder with.
Asura's Wrath - This game was amazing, but overpriced. The game turned out to be much to shorter than it should have been, way too easy (I'm someone who plays Normal or even Easy for my first time through most games. I was able to ace just about every level the game threw at me), and had a rather particular problem that I wish I'd learned about before picking it up. Without spoiling anything, the game happens to have good resolution that its "True Ending" immediately destroyed by creating a cliffhanger that was resolved in DLC. This game quickly fell off the radar as larger releases with better known issues about endings overshadowed it.
I ended up sticking with it for the same reasons as Rising, the preorder bonuses that came with it. Meanwhile, a game I was insanely excited over, The Darkness II, taunted me the entire month. While it ended up being just a little longer than this one, I knew what I was getting into when I eventually picked it up and enjoyed it all the same.
Brutal Legend - While I'm not upset that I got this game, I still feel like it burned me all because of the preorder. What I laid down money for based on the demo and the previews was a hack and slash game by Double Fine. Certainly, that was a part of the game, but the RTS gameplay was the center part of the game. While I might have not picked up this right away, I guarantee I would have picked it up, and probably enjoyed it more knowing what I was getting into.
Duke Nukem - Yeah...
Assassin's Creed 3 - This pretty much applies to the entire series after 2, but this was especially bad for 3. Why? The launch version of this game is effectively a beta, and a barrel in the sewers (the most quiet area in the game) decided to become a nuke at 2am (white screen and the loudest sound you've ever heard), and I only had my headphones out because I was using them with my MP3 player earlier. I still walked away with the worst ear ache I've had in awhile. I hope this has been patched by now, though I'd be more surprised if it hadn't and I've heard nothing of a lawsuit from massive amounts of ear damage.
Dragon Age II - Even if the signature edition hadn't been something being held for ransom, I probably would have been planing to pick this up first day, but without the need for a preorder, I might have waited for reviews. That first day purchase might have been scheduled after I read those reviews and I might have been able to wait for it to drop to a proper price. As it turned out, I ended up buying a $30 (max) game for $60.
This list doesn't even cover the games I missed but trusted until they released (Lost Planet 2, Silent Hill HD, RE6, R&C:A4O, Jak:TLF, etc.) or even all the games that failed to meet my expectations, but even without them it's easy to see how my faith in preordering has been shaken more than enough times.
Currently, I have two remaining preorders: one staring a game with a cyborg ninja and another a shooter up in the sky. The former is at the point where I'll find out whether or not it was worth it in a couple of hours. Depending on its outcome, it will either be my last or my second to last preorder until someone changes my mind on this system.
I'm simply tired of getting burned for trusting. If anyone wants me to preorder again, they'll need to earn my trust, which first requires them to stop making me feel like giving money traps me somehow.