Over the last few years there has been a real backlash over buying videogames at the time of release, as well as a greater and more aggressive movement against pre-ordering games in general, both from local stores and online retailers. I think 2014, and seemingly 2015, brought these issue to a crescendo, and as I sit here with pre-order tickets for at least three upcoming games I’m starting to think: Do I have a big dick in my mouth!? Do I even *want* Konami’s dick in my mouth!?!? HELL NO. Then why on earth do I continue to pre-order videogames? I wanted to examine both the pros and the cons of these two issues and give my opinion, and would love to hear other people’s opinions in the comments below.
Firstly, let me explain how I personally pre-order videogames, both in shops and online. Usually, I’ll visit my local ‘Game’ store, which is the largest high-street retailer of games here in the United Kingdom, and I’ll give them £5 to secure a pre-order to be collected within 48 hours of the day of release. Now, what usually happens is that I’ll try and wait for some reviews to appear, hopefully before the release date but sometimes on the actual day itself (due to an embargo), before committing to buy. If the game looks and sounds good from reviews then I’ll go grab the game. If the game looks like utter disappointment, my local store will just refund me the £5 onto something else; sometimes another pre-order or sometimes just onto my loyalty card. A key thing here though is that I usually only pre-order games that I’m really excited about and am chomping at the bit to play, which is currently Metal Gear Solid V, Mad Max and Persona 4 Dancing All Night.
Issue 1: Preordering Videogames.
So, one problem that people have is this idea that you are committing to buy something before it’s even released or reviewed, and this sort of behaviour has encouraged the videogame industry to get lazy – if people are already buying the game before it’s out then the level of polish doesn’t have to “win people over”. I.e. You can release any old shit. I’m not sure this really holds up, as illustrated above, you can cancel pre-orders at any time, even after the game is released, and suppose you ordered from an online retailer and they’ve delivered it to your door on the day of release – your statutory consumer rights means that you can (providing you don’t open and play it) just send it right back and get a full refund!! As a consumer you actually hold a lot of power. Know your rights.
Games distributors are aware of this of course and so over the last few years we’ve had a barrage of incentives for you to keep your pre-order, or even to pre-order the game in the first place, the most insidious of which is “pre-order DLC”. This, understandably, riles people up and it is felt that part of the videogame is being pay-walled off behind a sometimes retailer specific pre-order scheme. Some of the direst examples include so many different retailer-locked DLC that in order to get absolutely everything in the game you would need to purchase the game five times over! I think you’ve got to be very naive to not understand why people would get upset over this practise, and it is certainly a dick move by videogames publishers. However, I would also argue that the vast majority of pre-order and retailer exclusive downloadable content is absolute garbage anyway; often consisting of alternative hairstyles, useless low-level weaponry, ornate but ineffective armour etc. The game has often not been designed with this extra content in mind and you’re usually not missing out on anything by not having it. So, for me, any pre-order bonus DLC is usually not an incentive at all.
What is an incentive, for me at least, are delicious physical extras and special “day one edition” fancy packaging. As someone who still prefers physical (I like to actually own my game as opposed to a mere licence – but that’s a debate for another day) I adore getting extra doo-dads chucked in such as maps, soundtrack CDs, booklets with additional information, etc. Even things like steelbooks or other special game boxes look great on my shelf and, providing they’re roughly the same price as the standard box, I’m sold. Although it doesn’t appeal to me anymore, some people also absolutely love the huge collector’s editions of videogames, with massive statuettes, art books, even crazy stuff like a stationary set (see Bloodborne)! Now, technically you don’t actually have to pre-order the game to get these collector’s editions, but is a way to often guarantee that you’ll get them. The Fallout 4 “pip-boy edition” for instance is sold out already through pre-orders and Bethesda has already said they simply can’t produce anymore. They’re gone. An argument against all this is of course that distributors are doing this on purpose, and CD Projekt Red has illustrated nicely with The Witcher 3 that if they really wanted to, a publisher could give you a ton of physical extras as standard, and even slow-release small DLC that’s available to anyone. We’re unfortunately living in an age where the instruction booklet is a luxury rather than given as standard.
Issue 2: Buying New.
Of course, for many people the whole debacle of pre-ordering is part of a larger problem, which is picking up videogames at the time of their release. Gone are the days when, as a console owner, you could just walk into a game shop on the day of a big release, pick it up and play a flawless and well-made product when you got home. Nowadays you’re usually, in a best case scenario, going to have to download a “day-one patch” to effectively put in the extra work that the devs did between printing the discs and actually finishing the game!! In the worst case scenario, you’re looking at a bumpy couple of weeks of constant tweaking and patching – or even a game so borked that months later it’s still a buggy glitch-ridden mess with an atrocious framerate. Last year saw a couple of titles, but most notably Assassins Creed: Unity, releasing in a sorry state such as this. Yet these particularly bad examples have set a precedent for people to constantly moan and whine about games rather than actually playing them. Just yesterday I was reading an article about how the latest patch for The Witcher 3 has restored the framerate back to respectable levels on PS4 (since the last past – full of good gameplay additions – broke it a little) to the difference of 5fps and this was met with comments such as: “it looks like the game is getting close to finished, perhaps I’ll be able to play it soon!” LOLOLOLOL. Give this guy an award. I’ve put over 200 hours into this game and finished it, enjoying every single second, not noticing if I’d dropped 5fps in-between patches.
It doesn’t help consumer confidence, in the face of a few buggy and unfinished games, that there seems to be a lot of review embargoes nowadays, with only Nintendo ever seeming confident that it’s published games can be reviewed whenever the gaming press feel like it. Quite often the embargo will now extend right up until the day of release, and people are just not willing to trust the big distributors anymore – there’s a feeling through the bullshots and carefully edited trailers that they are lying to us. I think this extends to a general mistrust of the gaming press in general, as consumers who are internet savvy have become more switched on to the way that press are given access to a game. Play ball and you’ll be invited to closed-door demos, launch events, given exclusive interviews or hosting of a trailer, etc. Bad-mouth too many of a publishers wares and you’re forced into the same position as the rest of us chumps; having to pay actual money to buy and review the game yourself. Of course, I don’t believe that all the gaming press are corrupt, but it helps to read around a bit and cross-check reviews across a few publications… and of course never believe the words of some of the larger and more odorous gaming websites.
However, something that I think a lot of this negativity overshadows in modern times is the social aspect of playing a videogame that is new upon its release. If you pick up a game at launch there will undoubtedly be a lot of other people playing through it at the same time as you, allowing you to swap stories and help each other, as well as a lot of articles and other features popping up all over the gaming press. This buzz and communal enjoyment of a media text is something missing from videogames when played at a later date, and often leads to the false notion that it is an isolated and solitary pursuit. At the time of a game’s release, when it is still fresh and exciting, people will be stuck into any multiplayer component of the game, and generally speaking the servers will be a lot more active and full of life around this time. Sometimes this even shapes the experience you may have of playing the game. For example, playing Journey at the time of its release was a true social experience, as everyone was new and carefully eking out its secrets together. Now, when you pick up and play the game despite it still being an amazing experience, it’s just not the same as often people will just lead you from secret to secret in a sort of Journey-bingo. “Oh yeah, here’s the weird fish creature from Flow that gives you a trophy. NEXT!”
Lastly there’re the people who just don’t want to pay full-price for videogames because they feel that it’s too high, and it’s certainly true that for a while it seemed there was a price hike on new games. Currently I believe the price of a new console game is around £35 on average, if you shop around, and this is a lot better than the £50 average we had for a while when the PS3 was the hot new console! However, I can completely understand wanting to wait and get a game for half its price or under, and I usually do this myself for the majority of games I buy – only paying full price for special releases that I just can’t wait to play. The downside of this, I’ve found, is that some smaller releases either don’t depreciated in price anyway or sometimes they have such limited runs that they disappear entirely. A good example of this is Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii, which will probably cost you more now that it would when it was released (and no longer comes in a pack with a shiny red classic controller)!! There are a number of games that I wish I had bought when they came out as finding a good, not-battered-to-smithereens, copy is now nigh impossible, and this is another reason when I often pick things up new.
The whole point of starting blogging was that I just love videogames, and I still get really excited about videogames. When a new game, that I’ve been waiting ages for, eventually comes out and I pick it up on the day of release I still feel like a little kid at Christmas! I can’t help it, and when September 1st hits and I’m holding my pre-ordered Metal Gear Solid V in my hands I’ll not be thinking of the negative bullshit perpetuated by the whiney internet. I’ll be excited and happy. Surely it’s worth pre-ordering and picking up a game for that? In that case, I’ll gladly have a big dick in my mouth.