“Sorry, we’re out of stock. They probably will be everywhere.”
So the cashier at EB Games told me last weekend when I went to pick up my copy of the new Fire Emblem. And she was right. Two Best Buys and one London Drugs later, I returned home empty-handed. I get it — it’s a popular game, we’ve been waiting for the localisation for a whole year, etc. Still, it stung not to be able to own a copy on release day.
Of course, I could have just pre-ordered it. But here’s the thing: pre-ordering games is the worst. And I’ll tell you why.
For those not in the know, pre-ordering games is the practice of shelling out around 10 bucks in advance to somewhere like EB or Best Buy in exchange for a reserved copy of an upcoming title. Said reserved copies often come with extra content or trinkets as a reward for players willing to pay a little extra to the developers, publishers, and retailers. Your favourite game companies get more pocket change, and you get your game as soon as it’s released. Sounds good, right?
Yeah, no. There’s a reason that pre-ordering games has gone from being a popular trend to essentially the law of the land in the past five years, and it has very little to do with your own benefit as a player and a whole hell of a lot to do with how much money everyone else stands to make. Retailers regularly rake in millions of dollars on pre-orders every year, and revenue from pre-ordered games rose by 24 percent between 2014 and 2015. In turn, more and more publishers are choosing to offer pre-orders, despite the downsides.
And boy, are there downsides. For starters, pre-orders essentially lock in release dates for titles: if you’ve promised customers they’ll be getting game X at date Y, you’d better believe they will raise a fuss if you don’t deliver. The problem is that sometimes, release dates need to be pushed back. Games are super tough to make, and if development teams aren’t given enough time to iron out the kinks, you end up with sloppy, buggy games. And this happens all the time. In the past year alone, Just Cause 3, Fallout 4, Batman: Arkham Knight, and The Witcher 3 have all been the subject of rushed, glitch-full launches.
As Nintendo mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto once said, “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.”
Even more nasty than buggy launches, though, is how pre-ordering eliminates the value of video game reviews from players and professionals alike. The ubiquity of pre-orders has gradually made game demos a thing of the past, meaning that you probably won’t have a sense of whether or not a game is actually worth playing until reviewers get their hands on a test copy. Usually, these are sent out only a few weeks before the official release, long after hundreds of thousands of pre-orders have been placed.
So what if the game you’ve promised to buy is actually, you know, not so great? Well, tough luck. Unless you’re buying via online distributor Steam, who recently revamped their refund policy, you’re stuck with the title you paid for months ago. Imagine if comic book fans had prepaid for tickets to the new Fantastic Four movie before the terrible reviews started coming out. They’d be pretty pissed, right? And yet this is still the status quo among most publishers.
How do we fight back, you ask? Well, there’s really only one way — we need to stop pre-ordering, full stop. Plenty of writers have been urging gamers to break the habit for years, and yet more and more are choosing to pre-order, whether it be for convenience or a (mostly false) sense of security. And I can see the appeal: it would’ve been nice to know that a copy of Fire Emblem were waiting for me at EB Games, without having to risk it on release day.
But ultimately, this is bigger than us. If we want our games to be good, or at least finished, we need to make a change.
Want to know what games could have benefited from being released later?
Here are five famous games that could have benefited from some extra time with the developers.
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (2003)
The latest Tomb Raider title has spelled
rejuvenation for the series, but for a time many thought one of gaming’s oldest and most profitable titles would never recover from the utter failure of Angel of Darkness. Featuring laughable graphics and some downright terrifying glitches, this game is a perfectly example of a mainstream franchise getting lazy and complacent. The result is pretty regrettable.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
Unlike the Tomb Raider series, Sonic the Hedgehog never really recovered from Sonic the Hedgehog. Like, I’m not kidding — this is one of the worst games ever. The levels are incoherent, the controls are terrible, and even the game’s story is ill advised. (Sonic falls in love with a human woman. Yeah.) This was the moment wherein Sonic went from respectable old-school series to permanent laughingstock.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 (2015)
There may be no better modern example of why pre-ordering is the worst than THPS5. Like, how did this game even get released? It’s more than just broken — it’s not even finished. Characters regularly morph through walls or simply lose all control of their limbs mid-jump. For fans of the original Pro Skater games for the PS2, this game is heartbreaking. For everyone else, it’s literally unplayable.