It’s not hard finding things that are wrong with the video game industry these days. From rip-off DLC to paid-for cheats to games that are sold essentially incomplete, consumers are increasingly getting short shrift.
If you want to push back, though, what are your options? Stop buying games? Effective, perhaps, but that’s also cutting off your nose to spite your face. And hands.
Emailing a publisher? Hahahahha. Hahahah. Haha. Oh, that’s a good one.
There is one thing you can do, though, to get a little back (provided you actually do it in the first place). And that’s to stop preordering video games.
Preorders really picked up steam around a decade ago as a means for eager and loyal customers to reserve a copy of a game before it was released. They were usually used for the biggest games, games that ran a serious risk of being sold out, meaning if you wanted to get in early and avoid having to wait for restocks, you’d preorder.
Over the last 10 years though, things got a little perverse. Publishers started manufacturing enough games so that if you walked into a store two days after a new Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto was released, there’d still be copies available. Yet we’ve become increasingly encouraged to preorder games anyway. Even though we don’t actually need to.
GameStop tracks them as a measure of success, and you may have noticed between all the free action figures, maps and fancy cases being offered, really wants you to preorder stuff. Publishers use them to gauge the expected retail success of a game once it actually hits shelves. The worst union of the two now manifests as retailer-specific preorder bonuses, ungodly partitions of content where someone preordering a game from Best Buy will get a different incentive to that of a GameStop customer.
Beyond the immediate benefits to both party’s bottom lines, though, there’s something more important going on, something that’s the real reason preodering a game is so important to them: these companies want you on the hook before anyone has had a chance to warn you off it.
There once was a time video game reviews and word of mouth played the most important part in determining the success of a new title. There’d be a chance for either professional critics or like-minded peers to get their hands on a game and tell you whether it’s actually worth your time or money. With games being so expensive, those opinions can be – and to be sure, are still in some way (especially word of mouth) – important!
They can also be bad for business if you’re in the business of making or selling video games, though, so removing that roadblock is in both publisher’s and retailer’s best interests. The cult of preordering is how this is achieved. By getting your commitment to purchase a game in advance, when all you’ve got to go on is a marketing campaign, you’re signalling that you, as a consumer, are totally cool spending $US40-$60 on a game simply on the strength of how it’s been marketed.
Want to know why there aren’t any demos anymore? This is why. Want to know why content is withheld from everyone’s game and is instead sprinkled across various competing retailers? This is why. Want to know why there’s now an accepted norm where those paying more for a game gain competitive advantages? This is why. Publishers don’t need to sell you on their games, because by slavishly throwing money down before they’re even out, you’ve signalled your intent to take whatever it is they give you.
So…just stop doing it. At least for big or even big-ish games (those that will be genuinely rare, well, do what you gotta do!). Walk into a store the day a game is released, or a week after, and just buy the game then. You won’t notice much of a difference. But retailers and publishers will. Eventually.
It may not be a glorious victory for the consumer in their never-ending struggle to avoid getting fucked, or stop many of the other major problems this industry saddles us with, but seeing retailers and publishers stage a forced retreat from preorder madness would still be a small victory for the little guy. And a small victory’s better than a never-ending streak of losses.