Buying a game is not so simple as ABC, as it is for films and books. There is downloadable content, season passes, Day-1 DLC and even content that you can only receive from specific retailers. Most of these bonuses, perks and skins are fairly innocuous, but it is a stark example of a quirk in the gaming consumer public. Pre-ordering a video game has become the norm for the 21st century video game industry, and it has become a growing concern of mine in 2013.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with pre-ordering a game. You walk into GameStop, Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc. and put “X” number of dollars down now so you don’t have to pay the full amount later. Hell, you just might get a weapon upgrade or a new skin for free. But what happens when the game you want is complete wreck? This happened to me with “Aliens: Colonial Marines.” I ignored reviews of “Aliens: Colonial Marines,” because I thought early reviewers were reviewing it poorly for hits on their website. I went to GameStop, put $5 down, and got a multiplayer skin pack that included a slew of deceased characters from the Aliens film plus the main character’s duct-taped machine-gun/flamethrower combo. I thought, “Might as well, since I am buying it anyway.”
The problem that occurred, in addition to actually owning a copy of “Aliens: Colonial Marines” for a total of three days before I traded it in, was that pre-ordering trained my brain into picking it up and establishing an arrangement without gauging other options which would’ve included not buying the game at all. And when you think about it, pre-ordering doesn’t amount to much. There has rarely been a shortage of a game on its release day, and if there is a shortage, another retailer will take its place.
Since we are on the topic of Gearbox Software games already, I’d like to discuss the pre-order DLC that came with Borderlands 2 as an example for pre-order content that becomes worthless almost immediately after you boot the game up. When you pre-order “Borderlands 2,” you get a set of weapons with the company logo on them, a golden key to unlock more powerful weapons and a character class you’d have to pay $10 for if you didn’t pre-order. The Gearbox set of weapons were weak and underpowered compared to the guns the player would find. The golden key was useful but if you go to the company’s or the CEO’s Twitter accounts they give codes out fairly regularly. So the only useful perk to pre-order is the $10 character, which is nice. Unfortunately, the class was added post-launch, so everyone had already developed the original four characters with hours upon hours of playtime. To put it in layman’s terms, the $10 character was only there for the hardcore “Borderlands” players who have to max out every character and it is such a small minority compared to the general public who buy it.
One practice I’ll never understand is pre-ordering Seasons Passes for downloadable content that hasn’t even been made yet because you’re essentially throwing $20-$30 down to hope that the developer is going to make worthwhile content for the game post-launch. Again, Gearbox Software is guilty of this for “Borderlands 2” and “Aliens: Colonial Marines.” But it’s not just them either, 343 Industries continues to make “Halo 4” multiplayer maps that may or may not be up to quality standards. Gears of War 3 started this pre-ordering content season pass malarkey and infuriated me as well, because the buttery smooth multiplayer was only available to people that bought each new piece of DLC through the Season Pass.
Gamers see it all the time when a game publisher essentially brags to the media that “Assassin’s Creed III” or “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” is the most pre-ordered game in the franchise’s history. But why do this? Why care so much about pre-orders? The answer is that big pre-order numbers let a game publisher’s investors (making games is still a business) know that their money is being put toward a fruitful product. Film studios are guilty of the same “opening weekend box office” numbers because they too have investors and stockholders that they must appease first.
What can the consumer do to stop these pre-ordering practices and get companies to start looking at the long-term rather than the short-term when it comes to their products? The easy answer is to stop pre-ordering games and stop buying season passes before the content comes out. There really is no other way around it.
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