You should never, ever pre-order a video game

While it might be tempting, you should almost never pre-order an upcoming video game.

(Xbox 360 Controller image by Dominic Hallau, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Have you ever pre-ordered a video game? Did you feel good about yourself after doing so? Yes? No? Truth is, you should almost never, ever, pre-order a video game.

A pre-order does virtually nothing for you, but it does a great deal for various other parties. First off, it's a free loan. Think about it. You're essentially giving a game retailer 5 or more dollars for free. All you get back in return is a receipt that you've done so. A big-name retailer now has your $5 that it, in turn, can do whatever it wants with. Sure, it might seem trivial on a small scale, but multiply your $5 by the amount of pre-orders made a day, and we're talking millions of free unearned dollars here.

Game distributors and retailers also use pre-order data to gauge interest in a title. They're basically using your donation to measure how successful a marketing campaign is, even before anyone has played the game. And once you've pledged those few dollars, odds are you'll be back, come release day. If not, the money stays with the retailer, where you'll most likely use it on another title — or even worse, forget about it.

While it used to be a means of securing a game so you wouldn't be out of luck on day one, pre-ordering has devolved into a misleading illusion. Once you filter through the useless plastic action figures, pointless downloadable content (DLC) and other nonsense incentives designed to lure unsuspecting consumers in, it's easy to realise you're being sold the artificial idea of product security. Unless you're literally in the middle of nowhere and the closest game store is 60 kilometres away, odds are you'll be able to find a new game on the day that it launches.

(Credit: ComicVine)

Perhaps the ugliest mutation of pre-order hysteria has been the introduction of retailer-specific exclusive DLC. This means that the pre-order incentive will vary, depending on where you buy the game. EB Games may give you the in-game pink rocket-launcher, but JB Hi-Fi is offering a camo jumpsuit for your avatar. At the end of the day, it's all junk and will likely have no impact on your experience with the game as a whole.

Developers get forced into playing along with these "bonuses", so why would they ever favour one add-on, over the other? Not once has a developer ever come up to me and said, "You know, if I were buying this, I'd really want to pick it up from Games Warehouse over Target".

If you're concerned about collecting all of these retail-specific add-ons, there's a chance that they will be available to everyone at some point. The only catch here is that you'll probably have to wait a while, and it'll come at a price.

So when is it OK to pre-order? Never! Haven't you been reading this? Actually, there are still a few legitimate reasons why you should do so. As I mentioned above, pre-ordering is acceptable if you take up residence in an area where game stores aren't exactly plentiful. If you need to plan an entire day around making a trip to the game store because it takes an hour to get there, by all means, pre-order.

When else is it OK to pre-order? On the occasion that you are interested in a rare title — I'm talking about a game that could never have a commercial, or any type of advertising, because of its grass-roots tribulations in even becoming an actual game. Odds are that there won't be many of them made, so securing your copy isn't a terrible idea. If the game you're interested in was headlined in an E3 press conference, or has an advertising campaign tie-in with a popular soft drink, do yourself a favour and hold on to that 5 bucks.


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AdelaideN posted a comment   

Say that to my "super-bitchin'" Borderlands 2 pre-order!


nanorazor posted a comment   

If you have the cash, the game you pre order is from a reputable game studio and they offer a special edition that would run out, why would you not pre order that game?


gen_x posted a comment   

If what you are saying is true, then nobody would ever bother getting this "junk"... and yet strangely they do.

Nice to see that your view on what is junk is only your view. Remember what they say; "One man's junk is another mans treasure" :-)


AndyS5 posted a comment   

lol thats bs. The reason we pre-order is so that the game isnt sold out so that we get a copy the day it's released!


bobbinsnest posted a comment   

This is the most BS article I've read in a long while. Please hold your stupid opinions to yourself. What a waste of my time!


Tom211 posted a comment   

I agree with the comments. The company is going to get your money eventually anyway right? Yes they do include most 'special editions' with alot of bloated crap (not to mention DLC) but some people actually enjoy that crap.

and yeah what about if your buy it online??


jfk_01 posted a comment   

Don't forget that sometimes, pre-ordering is the only viable option.
Let's talk D3: those who missed out on preordering can now get the Collector's Edition on Ebay... for $300.
Now, those who pre-ordered FF13-2, really screwed up because you can Collector's Edition on Mighty Ape for half the price.
The point is, you can't just condemn pre-ordering and limit it to 'grassroots games'.
Sometimes, the consumer SHOULD pre-order.
-ends rant-


jakirk01 posted a comment   

what if you buy games online and pre-order so it ships in time to receive it launch day? if I buy on launch day, I get it the next day! no good.


CarlC posted a comment   

Jeff mate you have no clue... If people didn't pre-order they would miss out on most limited edition game packages (ie. Diablo 3 - awesome box and contents, great game, crap online server... or any other epic collectors editions for games, especially those that come with collectable models). You gave one reason for pre-ordering because of grassroots games - like what? Maybe your confusing grassroots for hard to get foreign titles (ie. Japanese RPGs).


Chandler posted a comment   

I'm going to assume you're talking US$ there Jeff - being able to preorder ANY game in Australia will probably set you back at LEAST AU$50, if not more than AU$100... especially if you're involving EB Games.

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