In 2014 the only games I pre-ordered were Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and LittleBigPlanet 3. The former was because I was certain of its quality, and being a huge Smash Bros. fan I simply had to grab it on day one, while the latter was due to me having a few friends around on that particular evening who wanted to play some fun multiplayer games and, being well-versed in the joys of the LBP universe, I was sure that LBP 3 would be the game for us.
While I was correct in my assumption that Smash Bros. would experience no problems come its launch day, LBP 3 was a different ball game. The game crashed every 30 or so minutes, an array of level-specific bugs were littered throughout its story mode and venturing into player-created levels online led to it becoming crippled by lag, rendering it virtually unplayable. It was a mess, and I’d have to wait a good few weeks for patches to be released that brought it up to a standard of quality I was comfortable with playing.
Of course, that wasn’t the only game last year that suffered with teething issues. The most notable were the PS4 exclusive DriveClub and the Xbox One exclusive Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which failed to get off the ground on their respective release dates and then continued to struggle in the following weeks. DriveClub‘s server issues led to its online modes being thoroughly broken, with its touted free PS Plus version being put on indefinite hiatus as a result, while The Master Chief Collection sullied the reputation of developer 343 Industries as they tarnished the reliability of the sci-fi shooting series by releasing the game in a torrid state, with matchmaking issues galore and online problems that even sought to infest the single-player component of the game.
If you chose to pre-order Assassin’s Creed Unity, you may have been greeted by hellish nightmare material such as this.
Outside of those two high-profile and notably terrible examples of launch day issues there was also Assassin’s Creed Unity, which featured a stuttering framerate and an obscene amount of bugs and glitches in the week of its release, Destiny’s sign-in issues on PS4 and framerate problems on Xbox One, and Warlords of Draenors‘ endless barrage of queues to gain access to a server. In the first full year of the current-gen consoles being on sale, it became more and more apparent that developers and publishers were rushing their games to store shelves before they were finished, and we all suffered as a result.
Unfortunately, thanks to the magic of pre-orders, many of these games still received decent to healthy amounts of sales despite them each being launched in an unforgivable state. There is no logic behind pre-ordering games anymore, as the whole concept behind the transaction – reserving your games to ensure that they don’t sell out on their launch day – is now entirely redundant. It’s incredibly rare for a game to be sold out both at retail and in online stores, with even huge releases such as Grand Theft Auto V remaining in stock. The only reasoning being given by devs and pubs to invest in a game prior to its launch is pre-purchase bonuses, which are steadily becoming one of the very worst things in the gaming industry as a whole.
I’ve never particularly been a fan of pre-purchase “goodies,” though as someone who has pre-ordered a lot of games in his time, I have admittedly taken advantage of them on the odd occasion. Previously these bonuses were restricted to a silly hat for your player-character, some XP buffs in an online multiplayer game or, more shamefully, the Xbox One Day One achievement, but now the industry is headed down a path where more loathsome strategies are being put in place to inveigle consumers to throw down their dough before learning whether or not the game is actually worth buying.
Pre-ordering Evolve gets you all the game’s unlockable characters right out of the gate. That’s not fun.
The most heinous example of this involves a game that has been touted as one of 2015’s most highly anticipated releases, Evolve. The team-based shooting game made by the team behind the Left 4 Dead series, Turtle Rock Studios, has a frankly baffling amount of pre-purchase and DLC options available to the player, each one more ludicrous than the last. While it’s not exactly the first game to offer perks to those who pre-order a game that serve to give them a advantage in multiplayer combat, the bonus rewarded to early adopters of Evolve instantly unlocks every character in the game.
While Turtle Rock has stated that this does not put those who have chosen to not pre-order the game at a disadvantage, it’s difficult to belief that this is the case given that those who receive this “bonus” are basically being given a buffet table of content to choose from right out of the starting gate, whereas those who didn’t pre-order are left with the starting monsters and must work their way up – y’know, how things should be done in a video game.
This pre-order bonus rids the whole process of unlocking cool items and characters of its sense of achievement, shifting the focus away from skill and placing it upon cash instead. Aside from it being anti-consumer in a business sense, it’s also not very fun, with this pre-order bonus only serving to reward those who will risk investing in game they haven’t played yet, rather than actually adding anything to the game itself. Given that Evolve’s bread and butter will be online multiplayer, what happens if the game follows the fate of some of its peers and winds up being virtually unplayable on its launch day, with server crashes, matchmaking time-outs and the array of other problems we witnessed plague certain PS4 and Xbox One games in 2014? While Turtle Rock and 2K will hardly want this to be the case, some of the pressure to release a fully functional online game with zero problems will be lifted from their shoulders if enough pre-orders roll in prior to the game’s release. This is why we all have to stop pre-ordering games.
Gamers refusing pre-orders would mean that we’d likely never see a launch day disaster a la DriveClub rarely happen again.
There is positively no need for us to pre-order games in this day and age. The bonuses offered to us by publishers and developers are becoming much more exclusionary, moving away from little tokens of appreciation to things that can do damage to the game in the long run, all for the sake of driving in early sales. Aside from putting players who choose not to pre-purchase the game at a disadvantage, Evolve‘s pre-order bonus also serves to harm its replayability for those who choose to be early adopters, negating the need to play the game in order to unlock the good stuff in favor of giving said stuff to players right out of the starting gate.
Though perhaps it’s naive to believe that a mass refusal of pre-orders will ever happen, if it were to take place then it will undoubtedly cause publishers and developers to ensure that their games are competent and functioning from day one. Considering the amount of problems games had on launch day last year, and Evolve spearheading a new, much more anti-player direction for the industry in 2015, I’m hoping that many will come to their senses and realize that pre-orders are ultimately harmful to our enjoyment of video games and it’s something that we need to collectively stand up against.