Looking back, I can’t really remember the first game I pre-ordered. I don’t remember when the trend started or the first game to feature pre-order bonuses. However, I do remember why pre-orders were originally created – to ensure you got your copy of a game or console on release day.
This, except in very few circumstances, isn’t the case anymore.
Games continue to be big business. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, chances are you can find the majority of game releases on launch day just about anywhere, whether it be Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, or Gamestop. Interestingly enough, almost every one of these retailers use pre-orders in some shape or form, despite the chances of being sold out of a particular game day one are slim.
So what exactly do gamers get out of pre-ordering?
Well, to be honest, not much.
Say you want to pre-order a game from GameStop; let’s use Bioshock: Infinite as an example. You are, for whatever reason, disillusioned and afraid of not being able to find a copy of this major game release on launch day. So you stroll on down to your local GameStop to ensure you will be zip lining through the skies of Columbia come launch day. When asked how much money you want to put down on the game, you flop a five dollar bill out of your wallet and hand it to the cashier. No big deal, right? As a freebie for pre-ordering you get this wonderful in game shotgun – neat.
So what did that five dollars do exactly? Well, the idea is that your hard earned five bucks is ensuring you get the game day one. But if the retailer is getting a large shipment of the games in, what’s the point of spending money to ensure you are going to get something you would get anyway?
Game companies and retailers get plenty out of it though. Pre-order numbers give both game publishers and retailers a rough idea of about how many copies a game will sell upon launch. For retailers, there is a reason the trend has caught on in recent years – GameStop, Wal-Mart and every other game retailer is basically getting free money while providing you with almost nothing in return.
Your five bucks is essentially buying (the majority of the time) a useless in game item. Worst case scenario your five bucks is completely wasted if you A.) Forget to pick up the game or B.) Simply don’t want the game anymore.
So when does it actually make sense to pre-order? Usually when you know there will be a limited supply of the item you want in stock, such as Collector Editions of games or newly released game consoles. These are much harder to come by and you will most likely not get one if you do not pre-order. Midnight releases also require pre-orders. If you can’t wait an extra 9 or 10 hours to get your hands on the hottest title and your retailer is doing a midnight release, it might be worth it to pre-order.
Another reason to pre-order is when a pre-order bonus is actually appealing. Pre-order bonuses emerged as an incentive to pre-order the game, and later attract consumers away from the competition by providing better or different bonuses specific to the retailer. Most of the time they are complete trash, an additional weapon skin or maybe some extra in-game money. There are, however, occasionally some really cool pre-order bonuses. I know I’m not the only one who remembers the excellent Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker pre-order bonus – a copy of Ocarina of time and Master Quest. Sometimes you can get some really cool real life swag from pre-ordering. I recently pre-ordered the DC fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us to pick up a couple of cool alternate reality skins. Russian Solomon Grundy anyone?
Ultimately though, pre-ordering just isn’t worth it. There is very little point in buying car insurance if the chances of getting into an accident (magically) are zero. Same goes for pre-ordering. If it’s a mainstream, big game release, don’t pre-order. I guarantee you will get a copy – and your wallet will stay a little fatter as a result.