Pre-ordering games before their release is a controversial topic among gamers. Some see it as an attempt to siphon more money away from the consumer before the game has even proven its worth. Indeed, the large companies such as Ubisoft, Creative Assembly and the eternal boogie-man EA have all used pre-orders to hype up their respective games. Grand Theft Auto 5 sold an alarming 7 million copies before it even saw the light of day. In any other medium, paying for something before it is shown to be worth the money seems like the daftest thing since calling PUBG “ESports Ready”, but in many ways, it is the lifeblood of the gaming industry. I am not referring to the giant megaliths that dominate the gaming industry today – they really don’t need the money. I am referring to the indie projects that are on a lifeline before their release date.
The thinking goes that “pre-ordering” the game guarantees revenue during the cash dry months before a game is released. This is exactly the time when smaller, more indie developers feel the strain the most. Games such as “The Binding of Isaac”, “Super Meat Boy” and other titles would have been canceled or postponed were it not for the generous investment of users dedicated to seeing the game through. In this situation, pre-ordering games is, in part, a noble act which sustains video games by supporting them when they need it the most. This does not extend, however, to AAA games. In order to explain why pre-ordering is a bad idea for mainstream franchises, I shall tell you a story from 2013.
I have, and always will be, a fan of the Total War franchise. If you don’t know, it is an AAA franchise by Creative Assembly, involving strategic battles with large armies and a grand strategy “map mode” for global conquest. I own every single game in the franchise, so when I saw that Rome 2 Total War was coming out in a few months, I made my first ever pre-order and waited eagerly for its release in September. When it did release, it is hard to describe how broken it was. A 50GB file followed by a 20 GB update on day one. AI armies suicide charging into your defenses or standing still for 40 minutes doing nothing, with the greatest zeal I have seen in a video game. What I thought would be an epic siege of Rome turned into the battle of bizzares as boats traveled on land and the enemy formed a single file conga line into the city. In short: a mess. The game was unplayable and pre-ordering it did nothing to remedy its quality. Indie games can be this terrible on release but Creative Assembly did not need my money to stay afloat and it still produced a terrible game. My money did not go to making someone’s creative dream come alive, I was just one of the 100,000 poor souls who gave a corporation its paycheck early.