2015 is set to be a huge year for videogames and an expensive year for gamers. After taking a while to get up to speed, the new console generation should be shifting into gear next month and gathering serious momentum.
While the last twelve months have undeniably delivered some great games, there's also no denying that many of us will be keen to leave 2014's swathe of broken, deceptively marketed and overhyped titles behind. So it's probably time we talked about pre-orders then.
The subject of pre-orders has come up countless times in our podcasts and articles over the last few years, but even if you're not a regular, you'll know that pledging to buy videogames before they've even created has become a hot-button issue. Games releasing broken or not resembling their marketing materials is bad enough, while publishers have locked into the business practice so hard that games are being split up just to force fans to do it. Pre-orders are a tough subject to tackle, especially since, on paper, they're completely pointless and don't benefit us in any way whatsoever.
Should we do it? If so, how should we pre-order videogames? And which should we pre-order? Let's try to find some answers.
Several high-profile YouTubers have already weighed in on the subject of pre-orders (notably Total Biscuit's "Should You Pre-Order Videogames") and you can't argue with the logic. Or in other words, logically, no, you shouldn't pre-order videogames.
Buying something sight unseen before it's even been developed is a mug's game, pure and simple, but think of the financial implications too. Games plummet in price scant days after launch and by locking in early you're paying more to effectively beta test a product. Waiting a few days at least will let you properly read around, check out YouTube footage or your favourite streamers and then get involved when fully informed. For less. And missing out on nothing except a a few hours of boosted XP or some poxy 'extras' such as pre-order DLC (which will probably still be available post-launch from many retailers and serial resellers anyway).
So logically, then, you should never pre-order a videogame unless stocks are guaranteed to be incredibly limited at launch.
But there's a problem. Videogames aren't logical, are they?
We're not Vulcans. We don't play videogames because it's logical. We play them because they're magical, because we're excited about them, because we want to escape into a new world, re-enter a familiar setting, catch up with our favourite characters or immerse ourselves. Or, more often than not, have fun. There's nothing quite like getting into a game on day one after months of anticipation, whether solo or online, and by pre-ordering we can guarantee that we'll be through the door as soon as humanly possible. And perhaps with some extra merch for our trouble.
That's why we pre-order games. So, at the risk of coming across like a hypocrite, go for it. And at the risk of coming across like a mercenary hypocrite, allow me to add the following addendum:
You should only pre-order a videogame if you can secure a decent saving versus RRP.
Come on now. I write for a deals site. We and HUKD will save you money given half a chance, and a little savvy shopping over the months before a game's launch will almost certainly guarantee you a serious discount. If you're excited about a game and have done your homework, go ahead and fill your boots while saving some cash. So there you have it...
...is what I would have said last January, or any previous year, but unfortunately the pre-order tunnel goes even further.
More than any other time in gaming history, I'd urge you to think about what your money represents and whether the company in question actually deserves your pre-order in the first place!
2014 saw games that cost upwards of £40-50 release in an unacceptably broken state. Or stuffed full of abusive microtransactions. Or tethered to aggravating third-party DRM platforms. Or nothing like their advertising suggested. Or in the case of Assassin's Creed Unity, most of the above.
Pre-ordering Halo 5 or Assassin's Creed Victory, just to single out two obvious offenders, sends the clear message that releasing broken games is fine in the long run. That there are no ramifications to doing so, and that us gamers are willing to forget practically anything like money-dispensing goldfish. It shows the industry that we don't care about abusive business practices so long as we can buy the sequel early.
I can't tell you how to spend your money, and we'll still post competitive pre-order deals if and when they appear. But I'd ask you, honestly, to at least think about it the next time you're tempted to pre-order a game, and whether waiting might be the smarter play for you, your cash and perhaps even the industry as a whole in some small way. You might find yourself better off in more ways than one.