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Passing on Pre-Orders

Jessica Cook Posted:
Columns Tales from the Neighborhood 0

On Wednesday, June 3, RPG fans were treated to their first official look at Fallout 4. There were rumors that the game would be announced in a few weeks at E3, but it seems that Bethesda Game Studios decided to get a headstart on the publicity circuit with a redesigned website and a brand new trailer.

At the same time as the trailer was released to the public, Fallout 4 became available for pre-order on all of the major online or storefront retailers. We haven’t seen any in-game footage yet, or heard a release date (likely to be in 2016). There’s no feature list. No one knows what the system requirements will be. But these retailers will happily take your $60 right now!

Pre-Order Problems

Fallout 4 might be the latest example of pre-order madness, but it’s not the only one. Pre-orders have become a precision marketing tool over the last few years, particularly with the addition of vendor-specific bonuses.

To be fair, there’s nothing inherently wrong with pre-ordering a game! It’s nice to be so excited about a title that you want to show your support as soon as possible and make sure you have a copy ready to play on launch day. Pre-ordering creates a slow trickle of customers over time who purchase the game and removes any old school, server-crashing rush to quickly snap up a title the second it goes on sale.

There’s a growing problem with pre-orders though, because it seems that over time we are being asked to make fairly significant buying decisions with less and less information. For example, maybe Fallout 4 is switching genres and becoming a Real-Time Strategy game! We haven’t seen any gameplay or been told anything about what players will be doing beyond wandering around a post-apocalyptic wasteland and probably petting a dog.

It’s extremely unlikely that Bethesda will change the format of one of their most popular franchises, but the point is that we players don’t actually know but we’re being invited to spend our money anyway. And gosh, what if the game is terrible? There’s no reason to think it will be, but spending $60 on a game at least a year before we read any previews of it feels like a recipe for disappointment. (Just ask players who pre-ordered SimCity 2013.)

Small and independent studios need to find funding for their games well in advance because they have very little savings to keep themselves going during development. That is why Kickstarter and other crowd-sourcing services are so popular. Huge “AAA” studios like Bethesda, on the other hand, don’t need your money now to finish Fallout 4. They’d like it, sure, but the company is in no threat of going under or not being able to pay their staff before they release the game.

Again there’s nothing wrong with being really excited about a game and wanting to order it ahead of time, but over the years I’ve developed a rule that works pretty well for me: don’t pre-order a game more than two weeks out from its launch. By then you will likely have seen in-game footage, a feature list, and perhaps read a preview or two, and you’ll know exactly what you’re buying with your money.

Around the Blogosphere

I’m not the only person who is slightly boggled by Bethesda’s pre-order strategy. Asmiroth of Leo’s Life was also surprised by the decision. He writes in his post that while he’s excited for Fallout 4, the super early pre-order is “more like a Kickstarter without the Kickstarter, for a major gaming company”.

In other “buyer beware” news, Pete from Dragonchasers bought the brand new MMO Wander and found it to be terribly broken. Wander has an intriguing concept: it’s an MMO about exploration with no combat and no crafting. In practice, however, Pete couldn’t get over the constant graphical glitches and crashes to find out what Wander has to offer.

If all this talk of super early pre-orders and buggy game launches has got you down about game marketing, you might enjoy this post by MrLuvvaLuvva on “Why We Need E3”. Mr. L argues that E3 is still relevant in our digital era because it brings gamers together and gives us something to look forward to. It’s easy to start thinking of publishers as just big corporations, so some of the magic of games is restored when we see real people out on a real stage talking about what exciting things they’ve been working on lately.

Sonja at Soultamer Gaming has been psyching herself up to join a team of real players in Guns of Icarus Online. In her post she writes about the nervousness that most players feel when trying a cooperative team game for the first time. What if you don’t know everything? What if it all goes wrong? Sonja concludes that sometimes you just have to put aside your fears and get playing.

EverQuest is almost 16 years old, but Simcha from Simcha’s Many Lives is playing the game for the very first time. She writes about her adventures as a newbie in an old school MMO, including trying to figure out the wardrobe system and getting stuck in a lake. She also learns, much to her surprise, that EverQuest doesn’t have any quests! This post series is a wonderful fresh take on an old classic title.

And that’s the news from the blogosphere for this week! If you know of a blog post that should be highlighted here, leave a link in the comments or let me know on Twitter at @Liores.


Jessica Cook

Jessica "Liores" Cook is a longtime MMO blogger, fan, aficionado, and community goodwill ambassador. She hosts the MMO podcast Game On, and writes the weekly column: Tales from the Neighborhood. You can read more at www.lioreblog.com.