The Preorder System Is Broken

Assassin's Creed III was the 8th-best-selling game on Best Buy's website last week, underscoring a troubling trend of how little publishers have to do to get gamers' money.

For the week ending March 10, the Xbox 360 edition of Assassin's Creed III was the 8th-best-selling game on BestBuy.com. Yes, that's the same Assassin's Creed III that was officially unveiled March 5, but isn't scheduled to hit store shelves until October 30. With little more to go on than a teaser trailer and a promise of steelbook packaging with Alex Ross art, gamers ordered the next installment in Ubisoft's stealth action franchise more than games that were actually out, including new and recent releases like Street Fighter X Tekken, Major League Baseball 2K12, Mario Party 9, and SSX.

You've got seven months to figure out if you want to buy this game or not. Maybe you don't need to preorder it just yet.

This isn't to say Assassin's Creed III won't be great, or that gamers shouldn't be excited about it. It comes from a known series with a history of acclaimed games and features an intriguing premise with its Colonial American setting. But the fact that this many consumers are eager to fork over money for a product before they can make a truly informed decision is troubling.

Many industry watchers--myself included--have decried the anti-consumer impact that new trends like downloadable content and microtransaction-driven free-to-play games are having on the industry. But it's not like the traditional preorder system for $60 retail games is a model of aboveboard dealings, either.

There was a time when preorders served a valuable purpose. … Times have changed.

There was a time when preorders served a valuable purpose, when games came on cartridges, release dates were vague, and supply chains were slow to respond to consumer demand. I remember wasting weekend afternoons driving around the Dallas-Ft. Worth area with my brother, scouring stores for FIFA International Soccer and John Madden Football '93, and being told time and again to check back in a matter of weeks. I also remember Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and other mainstream retailers never getting their copies anywhere close to release day, and Funco Land, Babbage's, and Software Etc. never having extra stock for those who didn't preorder.

Times have changed. Street dates are dictated and enforced. Major retailers know they need to have stock on day one or they'll lose the diehard gamer audience that spends money on the hobby year-round. And if your preferred store does run short of copies, there are dozens of online retailers eager to have the business, some with free shipping or no sales tax to make up for the wait. And then there's the fact that more games are launching in downloadable form on day one than ever before. If GameStop didn't order enough copies of Mass Effect 3 for the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation Network has roughly infinite digital copies of the game ready to start downloading this instant.

One bright side of digital distribution is that it largely negates the push for preorders.

These days, the biggest reason gamers have to preorder is schwag. Whether it's a premium priced bundle that could conceivably be in short supply or a bit of retailer-exclusive downloadable content, these preorder campaigns play on gamers' desire to have a complete gaming experience, from the branded bookends to the alternate costumes and weapon packs. But the way the system works now, preordering still doesn't complete the game. Competing retailer-exclusive bonuses prevent anyone from getting everything with a single purchase, and an avalanche of postlaunch DLC leaves gaps in the vast majority of major releases' launch-day offerings.

So what does preordering accomplish? Well, it sends a message to publishers. Unfortunately, money isn't the most articulate carrier of human communication. To gamers, a Lollipop Chainsaw preorder might say, "I appreciate the weird games Suda-51 makes. Please give him money to make more original titles." To a publisher, that same preorder could say, "I likes me sum zombiez and sex. Plz make Lollipop 2 with more zombiez and boobs," or even, "I like pop culture references so much that I preordered your game for the exclusive Ash from Evil Dead costume. Please do more campaigns like this in the future."

In a broader sense, a preorder for a sequel--especially one that's seven months away like Assassin's Creed III--tells publishers that things like word of mouth or firsthand experience are unimportant. It tells them that there's no need to risk money on something truly original, because there's no shortage of people willing to buy more of the same thing that worked before. (Spy Party developer Chris Hecker called it "an appetite for sameness" in his excellent Game Developers Conference presentation last week, and correctly identified it as a problem whose blame is shared across the development, press, and gamer communities.) Finally, it tells them that gamers are fine with the way things are and will wholeheartedly support their continuing down a path that puts the emphasis (and budget) not on a game's quality, but on its marketing.

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Discussion

514 comments
m4t3u5LP
m4t3u5LP

I think it's ridiculous how now days they have all these stupid pre-order bonuses and DLCs and character packs etc. Those things Shouldn't be needed. DLCs should be included in the game from the beginning, instead of making us put $20+ into PSN to get the complete experience. Pre-ordering shouldnt be needed anymore. It was originally meant to help fix a shaky system like he said, but now that it's solid, pre-ordering became a new way to rob us of money. I will buy this. Assassin's Creed is a great series, and this installment will most likely be just as great. Good enough to pre-order though? Never.

isshiah
isshiah

i preorder so i can pay the game off slowly. all these bonuses are nice but annoying if you don't want to buy a copy from every store. i cancelled my ME3 preorder because i didn't like the bonus, so i went to a different store.

Ioriya
Ioriya

I think baat is just mad at his own life, so he needs to take it out on a comment box

Chavis02
Chavis02

Y U NO WORK Preorder System!? DAMN YOU Preorder System! D:

bandit7319
bandit7319

I completely agree with the last statement - "It tells them that there's no need to risk money on something truly original" and the "appetite for sameness". That's one of the things that I hate about gaming trends. Actually, entertainment trends in general. I was born in 83, and before the last maybe two generations, a game rarely made it past 3 or 4 sequels. There are hardly any brand new games coming out. Instead of looking forward to new and exciting games, all we have is the next part of a game we already know. While that's great for business as far as money as concerned, it sucks for us yearning for new things. Just looking at the top 10 games for 360 now, 8 of the 10 games are sequels to established franchises. I hate that with the way things are going, all we're going to have to look forward to are Mass Effect 7, Silent Hill 12, Assassin's Creed 5, Resident Evil 16, etc. etc.

FlameBeast4000
FlameBeast4000

Wait, what does "informed decision" mean? As I recall, Gamespot has officially stated that any game receiving a score higher than a 6 should be bought and played by anyone interested. A 7.5 translates to "get this game if you like these kinds of games". I also seem to recall them saying that a player shouldn't base their purchases on reviews, and just try the games for themselves. I still think this view makes reviews entirely pointless, but that's not really my point. How does a gamer make informed purchases when reviews are irrelevant to whether or not they should pick up a game? Or is this article just saying to wait for some gameplay videos? Also, I think those players who preordered are indeed sending the message that they want more Assassin's Creed. I don't think that's in any way a misinterpretation of the sales data.

SkinnyMRH22
SkinnyMRH22

I put $5 down for AC3 on Tuesday for that Collector's Tin. Now I'm F'd if they do another pre-order bonus.

AncientDozer
AncientDozer

@WizardGlass Back up, child. I don't know you and I don't agree with you. Baat is someone I do know and respect so I'm more inclined to side with Gelugon over you.

AncientDozer
AncientDozer

@Gelugon_baat To blindside you, of course. And because I thought it was hilarious. But also because, like in Dune, our efforts to make things easier and convenient through technology and advancement can have unintended consequences or create problems (In Dune, man became increasingly reliant on 'thinking machines' which ended up taking over and enslaving man; I am not suggesting, however, that preorders will not rise up against us). For instance, what the article lists or how people fear (and probably rightfully so) robotic assembly lines put people out of work. The worm poop thing was just for gags. As someone who has always preordered, I've never really ran into the problems you describe but I understand them and feel for my comrades in arms who are left out. I do feel it is unfair and potentially unscrupulous in certain cases (Such as the much feared and speculated efforts of EA supposedly taking out game content and releasing it as DLC). A fine line is being walked.

BryanParksSuper
BryanParksSuper

AC is becoming the COD of gaming. Releasing a new one every year. I played AC 1 and hated it. AC3 being set in Revolution is just stupid. Maybe if a AC was set in Modern times like New York people would buy them. I would love a AC set in a real world setting. Oh well.

jaifrecap
jaifrecap

I have never preordered a game in my life :P I doubt I ever will.

ManfromRedRiver
ManfromRedRiver

This article is calling the pre-orders of ACIII a "troubling trend of how little publishers have to do to get gamers' money?" Well, if "how little publishers have to do" is referring to putting out FOUR amazing, groundbreaking, consistently quality games in a row... then, yeah, I guess that is all they have to do. Gee... why doesn't everyone just start doing that? According to the writer of this article that must be EASY! So, writer, how many games of the quality level of the AC series did you make last week? Like 10?

SauhlGood
SauhlGood

its not that bad GS, games still live and fall by their quality, sure you can garner a core fanship, but even they will leave a developer if they really drop the ball... if anything this age of pre-orders will spell more failure for the lazy devs/pubs who wont release proper sequels. there are games that are just so massive you cant see a downfall for them anytime soon, cod, wow.....they seemingly operate on blind faith from their user base, but even that will be shortlived.... evolve or die, is not just a darwinian adage, even little children who are easily amused by flashy toys eventually grow up, and if devs cant satisfy growing/changing tastes they best be prepared to see their user bases drop. stagnant waters breed no life and its the indie movement that is really shaking things up, we need the ideas of these quirky developers because mainstream devs only know how to dumb-down and FPS a game... what is ME's gameplay but FPS(beware the rooms with boxes), with none of the D&D stuff that inspired its 1st game

Kendojin
Kendojin

It's not the system that's broken, it's the people, gaming is more than a hobby now and fans have become obsessed with their favorite titles. On the good side, Assassins Creed is a quality franchise that Ubisoft has been building and improving upon since it started so I can understand people preordering III so early, I will admit this is too early even if I love AC. Also I love this statement that they made in this article, "It tells them that there's no need to risk money on something truly original, because there's no shortage of people willing to buy more of the same thing that worked before." Call of Duty anyone?

Alucard9114
Alucard9114

My last five games have needed like 4 patches to make them playable im going to start waiting for the 3rd patch release date rater than the actual game release date.

Alucard9114
Alucard9114

i miss the old days of video games when developers were more concerned with a finished product then with pre order digital content.

oflow
oflow

AC4 should star Stephen Colbert set in the modern day.

Agent-M
Agent-M

"It tells them that there's no need to risk money on something truly original, because there's no shortage of people willing to buy more of the same thing that worked before." - I couldn't agree more.Somehow I couldn't stop thinking of apple products when reading the above statement.

altjay88
altjay88

wow is all i have to say to that. i'm interested in this new AC3 too, but its WAY to early to preorder the thing. the idea of the games being DLC is right up my ally to. the digital era is coming up fast. I expect like alot of people that in the next couple years it'll always be a DLC release. in which case...i'll probably buy more games. but something this article didn't touch on is the DLC game vs disc game prices. why is it that a DLC of a game cost the same as the disc?? shouldn't the DLC be cheaper, even if only slightly? you get no case, no booklet. sure thats not a big deal but I am positive others like me would buy it sooner if it was even just 10bucks cheaper as a DLC. otherwise i'll wait it out and eventually a bundle with ALL the dlc for the game will come out WITH the game as a DLC...problem solved.

creatorsid
creatorsid

Hay!, a lot of the times people like games the way they are (C&C?) with just New Graphics and toys. Dungeons was no Dungeon Keeper? If You want to remake the wheel try coming up with a new Game and sale Points :-\

WoZe
WoZe

Why would anyone preorder a Ubisoft title? Chances are it will be 20 bucks a few months after release. I've been burned a few times on past AC games. In this case the steelbook is the only reason to preorder but even that you can get cheap on ebay. Save your money people unless you're fanatical about supporting developers..in that case get it on release.

dman123_1
dman123_1

@doc_folk those things take time to make, just like games that came on cartridges took time to make. Pre-ordering games then was necessary because they only shipped out so much and by the time another batch would come could take weeks. Now we are in a time where if you can't get it here, you can get it online with next day shipping, or even download it. Also with many stores carrying games, you are sure to find one store carrying it; they can mass produce the games at a much quicker rate than they could with cartridges. Pre ordering Iphones and computers are not as simple as putting game data on a disc, there are still possibilities of shortages of those things which pre-ordering can be necessary because those shortages can last weeks. Pre-ordering may be fine if it's a new installment, but for something like assassins creed which has success, all it is to them is just a head count of how much they will make off of pre orders rather than how much they will need to ship out to a particular store

megakick
megakick

You can cancel preorders. I put 5 dollars down, Preorder don't mean anything if it sucks I don't buy it and get my 5 dollars back.

MrLockthorne
MrLockthorne

Counterpoint: Pre-ordering Xenoblade or The Last Story tells NOA, "Hey, we really like original games that are intuitive, have a moving story-line, and that's all around awesome. GIVE US PANDORA'S TOWER!!!!!" *Ahem* Sorry about that. But there are ups and downs to pre-orders, but I don't see the whole system flawed, just some areas.

Doc_Fulk
Doc_Fulk

This writer of this article can't understand why fans of a game would pre-order the next installment? I'm sure the writer practices what he preaches with his iPhone, iPad, a new car, his computer(s)... etc. etc., right? Not.

mike300zxt
mike300zxt

I don't understood the purpose of a pre-order these days. Why give your money away for nothing 6 months early! Besides, I want to see the reviews before I buy. With all these gimmicks like pre-order content, DLC, seasons pass, exclusives, first play crap, who can keep it all straight! So I'm more likely just to wait until the game hits $20-$30 before buying it, or wait for a game of the year edition that comes with everything! Better value, less headache.

Marscaleb
Marscaleb

You know what might work? How about when you buy a game you can register it, and when you register it you have the ability to actually tell the publishers/developers WHY you bought the game, so nobody needs to guess about what they liked about it. Use a simple system that let's people assign values to popular reasons (ie if pre-order bonuses were a minor influence or major influence) and allow people to submit custom reasons.

DraconisRex
DraconisRex

I don't pre-order. You can always get the game within hours, especially if you've got a fast internet connection. But beyond that, I've always felt the best policy is to wait a couple of weeks. This allows you to avoid buying a lot of bad games. And you give the developers time to fix all those bugs that seem to be endemic to intiial release. I think of all the bad games I wanted but didn't buy because after a couple of weeks it became clear they were bad games -- Spore, Duke Nukem Forever, Dragon Age 2 and a lot more that I've pretty much forgotten about though occasionally see in the bargain bin.

Gears189
Gears189

I've never had to pre-order a game so I don't get this argument. Even when Halo 2 came out I was still able to walk into the store the next day and get a copy. That was the last Halo I played. Bungie kind of lost me when they went on their world domination bit. Very rarely do I have to have a game so bad to justify pre-ordering it and I consider myself a well versed gamer. Which reminds me I still need to beat River Raid for the Atari. That game is hard.

SheerMadness84
SheerMadness84

@RE4GreatesGame wow slow down their fanboy. Did I ever say AC was better than MGS? MGS is the reason their is an AC. I am a hardcore MGS fan. Revengence doesnt look like Jojima Productions best efforts compare it to the MGS4 trailer. Yeah. It ABANDONS the TACTICAL ESPIONAGE ACTION forumula that makes the MGS games so great. I could care less what happens after MGS4 with Raiden, It wont explain how he got into a mechanical body, MGS>AC I only preordered AC for the enviorment setting I love the American Revlution. MGS I love. But not every game BY THEM is AMAZING Revengence will suck. Its done by platinum games so what? Kojima is barely touching it and having his drones do it. consider me uninterested until a price drop. And it was SUPPOSED to use the KINECt and MOvE but that got canned. sorry I dont want a hack and Slash. Bayonetta isnt MGS. sorry

AncientDozer
AncientDozer

@Gelugon_baat Always in a heap of trouble, eh Baat? Seems like you're always near points of contention. I don't know why, but the article reminds me of Dune. Well, technically Pre-Dune or the history behind Dune, rather. Where life just got so awesome and great, with thinking machines, that we were utterly incapable by ourselves and we got taken over. And then there was a jihad and worms crapped spice which gave us precog powers. I don't really know how that fits into the analogy but I always thought super power-granting worm poop was the shi-- Anyway. The idea that something convenient could be counter productive is both alarming and hard to imagine (well, not that hard when it's convenient to dump you waste in the water instead of recycle but I digress). But it's true. Sad but true that we could be engineering our own downfall and there's no reapers to save us! Ho ho ho. Ahem. But then again, is it not best to give the people what they want?

ElJefeDeMedios
ElJefeDeMedios

I am bad about pre-ordering ... but I also CANCEL those pre-orders if I see anything that leads me to think a game will be sh*t .. I doubt I am the only one that does that etiher ....

OmegaSpider227
OmegaSpider227

@XxKing_BlazexX Yea but in those 3 years, 3 more Assassin's creed games have been released consecutively. If there had been even a single year's gap between 2 and Brotherhood or Brotherhood and Revelations, you'd see significantly less of these "recycled like call of duty" comments.

XxKing_BlazexX
XxKing_BlazexX

All this talk about "recycled like call of duty" you guys do know this game has been in development for 3 years right?

GiantsFan2290
GiantsFan2290

you guys do realized that even after getting your money it is still in the compnaies best interest to make the best game possible so we will throw more money at them in the future...the pre-order system is not the problem...the problems are companies thinking that the crap they are flinging our way is satisfactory

SheerMadness84
SheerMadness84

@RE4GreatesGame "Its not about whichever studio worked on it. A game should require undivided attention. A great example to give is the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Konami & Hideo Kojima "ALWAYS" give their undivided attention to an upcoming Metal Gear Solid game. The average cycle of a MGS game is "4 YEARS!!!". That says it all. When a MGS game does eventually come out it raises the bar for the industry. The fans themselves continue to argue this very day about which MGS game is the best. " Um thats a blant lie right there. HAVE YOU SEEN Metal Gear: Rising: revengences New trailer? its terrible! Platinum Games is Developing it, and its all about that no no talent gay person since 2 Raiden. This isnt lighting bolt action, its freaking Hack and Slash which is not Metal Gear. Kojima isnt even directing it hes barely producing to work on the fox engine and MGS5. I am going to say this game is going to be as gay as MGS VR missions!!!! before saying Kojima delverers greatness, do your reasearch before glorifying every MGS game I am a huge MGS fan but Rising revengence is going to suck.

SheerMadness84
SheerMadness84

I love Alex Ross. the fact that two of my friends got me into Assassins Creeed series was a reason for me to preorder. I remember back in the 2000s the Pokemon games where a pain in the arse to find at EB games. the employees where jerks too. PS2 games where hard to find and preorder as well. sometimes a game is worth preorodering. just for the steelbook other times who gives a rats behind. dlC at Gamestop sucks anyway. and most of my games i get for birthdays/christmases and sales 2 months after release. why the frick do people pre order COD games anyway? ELITE is worthless and to say like apple users (Which i am) "hey I got the game!!!!!!!!1 im the first on my block!!!!!!!" who cares? get a life make some friends and find a lady who enjoy playing games with you. preordering wont matter anymore

Donte69
Donte69

There is nothing wrong with preordering it so early, because that means you have more time to figure out if you actually want it before it comes out, you can cancel the order, or switch it to something else in a snap. I tried to preorder ME3 and I couldn't, I had to wait the week later before I could get my copy, and I couldn't download it, because I don't have a credit or debit card. The bonuses are a nice inclusion, but *at least with all the people I kow* don't even matter. I don't know why AC3 is a big deal about early preorders when many other games had the same thing happen. Some people are just huge fans of a game and series, so what if they basically buy the game right away, just let them enjoy it.

LDSLurk
LDSLurk

The preorder system is fine. People willing to shell out 60 bucks for an Ass Creed game is whats messed up.

slainta
slainta

I preordered FF XIII-2 from Amazon UK because it had the "lowest price before shipping" deal. At the end I saved an extra 5 pounds. Since I know I will buy all FF games no matter what, it is good for me. Others do the same with Assassin's Creed. Personally I'll buy it but I'll wait for the price drop. And forget the PSN digital distributions!! At least in Italy the price is simply CRAZY. Up to 70 euro for a game? Are they out of mind?

grand17
grand17

i have never preordered a game. whats the point? it cant sell out!

MonkeySpot
MonkeySpot

I do like to consider a pre-order as a message to the powers-that-be, that I appreciate the concept of a coming game, or developer... It's a way of telling the suits what I would like to see more of. I don't pre-order games like Call of Duty (although I am a player), because I know there will be a wealth of them around, but for a game like the recent "Journey" or other DLC for say, "LA Noire" which I knew I wanted no questions asked, it does feel good to support the development team by saying "HERE! TAKE MY MONEY!" a little early. =)

littleboomer
littleboomer

A lot of you are missing the point: there is little reason to pre-order and pre-ordering sequels leads to recycled, less-than-original games, like Call of Duty.

Falzonn
Falzonn

I somewhat agree with this article. It's especially true when people drop their pre-order when they know next to nothing about the game in question, as it was JUST announced. It becomes less a concern the closer the game is to being released though, as gamers learn more about said game, and can make a better and more informed decision. Personally, I almost never pre-order a game. The 'freebies' they give out usually don't concern me, so I generally wait a couple days after release to watch gameplay videos and read reviews. A game has to be truly special for me to fork over money before a games even finished.

vannacut
vannacut

it s not like they are gonna run out of copies, i ve never seen any place ever run out of copies, it s nothing to do with availability, it s just a push on paying the full price on the original copy day 1, by attaching some exclusive dlc to it, they guarantee a day 1 sale at full price, and it s usually succesful i only preordered skyrim, as i knew i was gonna get it day 1, so didnt wanna miss on any stuff coming with it..