The Cult of the Pre Order

Throughout my many years of gaming I have seen trends come and go, some are understandable, but some never fail to amaze me.  Back in the good old days of the Spectrum and Commodore, if you wanted a game you would go out and buy it when it was released, most shops stocked the games and it was easy enough to get them.  As the years progressed we were introduced to a new phenomenon, the culture of the “Pre Order.”  No longer would you wait until a game was released, you would go into a shop, months ahead of the game’s release, and place a pre order almost guaranteeing you a copy of the game on the release day.  I was really curious to find out why this is so prevalent in today’s gaming world, so I ventured out to see what it is all about, some of my findings may shock you!

The juciest of all goodies?
The juciest of all goodies?

I can’t really remember the first time I decided to pre order a game, but I think it was sometime during the Playstation 1 era.  I had pre ordered the mega limited edition of Metal Gear Solid which included the game, dog tags, a t-shirt and game soundtrack, I couldn’t wait.  On the day of release I went to pick up my package to be told that it hadn’t come into stock, I left with just the game.  For a few years after I sporadically pre ordered games, mainly for limited editions or because there had been a frenzy built up about the game.  Sadly, most of the hype failed to live up to the potential and more often than not I was left disappointed. I decided to question a broad cross section of gamers with regards to their buying habits and found out that most of us seem to be dancing to the beat of the same drum.

Holy plastic tat
Holy plastic tat

First up I asked everyone how often they pre ordered games, most answered “rarely,” but after that it seemed to be a couple of times a year. One gamer told me, “I pre order a whole lot more often now online stores are more prevalent, maybe 4-5 times a year.”  Nothing really surprising there and no surprises either when I asked for a reason for pre ordering.  The most popular reason by far was to get to play a certain game on launch day but following closely behind was a desire to get special editions.  “If the game is a special/collectors edition which I expect to sell out I will pre order.  This ensures I have it right away, regardless of whether I get to play it or not,” another gamer told me.  At this point it is becoming clear that what we are dealing with, from a gamer’s point of view, is a whole supply/demand thing.  I was quite surprised to find out that gifts on offer for pre orders do not influence most gamers’ decision to pre order, with a whopping 90% of those asked saying that the gifts do not affect their choice.  Of course on many occasions you will receive a gift whether you want it or not and of those asked, most confirmed that their best gifts were either limited edition figures or artwork, I was obviously dealing with gaming connoisseurs here.  We do have to take the rough with the smooth and there are stinkers of gifts to be had.  Once again the consensus was nearly unanimous with most saying that in game unlock codes were just plain rubbish.  Lastly I wanted to know if the gamers were worried that if they didn’t pre order, they wouldn’t get to play the games upon release.  Unsurprisingly many said yes, mostly based on the expected popularity of a game.  About 75% of gamers questioned weren’t too bothered as they feel that lots of places sell games so they shouldn’t be too hard to get.  The biggest bugbear though was with regards to online ordering, with many worried about the late , or even non, delivery of their games.  “I’ve had far too many incidences that games aren’t delivered on time, or worse, not at all.  I would rather go to the shop first thing and get it off the shelf,” one worried gamer told me.

They look, scarily rubbish!
They look, scarily rubbish!

I can relate to all the points raised by these gamers but surely there are higher sources at work here that are affecting our decisions?  We are not pre ordering to get gifts, so why are we bombarded with them?  Why do some shops not seem to have enough games to go around on launch day?  Are they creating the supply and demand culture that we seem to be buying in to?  I had to go and question someone that works in one of our beloved gaming stores to find out more.  This proved to be a difficult task, with many not wanting to answer my questions in fear of reprisals from management.  Fortunately some people have no such morals and I was able to grab some words with an employee of Gamestation.  Meeting in a secret location under the cover of darkness I started my interrogation asking how much importance Gamestation puts on pre ordering.  “We have put in more effort in the pre orders since Game bought us out,” my insider told me, “we push them more now, so pre orders have increased.”  I wanted to know if Gamestation had any influence on the gifts offered with pre orders.  “Never, unless it is a Gamestation exclusive, which is rare.  The gifts which have had the biggest take up have been the Halo 3 helmet and Resident Evil 5 figures.”  This was an interesting nugget of information indicating that there are even higher sources at work.  I finished my inquisitive line of questioning asking if pre order figures are used to gauge a game’s success.  “Yes, of course.  We always get enough stock to cover pre orders.  The company will try to get more copies but there is never enough of some top titles for free sale.  The stock is also shared out depending on the grade of store you are.”  I got a little extra information there mostly being that big titles don’t get enough free stock and stock is allocated on a store performance scale, interesting.  At that, my contact disappeared into the night and I haven’t seen him since.

So, it would seem that I was moving closer to finding out the truth behind the whole pre ordering mania that surrounds us.  I had one last port of call to make to find out the truth, well a few ports of call to get a true cross section from the highest sources available.  I was now going to go head to head with the publishers and find out exactly what their stance was on pre orders.  I wanted to find out how they decided which games should get a pre order push, how free gifts were selected and how pre order figures affected their sales and targets.  I armed myself with a laptop, several e-mail addresses and a phone and began my probing line of questions, this would be my trickiest mission yet, but I knew I would get the results I wanted.

Does this make you feel good?
Does this make you feel good?

Not one publisher would speak to me about it!  All were very pleasant with “Sorry,” and “I’m afraid we can’t help, this time.”  None would divulge the secrets of the pre order… strange indeed. Even stranger still, as I was writing this I received numerous e-mails from publishers offering me pre order goodies for the latest games if I ordered direct from them.  At last I think I cracked the cult of the pre order!  Hold on to this one because this could blow the industry apart, or at the least raise a few eyebrows.

Ever thought who starts the hype for an upcoming game?  Ever wondered how snippets of information are accidentally leaked and forums are set alight?  Would it be too far fetched an idea to assume that all the large publishers have a hype department?  Does the cult of the pre order actually exist or are we at the mercy of the market, are we lead to believe that we really need a game and have to pre order it so that we have it?  I honestly think we have become lab rats to the whole supply and demand chain, we keep pressing the button for food and we keep getting it, the more we get , the more we want, the more we are given.  Just think about it, what are the chances of not getting to play or buy a new game within its first week of release, fairly slim I would think.  We are giving the publishers exactly what they crave from us… hype and free advertising, there is no greater means of communication than word of mouth.  So the next time you are pre ordering a game, stop and think exactly why you are doing it, do you need to?







4 responses to “The Cult of the Pre Order”

  1. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I remember going into GAME around OCtober time last year and pre-ordering 5 games. I’m sure there would be plenty of copies to buy, but I didn’t want to go into one shop for it to be sold out (due to expected popularity or just not alot of stock brought in) and then have to go around other shops looking for it.

    I wanted to be able to go in, pick up my pre-order copy and leave, simple as. And if there was a special edition then great. I pre-ordered Fable 2 and got given a code there and then to get Fable 2 Pub Games, which on it’s own was 800 Microsft Points.

    I haven’t pre-ordered many games since before Christmas however. Maybe some special editions. Pre-ordered Arkham Asylum Special Edition and Modern Warfare 2 Prestige Edition and will do the same for Assassin’s Creed 2 Special Edition.

    GameStop told me they would only get in as many special editions as was pre-ordered for Arkham Asylum.

  2. Laura avatar

    Very interesting Martin, a great read, loved it! 🙂

    I’ve recently made my very first pre-order, for ODST. I pre-ordered partly to get into the Reach beta but also, I had an “I want it now” feeling. I feel happy knowing it’s on it’s way.

    I am struggling to stop myself pre-ordering the AC2 white edition though. I WANT that Eizo figure! 🙂

  3. waxc3 avatar

    my first preorder i recall was the second super mario bros game sometime in 1988. not sure i ever preordered before that.
    i do preorder games if i think the freebie is cool. i did preorder marvel alli 2 for the juggernaut code for example.
    plus i do love collectibles (have 100s of those things around).

  4. Modfather avatar

    Great report 😉 A good example of a few really bad preorders are GOW lancer, which was really tacky! and the new batman game had a batorang, this is just a black plastic lump! The picts of these always make them look amazing, the power of photoshop 😉

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