The Risks of Pre-Ordering Games

Cyberpunk 2077
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Cyberpunk 2077’s disastrous launch resulted in millions of fans who pre-ordered the game getting burned. Before the game launched CDPR reassured fans that the game runs well on consoles after multiple reports said that the last delay was due to the poor performance on consoles.  Nevertheless, the game had a buggy launch and was unplayable on consoles. CDPR issued full refunds and promised future updates will increase the performance of the game. Cyberpunk 2077’s buggy launch brings up the debate of whether pre-ordering games is beneficial.

The negative is that all the risk is placed on the fans as creates the possibility of them paying for a game that is awful..  Fans are putting blind trust into publishers and developers to keep their promises. As we have seen before publishers often abuse that trust. Publishers have used shady market tactics to get gamers to pre-order. They will say anything and everything to get gamers to pre-order and fans cannot verify the facts. The only available footage is whatever the publisher releases and it’s sometimes misleading or does not resemble the final product.    

A Risky Gamble

Fans are only able to verify the footage shown in trailers or demos after the game releases, or when it’s reviewed. If a game is reviewed poorly, fans are then able to cancel their pre-order. Unfortunately, publishers have multiple ways around early reviews. They can restrict access to outlets who are most critical of their games, for example. They can also choose what version of the game to send to reviewers as we saw with Cyberpunk 2077. In addition, they can set strict parameters that prevent reviewers from showing their own footage or discussing key plot points.  Gamers do not get an accurate description of the game’s quality until after its release. 

There are three games that we’re going to have a look at to explain why gamers should avoid pre-ordering games. All three have used shady marketing tactics to get gamers to pre-orderincluding forging gameplay demos, misleading trailers and overpromising features. Sometimes publishers offering free cosmetic items and early access demos to entice gamers to pre-order. Once the game releases, it is nothing like the game that was advertised. Millions of fans wasted their money on a game that they disliked. Fans who pre-order games are not getting anything worthwhile that would justify making that gamble.  Even if the game turns out to be great, deciding to wait for the reviews and watching unedited gameplay footage when the game releases turn that risk into a guarantee.                   

Forge Gameplay Demos

When Bioware announced Anthem, fans were uneasy about a Bioware live service looter shooter. Don’t forget, the devs were coming off from the disappointing release of Mass Effect Andromeda. Bioware needed to release something that was compelling to build excitement for Anthem.  During EA’s 2017 conference Anthem made its debut with a ten-minute gameplay demo. The demo was well-received and fans were looking forward to the game. It was then announced the game would be available for pre-orders in the following year. When the game was released, however, it was panned by both critics and gamers. Anthem looked nothing like the gameplay demo that was shown off at E3 2017. As you can see with the two images below the gameplay demo looks better than the final game. 

Anthem Pre-ordering
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Anthem Pre-ordering
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The Big Lie

Fans were wondering: how is it possible that a gameplay demo looks better than the final product? It was Jason Schreier’s report that revealed that the gameplay demo that was shown off at E3 2017 was fake. According to the report, Bioware was unsure about the direction of the game until they received positive feedback from the gameplay demo. It was only after they received positive feedback that they decided on the direction of the game.   

The gameplay demo looks significantly more detailed than the final product. Anthem had an unsatisfactory progression system, and the mission structure was repetitive. The story and the characters were an afterthought and the updates that were promised to improve the game were eventually canceled. Bioware decided to abandon the game and move on to different projects. Anthem’s failures serve as proof for why it is a mistake to pre-order games. Bioware reassured fans when the game launched that they would provide updates with much needed content.

Two years later the game was abandoned and we were left with a gameplay demo that was better than the retail version of the game. Fans have made graphical comparison videos showing that the gameplay demo has better visuals. 

Misleading Trailers

Pre-ordering a game base off trailers can also backfire. Game trailers are heavily edited and choreographed for effect. Sometimes, for better or worse, trailers purposely misleads fans about important plot points in the game. There is no better example of this than The Last of Us Part II.  I am not going to discuss the game’s quality, only the misleading trailers Naughty Dog released prior to the game’s launch.   

Simply put, the announcement trailer that was released back in 2016 is a lie. The trailer features Joel and Ellie in Seattle with Joel walking to a room where Ellie recently killed someone. Anyone who played the game knows that this sequence is not possible. It is a misrepresentation of the game’s narrative and characters.

Had the game’s plot not been leaked by hackers, gamers would have pre-ordered Last of Us Part II based on the misleading trailers. Abby only appeared in one trailer yet she is the co-protagonist of the game and is barely marketed prior to the release. Even though Abby’s and Ellie’s sections are both 12 hours each, Ellie’s section of the game was the only one they marketed to fans. The trailers and marketing imply that the narrative would be centered wholly on Ellie.

One Man’s Lie

No Man's Sky Pre-ordering
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Hello Games announced No Man’s Sky in 2013 with an awesome trailer. It looked promising enough and fans were looking forward to hearing more information about the game. Sean Murray, a designer at Hello Games, did multiple interviews making ambitious claims about the scope of No Man’s Sky.  

He appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert  and promised features that were not present when the game launched.  During the segment Murray said that players can meet each other while on the same planet. This wasn’t true. He also promised additional features in other interviews such as large scale ship battles, points of interest within different planets and different ship classes depending on the player’s preference. Fans unfortunately took Murray’s word and pre-ordered the game.     

Setting Up for Disappointment

When the game released it was panned by critics and gamers who were disappointed to see none of these features. To be fair, Hello Games, is a small independent studio with limited budget. The features that Sean Muray promised would require a substantial budget and a larger team. There was never possibility for them to fulfil their promises at launch. When it sounds too good to be true it usually isn’t.

Fans who bought into the hype and pre-ordered the game were burned. Hello Games set such a high bar on a game that they positioned themselves for failure and disappointment. Unlike Anthem or Last of Us Part II, however, there is a happy conclusion for players who decided to stick with No Man’s Sky.        

A Quick Turnaround

Hello Games continuously provided support for No Man’s Sky after launch and added the features that they promised prior to the game’s launch. Players are now able to meet each other when on the same planet. There are also ship battles that players can partake in. There’s even planets that have extreme weather like a thunderstorm or volcanic eruptions. Hello Games delivered the game that they promised to fans and have turned around the perception of No Man’s Sky and fostered a strong community. Fans even started a crowdfunding campaign to thank Hello Games for their arduous work on improving the game.  

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The gaming industry has a credibility problem. As we have established gamers cannot trust trailers, gameplay demos or take developer’s at their word. Gamers can only trust themselves to decide what is real. There is no way to verify what the developer’s said until after the game is launched.  

Wait for the Release!

To conclude, I think the benefits of pre-ordering are meagre and inconsequential. They are also not worth the risk.  It highlights a bigger problem with transparency.  The gaming industry needs to be more open with their fans. Pre-ordering a game is placing a blind trust to publishers. That trust is something that they do not deserve or respect. Cyberpunk 2077 will not be the last game that was released in broken state. It may be a pattern that stretches out for decades.  

All fans have at least considered pre-ordering a game from their favorite series at least once. Publishers try to entice fans by offering arbitrary cosmetics items that do not affect the games. The risk is not worth the benefits. Publishers need to earn the gamer’s trust and commitment.  Do not award publishers for producing a compelling trailer or gameplay demo, award them after they make a great game. 

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