Back on January 13th, Other-Ben (also Northern Ben, or Ben Mk-I) wrote an article explaining his views on Pre-ordering games. Now, the Senshudo staff don't always often agree on topics, but I did have to agree with Earlier-Model Ben on this topic. Now, before you all jump on me and decry myself as a heretic, as many MANY responses did in various common threads, I think it's important to talk about this, not to defend my northern counterpart, but to actually explain some key points that the commenters were frequently missing, no matter how condescending that may sound. Stay with me here.
There were numerous common themes running through the comments like a cholesterol-choked vein, and the first of these was that, somehow, Ben was dictating how people should spend their money. Not at all. In fact, my view on that perceived intent is that such an assumption would be like people suggesting that smoking may be bad for your health, are somehow limiting your freedom of access to lung cancer.
You heard the man, kids.
Simply put, you are, rightly, free to do as you so wish with your own hard-earned money, but perhaps it might be worth a moment's consideration as to where that money is going, and what the resonating effects of that actually are.
You see, that brings me nicely into my second point. I noticed a lot of people confused as to how their pre-order was having an effect with what Ben talked about. After all, to quote one commenter, "The primary point of preordering is to reserve a copy for release, which you don't actually have to purchase if you decide against it". This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how retail works.
I'm going to need an example to assist me here.
Let's take a fictional game called "Murderer's Principle Assent". I know nothing about this particular game except for what the publisher wants me to know - that is to say early screenshots, some notes on gameplay and perhaps story - but I've enjoyed the previous games in the "Murderer's Principle" series, and the publisher is offering me an in-game pocket warmer item as an incentive to preorder. Thus, armed with my overly burgeoning wallet, I waddle off to my local 'Generic Videogames Shop' and pre-order the game.
On the surface, all I have done is paid £5 for the shop to put a copy of the game aside when the delivery arrives, thus guaranteeing myself a copy on launch, and guaranteeing my character an ink-stain free pocket. But there's more to it than that.
Now, what would happen if 'Generic Videogames Shop' took 10,000 preorders, but the publisher only sent them 5,000? Well, 5,000 disappointed customers, for a start, but beyond that, GVS would probably get quite annoyed and be less likely to participate in future release drives. Of course, what actually happens is that GVS says "I reckon we'll sell 10,000" and so they place an order for 10,000. Of course, if the situation arises that they received a large chunk of that as preorders (say, they take 7,500 preorders, leaving only 2,500 for free sale, which VGS anticipates will be insufficient for the release 'weekend'), they will anticipate higher demand, and order more discs.
In a very basic sense, you could kind of dumb it right down to "You place a preorder, meaning GVS orders an additional copy" but it's worth mentioning that there's more to it than that before someone in the comments berates me for a simplistic example and tries to pick holes in it.
When you place a preorder, it sets into motion a chain of events that results in GVS ordering more copies of "Murderer's Principle Assent".
Why does this matter? After all, as stated above, you can choose not to use that preorder, right? Well yes, you can do that, but the publisher doesn't care. Your money never makes it to the publisher. Your money stops at the retailer. Condescension aside, let's break that down because I know plenty of people genuinely don't understand the retail process.
When you buy a game from GVS for £50, exactly £0 of that goes to the publisher. Confused? Don't be. GVS has already paid the publisher long before the discs have even arrived in your local shop. When you pay GVS your £50, you are merely recuperating their costs, and then paying them an amount for the service of them getting you the discs. This is also why a lot of publishers, especially on PC, are making the moves to digital releases either through their own website, or specialised services like Steam or PSN. It maximises the amount of money that actually reaches the developers.
Again, I can't stress enough the fact that by time you buy a game, the developer and publisher have already long been paid. The game has not been released before they are paid. The game has not been reviewed before they have been paid. This is absolutely critical. Games are made for profit, and are only a success therefore if they make more money than they cost.
Let's assume a world without preordering. Two games are released "Amazing Fun 3: Sparkles and Unicorns", and "Steaming Pile of Crap: This May Have Just Killed Gaming" - AF3 and SPC respectively. Both cost an arbitrary £10m to make. AF3 gets consistently good reviews in the media and customers seem to love it too. SPC is terrible, and every reviewer absolutely slates it. Because of these reviews, AF3 sells like hotcakes and makes £15m over a year, but SPC only ever reaches £5m in revenue. As a company, the publisher physically cannot afford to keep making games like SPC because that one game has cost them £5m.
Jump to reality, using the same example but adding in the ability for consumers to preorder.
SPC is terrible, the company knows this, but damnit, they had a release schedule to keep to and they couldn't fix it. Step one, pour money into marketing. Say, £5m. Step 2, put in a Review Embargo. Nobody is allowed to review the game until release or the publisher will sue them hard. Now, hopefully, clever marketing has driven preorders to the point that you've already sold enough to make £12m and the game isn't even out yet. By the time the general public realises how much SPC actually lives up to its name, it's too late. The retailer has already ordered all those copies. Unwitting 'early bird' consumers have already purchased it. GVS is praying that there are enough early birds to cover the costs, or damnit, SPC is going to have to go on the mother of all stock-clearance sales. As it happens, these early birds, lured by the promise of a free in-game shoe colour variant, have already made another £5m in sales. The game is now in profit, despite being an attrocity to gaming. The company has gotten away with it, and can continue to do so if their patching is fast enough or they happen to have enough good games that public opinion of them isn't skewed too much.
Do you see the problem now?
Great programming, guys... Can I have my face back now, please?
Yes, I am aware I may sound hypocritical in that I myself admitted to preordering Dead or Alive 5: Final Round in one of my previous articles. In this case it's because of what the game is, essentially a remake of a game that's already out. I'm willing to give Team Ninja my money for that - same as with giving Nintendo the money for my Limited Edition Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate New Nintendo 3DS XL. If I know a product is going to be good and there is a proper reason to preorder it, I will do. But damned if I don't do my research first, and it's a rarity that my money goes down.
That's it. That's really all I wanted to say, and I feel much better without it on my chest. Nobody is trying to tell you how to spend your money, just asking you to think about how you spend it for your own good. I'm not going to stop you walking into a minefield, but I might caution you to the inherent dangers, right? Actually, thinking about it, for some of the commenters I saw, I would do little more than reach for a camera and popcorn.
So, any questions?