E3 is now behind us. We were given a sneak peak of upcoming games (Mario x Rabbids Kingdom Battle and the Shadow of the Colossus remake being my personal highlights) while also given a scope of what Microsoft’s mid-generation upgrade has to offer. However, if there’s one thing about E3 that I’ve noticed over the last few years, it’s the reliance on heavily scripted vertical slices and trailers. This has led to a culture of developers and publishers pushing out games that don’t end up being representative of their reveal trailer and/or E3 showcases. Ubisoft is one of the guiltiest publishers when it comes to this. Now, I’m not here to just ramble on about Ubisoft, mainly because we’d be here all day. I’m here to explain to you that while it’s all right to be excited for the various games shown at E3, it’s not the best idea to preorder them.
Preorder culture has vastly evolved from the days of old. Back in the older generations of gaming, preorders were pretty much essential on a consumer level due to distributors and retailers not being able to keep up the stock with demand. There were times where if you didn’t manage to secure a preorder, you could be waiting weeks to be able to secure yourself a copy of a game that you wanted to play. Now there are still some games that are like this – take NIS and Atlus games for example. Due to the niche nature of a lot of these titles, demand can often be higher than stock, especially in Australia, which as a country repeatedly gets shafted by unit allocations. I can also understand preordering stuff like highly limited collector’s edition (so not Ubisoft collector’s editions) or expensive purchases like consoles. But if you’re just going to get a game without any of the extra fluff, preorders don’t benefit you. The only benefit goes to the retailers and publishers that host the preorder.
We’re in a day and age where if a game is published by any of the big publishers (EA, Ubisoft, Activision, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Microsoft Studios, Nintendo, 2K Games, Warner Bros. etc.) then you are pretty much 100% guaranteed to be able to just pick a copy on the day of release without having preordered the game itself (ok maybe put a pin on Nintendo for that, they love artificially creating demand via short-stocking). Not only that, due to the ever increasing popularity of digital purchases over physical media, demand can pretty much never outstrip supply (once again, Australia does still get shafted, mainly because our government refuses to invest in a good broadband network). The only incentive to preorder are the preorder bonuses that are often tacked on, or even worse, ripped out of games. There have been various games that have touted preorder bonuses as incentives to pay for a product that not only hadn’t been released yet, but hadn’t even finished being made yet. Given the shoddy nature of the industry in recent times, it really is ridiculous how pretty much every publisher shows enough contempt for the consumer to allow preorder bonuses to happen.
A great example of preorder culture going too far was with Alien: Isolation. Given the horrendous nature and reception of Aliens: Colonial Marines, you’d think SEGA would want to treat the Aliens IP with a little more care. Really, after the Colonial Marines debacle you’d think they’d ship Isolation with a free coffee mug or something. But SEGA had the gall to advertise Alien: Isolation with some outrageous preorder content, holding the cast of the original movie ransom in the form of preorder bonuses. Only in today’s climate, where it’s apparently all right for developers to shove microtransactions in your face inside games you have already paid for, would Sigourney Weaver be held ransom as a preorder bonus in an Alien game. If you didn’t preorder, you’d have to wait until you could buy the DLC separately (but DLC is a topic for another day).
It wasn’t long ago where the inclusion of the original cast would’ve been used to sell the game without the need for locking it behind a preorder incentive and/or a paywall. That content should be something that came as standard, but leave it to the modern day industry to cut that out and sell it off to the quickest bidders.
One that was even more recent was the “augment your preorder” shenanigans Square Enix and Eidos Montréal pulled with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (or as I call it, Content Divided). To put it briefly, leading up to the release of Mankind Divided (the sixth release in the Deus Ex series and a direct sequel to Human Revolution), people who preordered the game were able to choose the preorder bonuses that they would receive. There were five tiers that you could select items from, and the more preorders that were secured, the higher the tiers that were available. Being able to choose your preorder bonus out of various options in each tier is glaring proof that the content was all made and ready to be used, it was just cut out so you would feel like you were being rewarded for preordering a game that wouldn’t have stocking issues. It shows complete disregard for the consumer base and in some ways can be looked at as providing an incomplete product. Preorder bonuses are an absolute blight and have caused preorder culture to become poisonous to consumers and the rest of the industry alike.
Now, remember the vertical slices that were discussed before? These are another reason why you probably shouldn’t preorder that game you were excited to see at E3. I understand that what was shown to you during the livestreams (or at the conferences themselves if you were lucky enough) looked very appealing, I get it. But a lot of the big publishers like to tout heavily scripted action sequences in the game themselves as a means of making games look very appealing. One of the biggest offenders of this was the aforementioned Aliens: Colonial Marines. This is a game that I would consider one of the biggest disappointments in gaming. After Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford (who claimed to be one of the biggest Alien fans around) showcased a game which looked like it would serve fans really well, it came as a big shock to see how much of a hideous abomination the game turned out to be. Comparisons between the E3 gameplay reveals and finished product are astounding. Not only did the game undergo massive graphics downgrades, a lot of the dynamic AI behaviour that the Aliens had was non-existent. There wasn’t that intense rush of running through an area and seeing your allies get ripped apart by the xenomorphs in your peripheral vision. It was just an unimaginative shooter that offered nothing but a reminder as to how the AAA industry repeatedly rips off the very thing that keeps it alive, the consumers.
There are many games in Ubisoft’s large catalogue that have abused the vertical slice concept too, the prime example being Watch_Dogs. Watch_Dogs went through a long development cycle and was shown throughout various E3 conferences. The game look incredible, and was one of the poster children for true ‘next-gen’ visuals (how young we all were). But when push came to shove, there were massive graphical downgrades. The game performed on a very average level and to say the game was underwhelming would be an understatement. While I personally believe that Ubisoft’s quality has been slipping in recent years, Watch_Dogs marred the name worldwide and its backlash definitely made Watch_Dogs 2 into the great game that it eventually became. The backlash received also caused Ubisoft to reassess how they showcase their games so as to not to set unrealistic expectations. Gameplay trailers now had to be closer to what they would be like on target machines. Watch_Dogs wasn’t the only game to experience massive downgrades though. Far Cry 4 also received quite noticeable downgrades and, and on top of the Ubisoft formula that gets more stale by the day, it sort of made for a lesser experience.
It seems not even the Tom Clancy name is impervious to downgrading. The Rainbow Six: Siege gameplay showcase at E3 2016 looked incredible. The AI looked dynamic, the UI looked simple enough to use with ease while also retaining enough detail to help with plotting out strategies, and the graphics (once again) looked impeccable. The final product, while still enjoyable, was a shadow of what it should have been. The Division is of course in there too on Ubisoft’s list of downgraded shame.
But really, these titles pale in insignificance to the mother of all disappointments and misleading advertising: No Man’s Sky. Now I’ll be a part of the minority that says they actually enjoy No Man’s Sky. I enjoyed having a vast, open space where I could just sit and put my anxiety at ease (and it came at a time where my anxiety was running rampant). Not to mention the music was just soothing in so many ways. Despite this, the game and its developers deserved every ounce of backlash they received. Gamers were promised rich, exciting and varied worlds with the ever so slight chance of encountering other players. What we received was a largely barren, repetitive and empty space, with no purpose and also no multiplayer to speak of. I do believe that Hello Games, mainly studio head Sean Murray, should be held accountable for their actions and to their credit they have done a great job at adding features to the game via free content updates. Does this mean we should forgive Hello Games and Sony for the mess they made? No, it most certainly does not; it will be a long time before the industry forgets what a mess the game was. No Man’s Sky was definitely a harsh lesson in buying into hype and preordering a product that seemed too good to be true. It was a lesson the industry needed, and while the stain will forever exist on Hello Games’ name, I would like to believe that we are better because of it. Not because the product was worthwhile, but because it was a wakeup call for consumers and developers/publishers alike and reminder to the industry that if one side gets too out of control, the other side will be burned. Let both sides run unchecked and we reach No Man’s Lie.
In saying all this, there still is nothing wrong with being excited for a particular game. I myself could not be more thrilled about the upcoming release of Destiny 2, but I have refrained from preordering the game itself. Yes I know that this means I won’t participate in the beta until it goes public for two days, but that’s the price I pay for not allowing the industry to convince me that preordering is justified in today’s day and age. I also understand that one of the nice things about preordering (at least for physical media) is that you can put little payments down leading up to the release of the game. It does leave itself to be quite consumer friendly in that regard, but one blessing does not make up for the plethora of injustices that are being pulled by the industry at the cost of the consumer. If you’re looking to purchase the game from a physical retailer like EB Games, JB Hi-Fi or Target, consider putting down your preorder money into gift cards for that given store. That way, the money is there for the purchase of the game, but the gaming executives don’t get the pleasure of noting down you as another statistic. The less they are able to predict the success of their product, the less crap they’ll be able to pull at our expense. Hitting the industry where it hurts will force the ones spearheading it to be more accountable for their actions. This same strategy can be applied for those that wish to go down the digital route, except instead of a preorder, you’re now asked to pay the full amount up front (which is even worse). I would advise that if you’re going to get a game digitally then you should put the money into PSN wallet top-up cards or whatever type of equivalent your preferred distributor offers.
All in all, preorder culture is a mess. The industry has become so used to pre-selling its product to the masses that it has developed the habit of treating the consumers like garbage. Ripping out content that should be in the game and overhyping products to unreasonable lengths only for the consumer to feel the burn of purchasing a product before it’s ready for release are the order of the day. Unless consumers stand up and show the industry that it disagrees with its unscrupulous practices, we’ll continue to see more and more examples of ridiculous preorder culture. EA is not your friend, Activision-Blizzard is not your friend. No publisher is your friend, no matter how much you like their games.