I want to start you off with three graphs. Two are directly related to this brief post and the other two are comparison points.
All three of these graphs show the same 5-year time scale. From this one over the half-decade view, all three game company trends look very similar. And they all show the same general slope over the five-year trend. What exactly does it look like you ask?
So what does it mean? Here’s the straight up truth. The gaming industry (with notable exceptions!) isn’t about creating great games that launch bug free or are even playable. Like every other public corporation on this planet it’s about the stock price and the shareholder dividend. Unless you are a gamer that just happens to own premium stock in the company, you really don’t matter in the overall scheme of things. You’re just cattle being fed, and the feed could be ground up sheep carcasses for all the software giants are concerned. It’s better to release a bug ridden trash heap of a game than delay a launch to fix it. And there are books full of excuses to do it like, “To get new games in the future the company has to make profit.” Nowhere in their reasoning does making gamers love you come into their thought process. The only love they want is the love that contributes to those graphs, and it’s a different sort of popularity altogether.
So what has this (re)taught me? This can be summed up in a short list of rules.
- Never pre-order a game from a publicly traded or venture capital supported company.
- If no reviews come out before launch because of a press embargo or lack of interest, do not pre-order the game.
- If you cannot play a full feature demo before you buy it, do not pre-order the game.
- If any of the above rules apply, to not rush out on release day and buy the game until you’ve read reviews talking about how awesome the game is.
In fact, you can skip all the above and live by one golden rule. Don’t pre-order games. So you get some benies for handing out money for a product sight unseen and untested. Would you buy a car sight unseen just because the seller says it’s a great car? Would you do that for a cellphone if there were not loads of favorable reviews on demo releases? Then why do it for a game published by a billion dollar company who cares more for stockholders than the gamers who buy their product?
It makes so much sense doesn’t it? I know many of you out there are probably thinking, “Derp, Mabrick.” So, should this be a hard and fast rule always? That seems like a hard call but really isn’t if you just look at those four basic tests above. I’ve basically pre-purchased Star Citizen. But Roberts Space Industries isn’t a billion dollar publicly traded juggernaut. And they have been more than transparent in their dealings with supporters and in allowing reviews of what they’ve done so far. It isn’t the same thing as Zenimax ignoring alpha testers and enforcing non-disclosure clauses when they needed to hush things up. It isn’t like Ubisoft slapping a 12-hour press embargo on everyone on launch day. Hell, Firaxis created a special 250 turn demo and practically paid reviewers to publish game play video. I am also going to pre-order Elite:Dangerous tomorrow, but there are game play videos going up on YouTube daily (if not hourly) and there have been many, many reviews extolling Frontier Development on what they’ve created. All sources say it’s pretty much bug free and as advertised. So why not pre-purchase at this point? But if there were no videos and there were no reviews I would not pre-order. So as a general rule, it’s great protection to have a general personal rule against pre-purchasing. It protects against total stink bombs like AC:Unity and those titles like TESO which don’t live up to the hype. You never lose anything of true value by waiting, unlike if you pre-ordered AC:Unity and then could not play it.
So that’s what TESO and AC:Unity have (re)taught me. I knew all this once upon a time, but in the age of the Internet and the ability for companies to full press advertise with trailers that sometimes take more technical wizardry than the games they peddle, as well as my crow like attraction to all things shiny – I evidently forgot. Fortunately I didn’t get burned, but it was a very close thing with AC:Unity. And it was only because of one of the launch day glitches that my TESO account ended up being month-to-month rather than a six month lock-in. However, I did pre-purchase the Imperial Edition of TESO for extra bucks. But I mostly don’t regret the extra $20… mostly. The only path to no regrets though is to wait. There is a certain satisfaction to delayed gratification, especially when it saves you a bundle of money.