Posted by: markfender | February 20, 2013

Pre-Orders

Have you ever noticed how gaming entertainment is moving to the pre-order model?

button-preorder-nowGame Stop has been playing that game for years. It was so annoying that my policy pretty much was that I refused to buy anything if an employee asked me to pre-order something. My favorite part was when a game would come out and, instead of putting it on the shelves, they’d ask if you pre-ordered it and then refuse to sell it to you if you answered in the negative. That didn’t plant the suggestion into my head that I needed to pre-order games if I wanted them on release day, Game Stop, it taught me to shop on Amazon.

But that model has somehow affected MMOs now as well. From Founder’s Packs in Neverwinter Nights to Alpha Squad in Planetside 2 to just plain paying for the beta, even MMOs expect a cash outlay before their game is even out – sometimes it’s not even in a playable state. That doesn’t feel like a product I’m buying. I’m just helping fund your eventual game. Maybe I’m in the wrong here – I tend to see betas as the “free trial” of an MMO. But I really don’t think the “paid trial” should be a thing. And I will never understand lifetime subscriptions (but at least the game might be out then and you’ll have a good idea of how it works – maybe).

But that’s not all. With the rise of crowd-funding, we’re getting ideas for games sold to the public before there’s really anything more than a teaser video. There are benefits to Kickstarter for those smaller publishers who couldn’t get their game ideas picked up by a major studio. Overall, I’m excited about the possibilities of Kickstarter and the products we’re seeing it produce. But I’m still paying for something that doesn’t exist yet. And that annoys me. It especially annoys me when a company uses Kickstarter as a pre-order system rather than a crowd-funding system. Cool Mini or Not does this all the time. Sedition Wars was going to exist on store shelves. But throwing up a Kickstarter gets them a huge cash reserve so there’s hardly any risk involved. Likewise, White Wolf’s recent offerings are all being Kickstartered, not because they’re not sure anyone would buy them but because they want those pre-orders to fund the book publishing process and avoid that risk.

And that’s what it all boils down to – risk. These companies want to avoid risk as much as possible. That’s smart and business-like. But they’re avoiding the risk by pushing it onto me, the consumer. What if that pre-order never materializes or ends up going in a new direction that doesn’t interest me? Too bad. I already risked my money – and lost it. I don’t want to come off as a raging Marxist or anything, but I’m not cool with consumers accepting the risk for a corporation. There are already protections built into business law that protect corporations from bad investments. Consumers don’t get those protections.

Okay, I do sorta sound like a Marxist there.

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