Many gamers these days, myself included, know the countdown screen from a digital pre-order. You wait with bated breath for it to reach zero thus unlocking the game. There is an instant satisfaction without moving from your couch. It can be a great feeling especially if many of your friends are queuing up outside your local supermarket or games store at midnight and you are tucked up in your house with snacks and some form of energy drink.
On a flip side to that elation, I am now questioning this practice by asking, are digital pre-orders ruining game development or at the very least causing it harm?
Pre-ordering games through a digital store, be it PSN, Steam, Xbox, or Nintendo eStore has been a staple through this current 8th gen but also the previous 7th gen.
Over the past few years, an increasing amount video games have, and I hope you will agree with me on this, released with huge day 1 patches and in many instances seem to be unfinished and/or full of bugs/optimisation issues. Of course, there are a number of reasons this may be the case and the day one patch is often there because a disc cannot contain the full amount of data to install a game. However, I can’t help but feel that it has something to do with consumer practices, at least in part.
How big a part is something we will probably never know as it goes in line with a theory I have about the whole concept of pre-ordering games. Digital pre-ordering of games has been around since the 7th generation of consoles and even before that for PCs on Steam. The PS3 and Xbox 360 is where I will mainly focus as they are consoles I have a large amount of experience with.
I am not afraid to admit that at one point in time I did pre-order games and I felt it was a great way of delivering content. I was not really a collector of physical media at the time and it was a little bit of a novelty if I’m being truly honest.
I pre-ordered a few titles on both PS3 and Xbox 360 all of which downloaded and unlocked flawlessly allowing me to get straight into the action. The day one update had already been taken into consideration as it was a digital download purchase.
If memory serves, any game that I purchased in the pre-order format unlocked on time and did not, for the most part, contain huge instances of bugs/crashes or even disconnections. As I said before the pre-ordering of content on a PS3 or Xbox 360 was essentially in its first phase, it was new. This would lead me to hypothesize that the games would need to be, as complete as possible for the whole process to be worthwhile.
Moving onto the PS4 and Xbox One, I would say the reverse is starting to creep in. Now, most if not all games are available for digital pre-order taking your cash instantly as opposed to the day before unlocking or in some instances the very same day of release.
This leads me to my somewhat clandestine theory. Now that more orders from the digital store take your money up front, the publishers Bethesda, EA, Ubisoft etc. know how much cash they have up front. I am constantly reading reports of games going gold in terms of sales and then thinking to myself, “that game isn’t out for another month”
According to an article by Eurogamer, Fifa 19 amassed 25% digital sales with the rest coming in physical format. This is huge outlay sitting at one-quarter of all of its sales and is apparently increasingly yearly. This also means that it would be fair to assume the full RRP would have been paid due to digital stores being fairly rigid in their pricing at least until a substantial period of time has passed.
Would it be completely outwith the realms of possibility that many publishers push for a release date, which is a natural thing, but also know the developer is essentially not ready to drop the game. The fact they have money in the bank may mean the time for caring about releasing a completely stable and finished product is gradually coming to an end, at least in part.
This could be one of the reasons games like Fallout 76, Anthem, Days Gone etc. have released in what can only be described as a poor state. Some obviously worse than others but the fact remains, there are far too many crashes, bugs, glitches and disconnections slipping through the net. All of these technical aspects should be minimized if the appropriate amount of time was given to developers. Preorder sales, in my opinion, aren’t the only reason a game releases in a poor state that’s for sure but I genuinely feel that it is looking increasingly likely that it may be one of them.
What are your thoughts on this?
Do you feel pre-ordering on a digital store and handing over your cash early is a reason for poor game launches?
Do you feel game devs just aren’t given enough time?
I would love to know your thoughts.