So I might have to confess something here. After the Fallout 4 E3 article I did a few weeks ago, in which I made some arrogant snorts about Bethesda’s rather strange presentation, I sat back feeling very pleased with myself, knowing that I’d said something cruel about some people who weren’t there to defend themselves. Monday as normal, life goes on.
In fact, one of the things I was most cynical about was Bethesda trying to sell us the Pip-Boy edition of the game, which comes in a special case with a bunch of extras, including a life-size recreation of a pip-boy which you can slot your smartphone in, to use as a replacement screen. I have the exact charges here, M’ lud, taken verbatim from the original article.
“But I’m worried the game is spreading itself too thin, because we really didn’t see much, even though it was trying to show us everything. One fight, a sped-up crafting demonstration, and all the less interesting bits of the plot, and to top it off, the presentation still had to be padded with the dull-looking app and the Collector’s stuff. Look, Bethesda, why don’t you show me what this game is actually like before you try to convince me to buy the version that costs over a hundred bucks?”
I do think my argument still stands, by the way. I didn’t really know what Fallout 4 was at that point, so I wasn’t going to spend money on a better version. I still needed to see the standard one.
But that smug feeling faded slightly over the next two days to be replaced by an uneasy feeling of awkward realisation, understanding that I might have just been very stupid. Why? Because, well… I really wanted a Pip-Boy. Like, a lot.
Part of it’s a weakness I’ve had for trinkets since I was a kid, something that plagues a lot of geeks like myself. Like a bespectacled magpie, I have to grab anything of value, just because it’s so pricey and holds some very minor status. I’m pretty bad with comics, for example, grabbing the more respectable issues on sight, issues that I didn’t want until I saw them, or snagging little toys related to games I have a fondness for. At the end of the day a lot of the problem is hubris and being weak-willed. That’s a rare and expensive item? Well… I’m a rare and expensive person. Yoink!
But part of it is that the Pip-Boy looks genuinely cool, and I like the idea of having it on my shelf like a gaudy trophy, or wearing it to taunt those who didn’t get one. Aside from Vault Boy, it’s the most iconic thing in the Fallout series.
I started to realise that I might have been very stupid, and the uneasy feeling became worse and worse. By the time I realised how badly I wanted one, they’d all been pinched by heartless scalpers and die-hard fans, much to my frustration and embarrassment. But luckily, Bethesda decided to make a few more, and a very good friend of mine who works in a Game store procured me one. Shout-out to you, anonymous figure. The only way I would’ve been more happy would’ve been if you sent round the less inhibited members of a burlesque show.
So I’m getting a Pip-Boy come November, and it can’t come fast enough. And that makes me stupidly proud, but I’m also worried I look like a bit of a hypocrite. I’ve mentioned several times on this site that pre-ordering is a dumb idea, and now I’m directly benefiting from it… Should I be eating my words?
Nope. Don’t you people realise yet that I’m forever right and infallible, like Jesus with better hair? I haven’t broken my rule, because in truth I’m not against pre-ordering as a concept. In fact, times like this prove that you should pre-order in some cases. That first batch of Pip-Boys were gone in two days, those that got them were smart to be as fast as they were.
That’s when you pre-order, that’s when it makes sense. When you’re scared that the amount of copies may run out, you reserve one to get on the day it’s released. There won’t be any more Pip-Boy editions of Fallout 4, sadly. And when the next game is released with an edition containing your own pet centaur, it’ll make sense to pre-order that too.
But that’s hardly ever the case these days. It makes no sense to do it with digital copies, and when was the last time you went into a store on the day to pick the normal stuff up, only to come out disappointed? In all my years of gaming, it’s only ever happened to me once. They just don’t run out of regular copies any more.
The truth is that the bigger the release, the less likely it is to vanish from the shelves. The shops buy according to the public demand, and they always buy more than they think they need, because they know they can sell them later in the year. It’s not like the games are going to go off, they’re not a box of peaches, so they just stock up on enough copies to build a fort with and divvy them out over time.
Now, let’s talk about the actual advantages of pre-ordering. There are two main reasons that publishers love this practice, and one of these is harmless and doesn’t matter to the buyer either way. However, the other reason is a very nasty, insidious one that is directly to our disadvantage.
First, the harmless reason. Pre-ordering helps publishers because they can start making educated guesses on how many more copies they’ll have to make, how many sales they’re going to get, how lucrative advertising might be, all that mush. It doesn’t benefit us, but it can help publishers get all sorts of useful information that can help them maximise profits or reduce unnecessary spending. Again, it doesn’t hurt us, but it’s also not our problem.
But the other idea behind pre-ordering is quite manipulative and cruel. See, pre-ordering means that you’ve bought the product before it’s been reviewed, before it’s been criticised. You’ve paid money for a game that might be rubbish, and by the time you’ve found out it’s all too late. You’re committed to the buy. Before Steam introduced refunds, this was even more of a problem.
But surely that can’t be all that common, right? I mean, if a game was surprisingly bad or even broken, we’d know way in advance. It’s only happens in rare events like Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Duke Nukem Forever, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Arkham Knight for the PC, Arkham Origins for the PC, Sim City, Watch_Dogs, Destiny, Thief, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Driveclub, Sims 4, Titanfall, Sonic Boom…
Hmm. Maybe this is more common than we think.
And of course, it leads to getting burned by that sense of disappointment, self-loathing and feeling cheated that pre-ordering a shitty game always brings.
There’s more problems. For the reasons mentioned above, publishers are getting more and more desperate to rake in the pre-orders, ravenous to separate us from our money at the earliest opportunity. They really like it when we pre-order, it’s just safer for them on every level.
And thus we have the pre-order bonus. New missions, new character skins, new weapons, new gear, new content packs. Order now and get it free, all for you to enjoy.
Except none of it is new. This stuff should be part of the release as is, because a lot of the time it originally was. But before it’s sent out and distributed, publishers look at a full game with the clinical eye of a mad scientist. What can we amputate from this game without killing it in the process? How much can it afford to lose? Snip, snip, snip.
Don’t kid yourselves. They’re not selling you extra content, they’re holding the original content to ransom. They’re keeping it back from you to offer out again when they feel like they need it, making you jump through hoops for parts of the original design. If I kidnapped a large family (again), and returned them all back later except for elderly aunt Gladys, I wouldn’t try to sell her back to them under the label of a beneficial add-on. “Pay the ransom before August in order to get the Crabby Old Woman DLC.”
But if we stop pre-ordering and come down hard on publishers for this nonsense, they’ll stop hacking bits of content off the game. We’ll get the whole thing, all for ourselves. I wouldn’t have bought the better version of Fallout 4 if there’d been actual gameplay bricked off, but Bethesda have been gallant enough to leave their beloved creation alone and unmolested. Good for them.
And seriously, do you HAVE to get that game in the first few minutes of release? The fact that one of the arguments for pre-ordering on Steam is the ability to “pre-load” has always irked me, mainly because it shows how utterly terrible people are at waiting for their games. Can’t you show the tiniest bit of self-restraint? It’s for your benefit, you know. I wouldn’t throw myself at a meal if I knew there was a chance for it to be poisoned, I’d wait for somebody else to try it first and find out for me.
For those who don’t know, pre-loading means that you can download the game in advance, but the file has a little lock on it. When you reach the release date, the lock comes off and you can start playing instantly. Here’s a thought – why don’t you wait twelve hours to buy it, a period of time you could literally sleep through, then check the reviews (which will be out by then), and reconsider accordingly? A lot of disappointing purchases could have been avoided if people just took the time to check what they were spending money for.
That’s all it comes down to – making sure. Are you hoping for a limited product that looks to vanish fast? Then go for it, that makes sense. But are you enthusiastically encouraging companies to hack their games to pieces in an attempt to trick you into a bad purchase? That’s not as smart. In fact, that’s very, very stupid. And now we have this bizarre situation where it makes sense to pre-order the more expensive version of a game, but not to pre-order the cheaper one.
Anyway, time for me to sit around drawing pictures of Pip-Boys. Whoever said material things don’t bring happiness was quite clearly a moron.