I’m sure we’ve all been there – desperately hitting ‘refresh’ on the tracking page of our Amazon order to see if it will, indeed, arrive on launch day as promised, our hopes fading to disappointment as the sun sets and the letterbox remains untouched. In 2018, at the height of consumerism, with companies having more access to consumer demand analytics than they know what to do with, is it still necessary for keen customers to pre-order games…?
I have conflicting feelings about this. I’m writing on Wednesday 12th September 2018, and at the time of typing I have yet to see my advance copy of Shadow of the Tomb Raider on my doormat – and it’s currently 2:30pm. Amazon reassures me that my order will “arrive today by 9pm” but, even if it does, it’s not quite the “48 hour early access” that my pre-order was supposed to afford me. Indeed, I paid no less than (gulp) £80 to play the new Lara Croft game ahead of its official release on Friday 14th September, so I’m already feeling the bitter sting of disappointment.
Moreover, this is not the first time that the supposed pre-order ‘safety net’ has actually made my life harder, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. People pre-order games (and indeed other items such as books and DVDs) in order to ensure that they can consume them at launch. When this fails to happen, as it did with me when I pre-ordered Sonic Forces, you’re left in the bizarre position of being able to walk past stockpiles of the product on store shelves, yet unable to touch them because you’ve already paid for the pre-order. So whilst a more fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants gamer can simply stumble into HMV and start playing on release day, you’re left to read all the gushing tweets about what a good time everyone else is having, as you impatiently wait for an update from Amazon.
Incidentally, my copy of Sonic Forces was two days late in the end. It so wasn’t worth the pain!
However, I too have been that annoying customer who is able to walk into a shop and instantly snag that day’s must-have product at launch. For example, I bought my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from the WH Smith’s at King’s Cross Station on release day. Similarly, Devil May Cry 4 was acquired from my then-local branch of Game in Lincoln, again on launch day.
Presumably spurred-on by past launch day successes (and never having walked into a shop to find a product out of stock) I decided to do away with pre-ordering when the Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy came out in 2017. This turned out to be a fool-hardy decision when, come 3pm, I quickly realised that there wasn’t a single copy left in the entire city of Leeds. “Ah no they’ve all gone mate,” said the shop assistant in Game. “Did you not pre-order…?”
I was dumbfounded. I knew Crash Bandicoot was popular, but I didn’t know he was that popular! And call me naive, but I genuinely did not think that products ‘sold out’ in the 21st century. I assumed that every retailer would be overstocked to death – all the pre-orders would be fulfilled, and then there would be box-loads of on-the-day copies for the Joe Ordinaries.
That being said, in hindsight the Crash Bandicoot incident was actually quite funny; my friend Mike described how he’d snagged the last copy at one particular retailer, only to incite a potty-mouthed rage from the man in the queue behind him. It was like the end of civilisation as we knew it. I, meanwhile, made a beeline for a supermarket in the small market town of Otley and found one of the last copies of Crash in there, so I still got my launch day Bandicoot fix.
But as I look to bring this blog post to an end, I’m still not sure if I can answer the question… Do we really need to pre-order games in 2018…?
Hmmm. Overall, I think I’m going to go with “no”… I think the risk of being disappointed by a late shipping is greater than the risk of being disappointed by a product being sold out (as the former scenario seems more likely.) But then of course there are the pre-order incentives such as exclusive content and early access which can be very attractive, and indeed if you’re pre-ordering a digital copy only, then you have nothing to worry about – you should totally go for it! Perhaps it’s something to weigh-up on a game-by-game basis, and how keen you are on playing a particular title at the earliest possible moment.
Personally, I’m rather regretting forking out for my early access with Lara Croft. Ah well. I’m sure that when I finally get to play Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the enjoyment will far outweigh the pain.