Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Big Ross explains a recent case of temporary insanity and near act of hypocrisy.
I don’t know exactly when pre-ordering video games became the norm for the industry. I feel like it started taking off in the early 2000’s, and honestly, I don’t even think it was the brainchild of a videogame developer or publisher. That hasn’t stopped publishers from fully embracing preorders, nor using videogame preorder sales as a litmus test for any particular game’s “success”. It seems to me that we have the videogame retailer everyone loves to hate, Gamestop, to thank for this. I suppose I could do some research to try and back that up with some facts, but I think I’ll just go with my own anecdotal evidence and my gut. Yes I think we can all point the finger at Gamestop and blame them for this blight on the videogame industry.
I wrote an article way back when for CC2K that argued against pre-order bonuses and platform exclusive DLC. You can read it HERE. And I’m not the only one; plenty of other videogame websites and blogs have argued that videogame preorders, while great for publishers and retailers, are bad for gamers. Why? It’s good for publishers because they’re making money off a game before it’s officially released. It’s good especially for retailers because it incentivises customers to purchase a product from them when EXACTLY THE SAME product is for sale elsewhere. You might live closer to a Best Buy; it might be more convenient to go to Wal-mart, where you can also buy the super jumbo size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and a couple of 2-liters of Mountain Dew for the marathon gaming session you’re about to embark on, but if Gamestop offers an exclusive preorder bonus that you can’t get anywhere else? That very well may be a deciding factor when a gamer considers where to buy that highly anticipated release. But it’s bad for gamers for precisely the same reason it’s good for publishers: because you’re paying for a product before actually getting it, and more importantly, before independent parties have a chance to evaluate said product.
Consider it this way. You may purchase advance tickets to the midnight premiere of a major motion picture, and you may base this decision on trailers and internet buzz. And you may be rewarded with a thoroughly enjoyable cinematic experience with no regrets. Or you may be hugely disappointed, or outright hate the film for failing to live up to the hype and your own expectations. Had you waited to read reviews, or hear the opinions of trusted friends, you may have decided differently. Maybe you would have skipped the movie altogether, or forego the premium-priced evening showing for a cheaper matinee a couple of weeks later. But really, does it matter? You’re only out $10-12. Not so bad. But up the stakes, and only the insanely wealthy cast aside the “buyer beware” mentality to make ill-advised purchases.
To me, $60 is a good chunk of change. $60 isn’t an amount of money I spend casually. My free time is even more valuable to me. I don’t want to spend one minute, let alone one hour or several playing a game that isn’t worth it. Think of all the poor folks who preordered Aliens: Colonial Marines based solely on the promises of Gearbox developers and CEO Randy Pitchford. Those preorders helped make the game the #1 seller in the UK in its first week and took it to #6 on the sales charts herein the States.
Given that Aliens: Colonial Marines is almost universally reviled, getting lambasted by critics and fans alike, many of which went so far as to accuse Randy Pitchford and Gearbox at large of deception and false advertising in promoting a game they outsourced to an inferior developer and releasing what they knew to be a steaming turd of a game in order to meet contractual obligations with their publisher Sega, it’s surprising that it did so well in sales. It’s a crime, and a shame, but we, and more importantly Gearbox, have the preorder system to thank for that result.
To me this is the biggest problem with the preorder system. As another example, developer Bungie only recently debuted the announcement trailer for their upcoming game Destiny, but that same week I saw a big display inside a Best Buy advertising the opportunity to preorder the game. This is a game that doesn’t even have a release date yet. At this point it is possible, however unlikely, that Destiny could fall into development Hell and never get released. And yet gamers are still encouraged to “preorder your copy today!”. It’s ridiculous.
Enter Bioshock Infinite. I LOVED Bioshock. I gave it a flawless review and would have given it a perfect numerical score were I to use such a system; I don’t. It remains one of my all time favorite games and one of the very few video games that I played through more than once. I still own it in fact, and have no intention of selling it because you never know, I may start it up again one day. It’s that good. Bioshock was developed by a company that came to be known as Irrational Games (at the time of release they were 2K Boston) and published by 2K Games. Given its huge success, It’s no surprise that 2K wanted to build a franchise around it. Ken Levine and his staff at Irrational Games weren’t interested in a direct sequel, so 2K moved ahead by having developer 2K Marin make Bioshock 2. It was a fun, solid game, but it lacked the original’s originality and deep story, not to mention Bioshock’s near meta-critique on the mechanics of videogames in general. No, Levine and his crew wanted to do something entirely different, a game that came to be known as Bioshock Infinite.
Where Bioshock was set in the 1960’s in a city at the bottom of the ocean, Bioshock Infinite is set in the year 1912 in a flyiing city in the clouds. There is so much I could say about this game, but I think a few game trailers will do the job better. Enjoy:
Debut Trailer (Aug 2010)
Beast of America Trailer (Oct 2012)
False Shepherd Trailer (Mar 2013)
Industrial Revolution Trailer (Jan 2013)
I hoped you watched all of those, because they are fucking awesome. That last trailer in particular is relevant to this article. It describes all the free, exclusive stuff you will get if you preorder the game. I honestly don’t know what it is about free stuff. If there’s one thing we love more than free stuff, it’s exclusive free stuff. Look no further than San Diego Comic Con for proof of that. It doesn’t matter what the cheaply made-in-China piece of crap movie studios or television networks or videogame publishers are having attractive, half-naked women hand out is, as long as it’s free and you can’t get it anywhere else people will stand in outrageously long lines to get it. A foam viking helmet to promote The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim? Thank you. An inflatable omni-blade to promote Mass Effect 3? Yes please. An inflatable tomahawk to spread the word about Assassin’s Creed III? Any chance I can get two of those? No? Okay I’ll still take it. Awesome.
And i will admit that I strongly considered preordering the game. Even before I knew of the preorder bonuses, there was a little voice in my head urging me to place a preorder with Best Buy. “What if they sell out? What if you can’t get it on the day of release?” But I resisted. Then I saw that Industrial Revolution trailer, and that voice spoke up again. “Bonus perks? Free in-game money?! Come on, man! You don’t want to miss out on that!” And it was hard, but I still resisted. Here’s why.
My skepticism outweighs my optimism.
Irrational Games made one of the greatest video games of all time. But that’s the only game of theirs I’ve played. And they’ve been working on Bioshock Infinite for years now. There have been numerous problems documented with its development, and it has been delayed several times. There were plans to include a multiplayer component that has since been discarded. And while I feel that Levine has been more forthright about Bioshock Infinite’s development than Pitchford was regarding Aliens: Colonial Marines, I’m still worried Bioshock Infinite will suffer from similar problems as Gearbox’s abortion of a game.
And so I’m waiting. I’m going to wait until Bioshock Infinite is released and the embargo on reviews is lifted. I’ll check out sites like Kotaku, Joystiq, IGN, and Destructoid to get a feel for what gamers think of the game. They may not change my mind and my intention to buy it, but if they’re universally terrible, they might. The point is I won’t be giving Irrational Games, 2K Games, or any retailer my money until I have the game in hand and peace of mind regarding its quality. I hope you do that to, of enough of us do it might just convince publishers & developers to avoid another Colonial Marines fiasco.