Should You Pre-Order That Video Game?
Most gaming platforms and publishers offer a pre-order or pre-purchase option for their major titles leading up to release. This behavior has garnered a lot of enmity from gamers, especially when it involves exclusives. If you're really excited for a game, should you pre-order it? Here are some advantages and disadvantages to doing so.
Avoiding Release Day Slow-Downs
Many platforms allow you to pre-download games when you pre-order them, avoiding release day slow-downs and allowing you to play immediately when games are released. In areas with slow download speeds, this could be a good reason to pre-order.
Be sure to read any details on the distribution platform you're using, or contact the company directly, to find out if pre-downloads are offered.
Some publishers offer a discounted price for pre-orders. If you've done your due diligence on a game and aren't just buying into hype, this may be a good reason to pre-order. Just like buying into a game during its alpha or early-access stage, you shouldn't be paying full price as you're taking on the risk of buying a game without knowing whether it will be good in the end.
If you have patience, you could wait for a sale or the price to drop naturally. You can check out the price history for games by that publisher to see how quickly they tend to fall using a website like Price Charting or Amazon Keepa. Some publishers keep their game prices elevated for a long time, while others drop the price rather quickly.
Games are releasing with more and more bugs these days. Their increasing complexity combined with needing to support more platforms and having to meet holiday deadlines will inevitably lead to this. Add in the ability for developers to easily patch games after-the-fact and a seemingly complicit fan-base, and there is little incentive for companies to iron out all the bugs prior to release.
The first week or two of a game's release is really just a public beta test. If you can, wait for the early patches to come out and avoid the frustration.
The servers that run online games may not be up to the release demand for a game, or the developers may have underestimated how many resources they needed. You could find yourself struggling to join games or dealing with a terrible ping. The developers will generally respond to this quickly by bringing more server instances online, but it can make for a very rough first day or two (or longer).
This is especially important if the game is mostly/entirely online, has a lot of pre-release hype, and the developer doesn't have a lot of experience at this level of popularity.
Prior to a game's release, the only footage you'll have seen of it will be either direct from a marketing department or through previews on big-name gaming sites. This will all mostly be crafted to put the game in a positive light (No Man's Sky anyone?), and may not even have in-game footage of the final product. You should be wary of this content.
A good barometer to determine if a game will be good is from the reputation and history of the developer and publisher, and from reading on forums (just watch out for shills). Avoid the hype, trailers, and promotional content if you can.
Publishers and distribution platforms often offer exclusive in-game content for pre-orders. Not pre-ordering means you may miss out on a special weapon, skin, or other item, or have to buy the "Deluxe/GoTY/Limited Edition" to get them. These exclusives are sometimes cosmetic and other times functional. To make matters worse, it's not uncommon for a game to be available on different distribution platforms each with their own exclusives! Good luck completionists.
Whether you want to support this behavior is up to you. My recommendation is to not. I believe that pre-order exclusives are almost entirely driven by business marketing decisions and not in the best interest of the game, and that the practice is no different than console exclusives. Just as an XBOX-only game is used to drive XBOX hardware sales, so is a pre-order in-game exclusive used to drive sales on a specific distribution platform (Origin, Steam, GameSpot, UPlay, etc).
Would you rather earn special items/weapons/skins through your in-game skill, or because you pre-ordered the game at a certain store? GameSpot Master Race.