Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Don’t be fooled by trailers showing a game’s best parts – you may end up with unrealistic expectations and a game that falls shorts when you finally get around to playing it.
  • Some games lack content at launch, so it’s wise to wait and see if it meets your expectations.
  • Buggy launches are more common than they should be, so waiting can help you avoid technical issues and get more enjoyment for your money.

It’s easy to get excited about a new game and jump the gun with a pre-order to secure your copy and take advantage of any pre-release bonuses. But this decision can sometimes come back to haunt you. In the modern era, there aren’t a lot of reasons to pre-order games at all (in fact, there are more reasons not to).

1 Tricky Marketing Can Be Misleading

Video game marketing can be a little misleading, as trailers often show scenes or mechanics that don’t make it into the final game or focus on cinematics over actual gameplay. This can lead to a somewhat skewed idea of what the game actually looks like from a consumer standpoint, setting unrealistic expectations in the process.

Joel in the Last of Us Part 2 trailer.
Naughty Dog

It’s important to recognize that game trailers are showing off a product that is still in active development in many cases, so graphical fidelity and performance may not be on quite the same level on release. Game trailers frequently display a “not final” type disclaimer notifying you of this, though the text can be so small it’s easy to miss.

On top of this, some publishers and developers are known for making promises about games that they never fully deliver on. Even if a game ends up being good, it’s important to temper expectations.

2 Many Games Lack Content at Launch

Since trailers focus solely on the best and most appealing parts of a game to sell to consumers, the actual product sometimes fails to deliver on much else. In other words, sometimes games just do not have a lot to offer at launch, either because they’re too short or embrace the live service model of rolling out content over the course of several seasons.

It’s a good idea to wait for a game to come out and see if what it has to offer meets your expectations before making a $70 investment. No Man’s Sky suffered from a lackluster launch but eventually improved with updates to become perhaps the most impactful redemption arc in gaming history. In some cases, you could even wait for a “complete” edition of a game that includes all subsequent DLC or expansions for the same price as the launch version later down the line.

3 Buggy Launches Are a Dime a Dozen

Do you remember the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 in 2020? CD Projekt Red’s open-world sci-fi role-playing game promised the world but quickly became defined by its bugs and broken promises. The release of buggy and unfinished games at full price is much more common today than it should be, and you’ll often never see these issues in marketing or pre-release footage.

Publishers often make it so that any publicly available content about a game is free of such issues, particularly in an era of influencer marketing where criticism isn’t as critical as it once was.

Even if a game is good at its core, game-breaking bugs or other technical or performance issues might make it a far less enjoyable experience. It is often better to wait a little while after launch to give the developers time to iron these things out so you can fully enjoy the game and get your money’s worth. You only get to experience a game for the first time once, so make it count.

4 Games That Don’t Sell Go on Sale Quickly

More often than not, a game that fails to make a lasting impression at launch will end up discounted just a few months or even weeks later. A lack of sales at launch does not necessarily mean the game is bad, but it does mean that you may be better off waiting to gauge the reception so that you can grab it at a discount.

An example of how Steam displays DLC on sale on the front page.

Services like Xbox Game Pass sometimes soak up some of these games at launch or add them to the catalog shortly after release. If you subscribe to such a service, you may even get to play them “for free” not long after they come out.

5 The Games Will Always Be There

In an era of optical media and digital downloads it’s highly unlikely that retailers are going to run out of copies of a game after it comes out. Even if you do decide to buy on day one (after scanning the earlier reviews), you can just go to the store and buy it. This is especially true for triple-A titles where physical copies are printed in droves. In a worst-case scenario, you could always buy the game digitally instead.

6 Pre-Order Bonuses Often Aren’t Worth It

A lot of companies will sweeten the deal to hike up pre-order sales with exclusive content or DLC that might make collectors or completionists reach for their wallets. However, the items on offer are rarely worth the premium price tag and may even be of lesser quality than you are led to believe.

The controversial Power Armor Edition of Fallout 76 that featured a low-quality nylon bag.
Bethesda Softworks / Zenimax

At the same time, pre-order items end up on resale sites all the time, so you can usually just pick and choose the items you want and just buy them online later. When it comes to DLC, exclusive pre-order content rarely adds anything of much substance to the game and is often made available later for fairly cheap anyway, so the loss is not that substantial.

7 Refunds or Resale Can Be Tricky

If you do pre-order a game and it fails to live up to expectations, you may have a difficult time reselling it, especially if it ends up being widely criticized or not well-liked. Low review scores or a lackluster reception from fans means copies will likely be in low demand, especially if they are heavily discounted shortly after launch.

If you bought the game digitally, especially on a console, then refunds are often tricky to obtain or even downright impossible since digital storefronts like the PlayStation Store often do not have official refund policies. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, a pre-order means running the risk of being stuck with a game you may not like forever.

Buying a game on Steam is generally a lot safer since Steam has a generous two-hour refund policy (just make sure you don’t play for too long if you’re disappointed and want your money back).

8 Should You Ever Pre-Order?

There are exceptions to every rule. As some games only get limited physical releases, these are more likely to run out of stock. Resale prices for these limited releases are often much higher than the game initially sold for, so you may be justified in reserving a copy ahead of time to make sure you pay a fair price. Think small indie titles, often released digitally beforehand.

If you’re a PC player, you also likely have a little more leniency when it comes to refunds since Steam is known for being more generous than most companies when it comes to handing them out. Oftentimes, they will provide you with a refund if you give a legitimate reason for it or have under two hours of gameplay logged, so the risks involved in pre-orders are less severe.

Gaming can be an expensive hobby, so the last thing you’d want is to drop the full price of a game on a product that ends up being less than what you expected. It is tempting to throw your money at a game before release to take advantage of bonuses or avoid feeling left out, but it’s often a good idea to resist the temptation.

While you wait for that next big release you’ve been excited about, it might be a good time to check out some older titles you may have never experienced. On top of this, investing in early access games can be rewarding as long as you know what you’re looking at.

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By John P.

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