Companies that make and sell video games have very good reasons for wanting customers to preorder games: They want to lock down as many guaranteed customers as possible. As a bonus, they get a chunk of the money upfront months, or even years, before the game comes out. Preorders also help give retailers and publishers an idea of how popular the game will be when it launches.
There are good reasons game companies offer preorders, but from the gamer’s perspective, there’s very little upside to preordering video games. Here are some of the many reasons to keep your money in your wallet the next time you visit GameStop, Best Buy, Amazon, or wherever you buy your video games.
1. The game might be bad
News flash: Not all games are good. Some games that seem like they’re going to be good turn out to be dismal failures. Watch Dogs, for example, looked like a winner — until it came out and everyone realized it wasn’t so special. The Order: 1886 sounded great on paper and even looked fantastic in trailers. But when it launched, it was one of the biggest letdowns in PlayStation 4 history.
Even with a long-running series, you can’t count on every installment being great. In Call of Duty, players quickly realized Ghosts was a clunker. In Assassin’s Creed, everyone agrees Unity was a low point (it was also extremely buggy — more about that later). Don’t even get me started on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5.
Preorders live and die by the amount of hype marketers are able to whip up for a game. What you’re preordering is the game you’re hoping for. What you’re agreeing to pay full price for on launch day is the game they actually deliver. These are rarely the same thing.
2. Games are often buggy or broken at launch
Since video games are so much more complex than they used to be, they’re also more prone to errors. Making a game is a massive production that often ends in weeks of extremely long hours, known as “crunch time.” With so much work happening so fast at the end of the cycle, bugs are bound to slip through — and trust us, they do.
Two games mentioned above, Assassin’s Creed Unity and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, were positively riddled with bugs when they launched. So was No Man’s Sky and Fallout: New Vegas. You never know when a buggy game will hit the shelves. Preorder the game and you’ll suffer those bugs, while people who wait will know what they’re in for. If you hold onto your money and don’t preorder a game, you can wait until the bugs are fixed before buying, giving yourself a better gaming experience than if you had preordered (and maybe even a lower price).
Even games that aren’t buggy can still have issues. Remember Battlefield 4 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection? They had server problems that lasted for months, as did plenty of other games.
Buying later is better. Read reviews and see how people react on social media channels before spending your hard-earned money. Go in with full knowledge of what you’re getting.
3. It encourages preorder rewards
In an effort to secure as many preorders as possible, video game companies offer a slew of preorder rewards that range from early access to special skins, costumes, weapons, and armor for your in-game avatar. All of these are unfriendly to consumers, because they’re rewards for the consumer-unfriendly practice of preordering. Don’t encourage this behavior by preordering games.
We keep a running list of big games that have been delayed. Video games are delayed all the time, so it’s easy to update the list frequently. Some games are delayed for weeks or months, and some games, like The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV, are delayed for years. Some games are even announced and put up for preorder, and they never come out at all. Meanwhile, retailers get to use the money you put down to secure your preorder for whatever purpose they want.
5. It’s a bad financial move
Preordering a game costs money. It could be $5 at a retailer like GameStop, or it could be the full price of the game. In either case, what you’re doing is handing out an interest-free loan to the retailers. Ask any financial advisor if giving interest-free loans is a wise financial move, and you’ll receive a big “NO” in reply. Once again, preordering games is great for gaming companies, but not so great for you.
6. There’s no risk of missing out
In the old days, it made sense to preorder some games that were at risk of running out of stock once they were released, but this doesn’t happen anymore for big games at major retailers. And, even if by some glitch in the matrix your store of choice runs out of a particular game, you still have plenty of options to buy it. You can go to another store, or you can download it to your console from the PlayStation Store, Xbox marketplace, or Nintendo eShop. Either way, you don’t lose anything by not preordering a game.
7. There are exceptions to the rule
While there are valid reasons listed above explaining why preordering games is a bad move, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Some small games come out only in limited quantities. If you’re sure you want to play a game like that, preordering is a good way to make sure you’ll get a copy. Other games come with rewards so enticing that you just can’t pass them up. People who preordered South Park: The Fractured But Whole, for instance, got a free copy of the game’s predecessor, South Park: The Stick of Truth. If the quality of the reward overshadows the risks of preordering, by all means, preorder away.
In almost all cases, the best thing to do is to hold onto your preorder dollars and use them for something that’s actually useful, like food, shelter, or high-rated games that are already out.