To Pre-Order or Not, that is the question


Gaming pre-orders are something that has been with us for some time. We used to have pre-orders, back in the day, so you could make sure when the limited number of copies hit your local store you for sure had one on release day. Back then you did not need to pay full price for that pre-order, you paid a $5 retainer and when the game arrived, you just paid the rest.

Today pre-orders have changed a lot. We do not need to worry about games selling out as we do not have physical limits on copies. Today’s games for your PC are distributed via online downloads and the limit to the number of copies is not created by production or shipping costs but rather by how many key codes a computer can generate.


Instead of us paying a small retainer to ensure we got a copy we are now asked to fork over full price for the game, often many months in advance. We do not get early access but in essence we are paying for the privilege of doing the QA work the developer should be paying people to do. You may think that the concept of paid beta testers sounds odd, but it is not. Again, it was not all that long ago that companies took applications for beta testers and then would reward the small number selected with a free copy of the game for their efforts.

The results of these changes have, sadly, not been for the better when it comes to the quality of games we get from developers. Pre-pay and founders programs no longer need to exist to ensure you get a copy in a reasonable time. Now they are used to fund the games development. That’s right, the money is generated to pay for the games development to be finished, you are in essence paying for an incomplete product.

This is a large departure from the original premise of pre-pay and not one good for gamers in my opinion. With no need to worry about getting your game day one there is no need for a pre-pay system in the ways it existed before. The use of the consumer public to fund game development is not a bad idea except it has not helped make games better – in fact it has made them worse.


Before, when you pre-paid, the game was delivered to you whole. You got a boxed set, complete with physical manuals. You might have to patch in the first few weeks but the game, most often, was just fine right out of the box. When you paid, you had a set on-shelf date and delays, though few, but when happened, you were only out $5 until the game arrived.

Today you have laid $50 or more on the table and get the honor of testing the software for the developers. That honor used to be a paid, or at least compensated for, job. So you have handed the developer direct cash for a product that is not done and then indirect cash by giving away your time to be a QA specialist, thus again helping to fund the development.

Arkham-Knight-pre-order-DLCHaving a game in early beta sound neat and cool, but as a long time beta tester I can tell you it is not. You get the joy of dealing with broken game code and after months of playing the game in a broken form you finally get burned out or frustrated, and the finished game no longer holds the same joy you would have had if you had just played from release instead.

What’s worse, even with thousands of people in the so-called beta, the quality of the released games today are well below the quality of beta games back in the day. Recently, you paid $50 six months in advance and the last three months had you wading through a beta of releases. And within an hour of that release a patch that is 33% the size of the finished game needs to be downloaded to enjoy it.

Fifty DLCs of Pre-Ordering Grey

So that pre-order that cost you $50 in the end also gave the developers about $100 a person worth of QA which it seems was ignored or not properly used. As if all that was not enough they also immediately want you to pay more money for DLC.

imageAn absurd idea of pre-ordering campaign that was thankfully canceled by Eidos following gamers uproar.

In fact now you can pre-order the DLC as well as the game. The newest craze is the season pass. You basically buy two or three DLC packages. No one knows when they will come out but hey, you do not need to wait in lines to get yours. That extra 2 minutes to buy at release is now bypassed so it downloads directly to your game when it’s ready.

The point of this article should be clear, but let me summarize. Pre-pay was about making sure you could get a product on launch. This has been bastardized by the developers and producers to now be about funding the game and then giving you the privilege of giving them a free workforce for their QA.

There is NOTHING about the current pre-pay model that helps or is good for PC gamers. How do we fix this? It’s easy, we just stop pre-ordering. We, the PC gamers, can actually fix this issue, we just hold our money. We wait for the game to release, we wait for the reviews of the released game. If there are early patches needed, we wait for those to fix the issues. We hold our money until we are given a complete game and can play the finished product.

The question should not be to pre-order or not. The question should be: Are you an enabler of a broken system that hurts PC gaming or will you stand up and say enough is enough?

Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or official statement of SAPPHIRE Technology Inc.

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Edward Crisler
Edward is the definition of an “old school” gamer, playing computer games as far back at 1977. He hosted a tech talk show for 20 years and is now the North America PR Representative for SAPPHIRE as well as SAPPHIRE’s unofficial gaming evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @EdCrisler.