Friday, January 16, 2015

The problems with Pre-Ordering..

All this, and an actual working game! who would of thought...

Most older gamers will tell you about how pre-order bonuses were back in the mid to late 90's compared to now, and if they do talk about those pre-orders, Someone will eventually tell you about a little company called Working Designs.

Working Designs, for those of us who aren't gamers over 30, was a company founded in 1986, and specialized in bringing niche Japanese games over to the west ( Essentially what Atlus and other companies are doing, currently). Working Designs' trademark was releasing games with lofty pre-order bonuses. Games like Lunar: Silver Star Story, and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue were released with tons of extras or "Omake" as it's called in Japan. Not everyone agreed with their practices, but you can tell that consumers really liked what Working Designs did for them, and went out of their way to get the special editions despite this practice hurting the company financially, in the long run.

The map smelled funny & the cardboard case scuffed the bonus CD, but we liked it!
Working Designs released their games with premium packaging, and as such, their games demanded a premium price. Intended at first to stand out from the crowd and later deliberately packaged to be collectors' items, the games were immediately recognizable and reflected the type of marketing that particularly popular title releases would sometimes enjoy in Japan. Some in the game industry and some gamers were frustrated by this approach, while others appreciated the special touches. Working Designs was among the first North American game publishers to apply foil stamps and extensive artwork to their packaging, and were supplying games with manuals printed and bound in full color with anime artwork and conceptual drawings from the game's design, at a time when a lot of manuals for games published in the USA were in greyscale. Also, every manual came with a written letter, presumably from Victor Ireland, describing the translation process and procedure of their games, usually found on the last page of the manual. Every edition of these notes closed with the signature phrase, "We're nothing without you!"

PlayStation editions of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, Lunar: Eternal Blue Complete, and the Arc The Lad collection came with such accessories as hard-cover manuals, cloth maps, and omake boxes with cardboard stand-up figures, pendants, and other trinkets. The Growlanser Generations Deluxe edition comes with such extras as a deck of playing cards, a ring with a chain to wear it on, and a watch. These games were packaged in cardboard boxes which drew criticism due to these boxes being prone to shelfwear and overall fragile, making complete copies with unflawed boxes difficult to find, further spiking its second-hand value in addition to these games requiring all pieces for full collector price, because these inserts are often lost by the consumer.
The expensive packaging is often cited as one of the reasons for the company's demise, as they priced their products at a premium due to the included 'extras', which supposedly scared away casual gamers. But WD's final game, Growlanser Generations, was produced in both deluxe and standard editions, and demand for the deluxe edition greatly outstripped demand for the standard one. In fact, the profit margins on the deluxe extras were very high. Victor Ireland has often stated that the company's demise was not due to the packaging, but rather it was because Sony insisted that games they deemed "inferior" should be sold at a discount price, or bundled together.

The extra profit Working Designs earned on the deluxe extras was not enough to offset the losses of time and money they incurred by selling two or more games for the price of one.
Over the years we've seen pre-order bonuses go from awesome content like the statues, art books, Figurines, replica weapons, props, guides and the like, to what we've seen in the past ten years with whole sections of a disc being locked off for eventual profit farming. Just last year, we've seen outrage against Sega's Alien Isolation two-part pre-order deal; in which you could receive part one from pre-ordering anywhere, and the second part from pre-ordering exclusively from Gamestop. While the situation was eventually resolved, with the DLC being included for everyone, the situation reminded many of the previous Aliens game, which had similar pre-order incentive issues. At least there was more given in Isolation, than Colonial Marines' "harpoon gun" bonus, which was just pitiful.
Not as pitiful as the actual game, though. Heyo!
We're now seeing editions of games with removed content as bonuses while the statues and bonus promotional material being relegated to "collector's editions" that are a means of segmenting profits into different tiers of support instead of being the icing on what is supposed to be a perfectly designed cake. In fact, We have bore witness to a slew of marginal incentive bonuses, from Tomb Raider's special stage and "hardcore mode", to Assassin's Creed Unity and it's four weapon incentives, which did nothing to improve the multiple problems the game actually had. The most recent offender, that's making the rounds is Resident Evil HD, which plans to offer both the Playstation 3 and 4 versions of the game. A move that really falls flat considering companies like Nintendo ( Mario Vs Donkey Kong ) and Sony's digitally distributed games are already providing this option. With all the talk of pre-ordering and such, it begs to be asked what exactly was the original intention of the incentive bonus?

What is Pre-Ordering?

Wikipedia states that Pre-ordering was established due to consumers having difficulty acquiring certain items due to their popularity. The service gives the consumer the ability to reserve their own copy, as well as giving businesses valuable data in which to gauge how much demand there is as well as how large initial production runs should be. This information is ultimately used to further increase sales for any future products.

In the past, A company would send a minimum number of products to stores. Based off of the sales of those products, future orders would be placed for additional products. Due to information making the rounds through medium such as Television and print, People had to make more of an effort in order to find out if the products they were interested in were in stock. Of course, this was in the 80s and early 90's where we also played all our video games with our hands, as opposed to the hands-free tech we've acquired in the glorious future of 2015..
Yes, they were like a baby's toy..  No, I don't care..
 So, when Pre-ordering finally came along, it was a very useful thing that kept people from missing out or having to wait long periods for products they had an interest in. On the business side of things, once a customer makes a pre-order, they gain a vested interest, or a personal stake in the product they just bought into. This action usually keeps the customer tied into a purchase decision by having them pay for the game in installments, while providing some analytical data for use when selling additional products. Eventually,  some Marketing Department genius came up with the idea of packaging promotional material with products, and the reasons for that are below in Wikipedia's summary of incentives...
Pre-order incentive, also known as pre-order bonus, is a marketing tactic whereby a retailer or manufacturer/publisher of a product (usually a book or video game) encourages buyers to reserve a copy of the product at the store prior to its release.

Reasons for this vary, typically publishers wish to ensure strong initial sales for a product, and the offered incentive is used to induce shoppers (who might otherwise wait for positive reviews or a specific shopping period like the holiday season) to commit to a purchase. Having paid for part or all of the purchase when placing the order, these consumers will usually complete the transaction shortly after the product's release, often on its first day in stores. Individual stores or retail chains may also offer bonuses for a popularly anticipated product, to ensure that the customer chooses to buy at that location, rather than from a competitor.

The pre-order bonus may be as simple as a discount on the item's purchase price or other related merchandise (another marketing strategy), or may consist of an actual item or set of items. These items may be related merchandise or exclusive items available only through the pre-order program.Several companies like and Kickstarter have implemented some of these techniques to reduce the risk that comes through creating new products and ideas.
Going off of this block of information, it's often easy to see how bonuses can be interpreted as a distraction tactic from what could potentially be a bad purchase. We've seen this with the "problem games" of the last couple of years such as Halo: Master Chief Collection, Sim City, Diablo III, and Battlefield 4 are excellent reminders of this as well as the aforesaid Assassin's Creed: Unity and Colonial Marines. At this point we're evening seeing issues with Tetris Ultimate on PS4 and Xbox One, which is nothing short of astounding on a multiple levels (Seriously, how can you botch Tetris?).

An ounce of prevention...

One would think that given this information, and the notably horrible trend of rushing out an incomplete game based on practices such as "yearly iterations" or "getting a game out before ______", Companies would overhaul their policies, and spend more time on quality assurance, but we're still seeing the same issues happening throughout the industry. You would think that with the state of these releases, customers would begin to speak up and stop throwing money at shoddy business practices, but It's hard to say whether that will slow in 2015. Going forward, I hope that as consumers, we'll become a bit more aware at the power we have to influence companies into ceasing these blatant anti-consumer practices. If we can come together and collectively influence the revenue of video game sites for anti-gamer sentiment, it should be said that we should be doing the same to keep companies like Ubisoft, Gearbox, DICE and EA from further exploiting their consumer base.

The last game I pre-ordered was Injustice: Gods Among us, which boasted some interesting character skins that did absolutely nothing for the overall game experience, what-so-ever. Since then, every time I've been asked if I would like to pre-order, I humbly decline. Now, that's not to say that I'll never pre-order again. It's saying that I'm not going to let a bunch of cheaply manufactured swag blind me from putting my hard earned dollars into a sub-par product. We tend to forget that a lack of quality control in an effort to nickle and dime consumers is what lead to the great crash of '83 in the first place. The other half of that equation, was consumers not putting up with these practices, and saying they've had enough!

Game On!

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