Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On My Mind: Pre-Ordering, Sales, and You

One of the things I hear often, from both gamers and non-gamers alike, is the complete hatred for "pre-ordering" games. The complaints often stem from the following points:

1. "Why bother, it's not like they'll run out."
2. "Pre-Order bonus are scams, they're just taking my money."
3. "I don't want to give my money to X and Y."

There's quite a bit of misunderstanding on the purpose and reason why pre-orders exists, so I'm going to clarify some of it based on what I know (feel free to correct me if I've gotten it wrong anywhere).

Let's get a few things out of the way: Yes, when you do a pre-order for a game, it does mean Company X is basically keeping your money for free and earning interest off of it. Yes, employees are encouraged to push pre-orders because they need to meet a quota. Yes, pre-ordering doesn't necessary mean you'll get the game either. However, there are reasons why pre-orders do matter:

1. Yes, games can run out - It doesn't happen often, but it's all about supply and demand. If a store orders 100 copies, and you are customer 101, guess what happens? You aren't getting one. This isn't about stores badly calculating demand, because for a store to keep excess stock would be bad business. If you did want a game badly on the first day, maybe you should have ordered it then.
2. It's an actual gauge for the publisher - Stores are usually allotted a X number of copies, either including or on-top of the pre-orders. Let's suppose a niche game (pick your favourite small developer/publisher, let's say Atlus or NIS, or even Majesco), and let's suppose their upcoming niche game was so under the radar that the store only ordered 1 copy. If you go pre-order it, suddenly the volume just doubled. If this is expanded over all stores, people will quickly realize that a) yes there is demand for this game, and b) they should really order more. Pre-orders, in effect, gauges the actual demand for a title.

One thing that I jumped ahead is "How company arrives at an ordering number", so here's my understanding of how the system works:

1) Large chains have buyers which appropriately gauges the actual demand of titles. These people work directly with the publishers, and looks at factors such as the "buzz" of the game, how the media is responding to it, the company's previous sales track record, etc. This is the basis of the number of copies stores will order.
2) When these titles are listed in the seller's database, they start taking pre-orders. If the number of pre-orders exceeds the number of copies the chain ordered, copies will be shifted around from different stores.
3) However, if the number of pre-orders GREATLY exceeds the number of copies the chain ordered, they may re-up the number of purchases from the publisher.

With this in mind, I think you can see how and why pre-orders greatly affect how publishers have been acting in recent years:

1) The number and the variety of incentives for pre-ordering isn't a way for these retail chains to "screw the player over", it's actually a method for the publishers to push for pre-order sales, which in-tern, hopefully translates to the chains ordering more copies from publishers.
2) Smaller publishers pushing heavily on pre-ordering, such as day 1 DLC (Vanquish's three bonus guns), offering limited (Deathsmiles Faceplate or Record of Agarest War's LE) items for the normal price, going as far as announcing the rarity of copies (DJ MAX Portable 3), in hopes of securing more copies for the game to sell. With AAA games going towards bigger budgets, the smaller niche publishers such as Atlus, Ignition, NIS and others have started embracing guerilla marketing tactics that hopefully help them get their games into more audience's hands. It's interesting to note that of the examples above, Deathsmiles received a second print run without the faceplate, and Record of Agarest War's sales did well enough to warrant a sequel for North America.

I guess my main point is this: Do whatever you like when it comes to pre-ordering big budget titles, but definitely help out the small guys if you're looking for those games.


  1. I am generally not a pre-orderer as I am not typically a person who needs to have a game day one. If I go to the store and their sold out I'm find with just coming back another day or shopping around. There are some exceptions to that rule, typically for Blizzard games, but that's a story for another time.

    You do make some very valid points as to the benefits of pre-ordering games has on both the stores and the publishers, but I'm curious as to what YOU get out of it. Is it simply the satisfaction of helping out the "little guy" or is there something else about pre-ordering games that drives you to do so?

  2. To me, day 1 does matter on some games, for something like Portal 2 or Gears of War, I like the games and I am compelled to experience them before others have a chance to spoil my opinion.

    On the other hand, I've looked for some of the niche-est and most obscure titles out there, and basically if I didn't pre-order them, there's not a chance in hell of ever seeing them (examples: Polarium Advance for GBA and Otomedius Excellent on the 360). I've made the mistake too often of waiting for something to show up, and have the games disappear because of small print runs.