Predicting that videogames are going to be absolute shit these days hardly makes you nostradamus. In an industry that’s becoming bloated, overly safe, and stagnant, every sharp edge that could possibly start a dangerous thought is sanded away. Stories have to pitch at a median with a very shallow reference pool and a simpler vocabulary. Indie gaming may have an overly-bleak ouvre full of deliberately psychological plots (even when they don’t need to be), but it’s far more likely you’ll see an excellent storytelling experience out of the triple A industry.
Hypothetically, though, a triple-A game should be playable. This hypothesis of late has fallen over, with titles like Colonial Marines, Simcity and Diablo III as flagship examples of how consumers can get burnt. At this point, I have this single piece of advice for you, as a consumer:
When you preorder a game, that sale is registered on their balance sheet. When you preorder a game, that game’s success is in a tiny way incremented, without the game ever being tested in the fires of the player’s opinion. That is to say, they don’t have to make a good game to get a preorder sale: they have to advertise a good game. They have to present to you the illusion of a good game, rather than provide an actual good game. A preorder sale may get rebated, and you may trade the game in on the next day, for, say, eighty percent of your original purchase, but from the company’s perspective, it’s like A-kon having sex: Still Counts!
Initial sales are what publishers want. That’s where they get their money. They make the most of their sales in the initial period following a game’s release – usually a very short window of time, sometimes as little as a week. On average, about twenty percent of all copies of a game get finished, and DLC for a game is typically only sold in the first month of its lifespan. To the student of metrics, this presents two possible approaches:
- Create a game with lasting appeal whose sales will expand or at plateau in its lifetime, and whose quality is not based on short-term moving targets like an online PVP community or cutting-edge graphics.
- Try to maximise the sales in that first week window by any means necessary.
1 is very hard. 2 is much easier. You incentivize with preorder sales, with day-1 DLC, with headstart PVP and with hyping reviews leading in. These reviews are easier to get than you think: many review companies are given early-release games in ideal circumstances to experience (such as, for example, SimCity‘s reviews. Most reviews are not written with the finished product in mind, and many don’t finish the game, or explore the game’s story on any meaningful level. The rush to complete reviews close to the game’s release, or preview to have a ‘scoop’ incentivises hype – and all but the truly worst games will be given positive spin.
Preordering a game is expensive (you’re paying as high a price as the game will ever fetch, for the most part); it gives you the game in its worst state (before bugfixes, DLC and general balance issues are sorted out), and it’s made with the least information you could possibly ever have about the game! It’s before a game has been tested by the market, before critical analysis has had a chance to dig down into the game’s core! In essence, preordering is making a decision based entirely on the marketing of a game and not the game itself. Consider that Dante’s Inferno, Duke Nukem Forever, Dead Island, Metroid: Other M, and Assassin’s Creed III were all aggressively marketed, and they are now held up as examples of how badly the triple-A industry can fuck shit up.
Don’t preorder. Be patient. Games get cheaper and better over the course of their lifespan. There are games that are three years old now that are barely different in appearance to games coming out now that will give you just as much game experience as a game you bought today, and they come with all their DLC for free. What’s more, those games are proven to be good: you’re not taking a blind stab in the dark by buying Crysis 2 or Fallout: New Vegas, like you would be if you preordered, say, Assassin’s Creed IV.