Friday, August 18, 2006


Pre-Order Mania

Remember when a video game pre-order was a convenience to the consumer? If you knew a big title was coming out and you just couldn't bear the thought of living a single moment without it, you could put down five bucks on it and be assured of having a copy of the title on release day. That still applies, of course, but there's a darker side to it -- if you get your video games from places like Gamestop -- that can only be bad for the video game industry in general.

I've always considered a pre-order to be a special occasion, something you only do for the over-hyped and desparately desired games for your collection. But it's slowly turning into a necessity. You walk into a Gamestop to pick something up, and they give you the hard sell for pre-orders. Anything coming up that you're interested in? You know, that new Zelda game's coming out, it's going to be hard to come by. Have you heard of the New Super Mario Brothers?

Fine. I work in fast food, I know the pressure put on employees to do the whole suggestive sale thing. Anyone who works in customer service these days also has to be a living, breathing advertisement for the company's products. I can accept that, I don't blame the employees.

The problem is when I read a review for an obscure little Game Boy Advance game. Since it's obscure, the big websites don't bother to review it until weeks or even months after its release. It triggers my interest, so I go looking for it. Sometimes I even make the mistake of going to the store without calling ahead.

No, of course they don't have the game. Nobody pre-ordered it, so they only got a few copies. No, they don't plan on stocking it again. Okay, thanks.

Does anybody else see anything wrong with this?

The big titles are nothing to worry about. Your Marios and Grand Theft Autos and Halos, they're going to keep getting new stock for months and months to come. If you miss the first shipment, no worries, just catch the next one.

But they won't stock a game that doesn't get pre-orders? Yes, I can understand a company not wanting to take a risk on a game that doesn't seem to have much pre-release hype to it, but think about the implications. They're asking people to make a commitment to a game they've never heard of weeks or months before there are any reviews for it. What ever happened to a game with "legs", that spreads by word of mouth, that I play at a friend's house a year after it's released and start to think I'd like a copy for myself? And if you're a portable gamer like me, forget about it. For as much as portable gaming has helped to ensure the survival of companies like Nintendo, it's been a ghetto at places like Gamestop (formerly Babbage's and Funcoland) ever since the Game Boy days.

It's a system that's designed to favor the game series that are already successful in an industry that's already too homogenized and already relies too heavily on rehashing the stuff that consumers already know they enjoy.

As a gamer who revels in obscure titles like Survival Kids, Cubivore, Samba de Amigo -- it's frustrating. It's frustrating to go into a store that claims to specialize in video games and discover that their selection isn't much better than the apathetic department stores. It's frustrating to then be told that it's my fault for not having the foresight to purchase that game when it was just a title and a screenshot buried somewhere in the bowels of IGN.

I have several misgivings about the digital content delivery systems that companies are going to be pushing in the next generation -- call me old-fashioned, but I think there's something romantic about unsealing a box, holding a cartridge in my hand, and thumbing through a printed instruction manual -- but it might just be the only real solution to this pre-ordering nonsense. Electronic gourmands will no longer have to deal with the uneducated heathens who can't recite the playlist for Ultimate Arcade Games on command or who think Survival Kids is a Dreamcast game. Gone will be the days of rustling through a bucket of unsorted used DS cards to try and find a copy of Phoenix Wright that may or may not be hiding somewhere inside. Gone, too, will be the delight of being rung up by a minimum wage slave who tries to dissuade me from my purchase with warnings that Super Smash Brothers is "too easy" or Earthbound looks "too kiddy", but we all have to make sacrifices.

I await the coming liberation of digital content with open arms. And I'll be ready for it as soon as they start taking pre-orders for the Wii.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?