Saturday, May 18, 2019


By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris

Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. Im TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series where I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. This week I've decided to take a rant that I vomit whenever my friends tell me they're going to pre-order a game and turn it into a video. This week we will be talking about Pre-ordering. 

If you don’t take anything else away from this video please take this: DO NOT PRE ORDER! Preordering games is bad for video games and with the increased popularity of the medium in recent years we have already started to see a handful of publishers fly just a little to close to the sun. It has happened before and let's not kid ourselves, it absolutely could happen again.

Quick background on me so that maybe I sound a bit more credible while saying what I'm about to say: I graduated with a bachelors degree in economics with an emphasis in public policy and a focus on industrial organization. So when I say that it could happen again I'm not just talking out of my ass this is something that I actually have an education on.

To really paint this picture and give us all a real sense of scale of what's at risk here we have to go all the way back to the late 1970's. Pong was in homes all across the United States and increasingly advanced video game consoles were making their way into our every day lives. Video game were a hot craze and more and more people were interested. As the audience grew then naturally so did demand; and as demand grew suppliers were tripping over themselves to get to market to satisfy that demand. Throughout the late seventies and early eighties the video game industry looked unstoppable. Everyone was wanting to play games and they were always looking for a new games to play. The market was even simpler and more binary back then too! It was a time when one game could be objectively better than another  and every developer was looking to be top dog even if it was just for a minute. Whereas today's market has diversified significantly to accommodate different tastes. 

Video games got so popular back then that publishers were giving developers insane time constraints the most infamous example being ET for the Atari 2600 having a development window of only about six weeks. And ET is when everything came crashing down, ET didn’t break the industry single handedly the way so many people think it did it was just the straw that broke the camels back. During the video game gold rush as so many publishers were trying to get every idea any of their devs had to market to get that sweet sweet cash out of the players wallets the overall quality of video games was in steady decline. Typically as developers become more accustomed to the hardware they're developing on the opposite happens and the quality increases as they understand how to squeeze more juice from the same fruit. But over time the quality of video games got worse and eventually they were barely passable as games at all and the consumers did what they've been known to do in a capitalist market structure: they voted with their wallets.

After the December 1982 release of ET for the Atari 2600 the video game industry crashed. In early 1983 what was one of the most popular new mediums of art and what seemed to be an unstoppable industry disappeared almost overnight. It was almost as if everyone got on the internet and there was a massive forum post on a subreddit everyone was subscribed to and they all organized together to stop buying video games. Demand dropped to nearly zero and retailers stopped carrying not only games but game consoles. If customers weren't going to buy them then why would a retailer commit valuable shelf space to them. It seemed as though the golden goose had laid its last egg.

But then Nintendo came along and saved us all! Nintendo released the NES and intentionally marketed as an entertainment system so as to distance themselves from anything related to video games. They made the console a drab dark gray to make it not look like any console had previously and even packed in ROB the robot to make it appear as though it was a toy, but really it was just those pesky video games wearing a mask and retailers saw that. Nintendo had to work hard to convince retailers that consumers might have caught on a few years ago but the they either wouldn’t catch on  this time or they would have forgotten by now and as a result the big N wound up practically giving the consoles to retailers to get the shelf space. Nintendo's plan was to bring good software to market to subsidize the loss on the hardware, and it worked spectacularly. 

It took almost thirty years for the industry to recover and almost as soon as it had made a full recovery and video games were once again as prolific as they had been in the late seventies publishers started to screw it all up in a remarkably similar fashion. Oversaturation leading to an overall degradation of quality has happened to entire genres, where the hell are movie tie in games in 2019? They don’t exist because they got so incredibly shitty that people stopped buying them and now its not a lucrative business. But publishers definitely learned at least one thing from the crash and they've developed a means of circumventing the mistakes of yesteryear while still raking in the profits for minimal effort…preorders.

I am absolutely certain that video game publishers track stats and metrics for their sales figures so as to determine what to invest in moving forward. I don’t have any problem with this its what any sensible person would do when running a business. What I do have a problem with is how they let that information get in the way of the games they're making. If hypothetically a publisher knows that for every 10 preorders 5 of those will turn into actual sales then they know they need to market the game and talk it up until they have hit at least 200% of their sales goals to make the game profitable and achieve what they want it to achieve. Once that preorder goal is hit then the publisher knows they will not only make their money back but they will have made enough profit to consider the game an absolute win. After that goal is hit the publisher puts the games development on life support giving it the bare minimum of what it needs to be developed into what can sometimes be considered a finished product for the consumer and more importantly the preorder people to buy. Once they hit those numbers any incentive for the publisher to put out a good game dies.

It's like video game publishers have figured out how to turn on the infinite grind cheat in Tony Hawk, once that shit was on you never paid attention to the what you were doing because why would you when you already knew you were going to win? So what can we as consumers do to combat their new tactics? Well there are a few things and they don’t all involve hostility towards the developers or publishers, in fact some of them are the exact opposite!

First we need to always encourage developers and publishers when they are showing us things we like. If a developer shows some love to a series that we are fans of we need to shout it from the roof tops that we think they are on the right track. If a publisher demonstrates a commitment to releasing a finished product that they are proud of even if it means a delay or two or ten then that’s fine I know I personally would rather wait for a good game than have a bad game now. We all have social media we need to use it to provide more positive feedback to developers and publishers both. We cant sit back and expect them to read our minds, they want the information and our opinions so lets make it easy for them!

Second and this one sounds pretty stupid but you would be shocked how many people don’t do this, when a game comes out and you want to play it then buy it. Don’t pirate it, just buy it. If you cant afford it then wait until you can. I feel so stupid having to say this but when a game is good the artist deserves to get paid and we need to do what we can to make sure they do.

And finally the most obvious of all just vote with your wallet. Don’t sign up to buy the game before it's even out for some minor bonus. Even if you know you're going to buy it even if you're already sold on the game just wait until it's out to buy it. Preorders started as a means of retailers gauging how many copies they needed to order but the last time I can remember having to preorder a game just to make sure I would get it the day it came out was Halo 2. Sure there are outliers like Nioh or Octopath Traveler that are difficult to buy a physical copy of every few years but in this day and age when we can just download the games there really is no reason to preorder. Wait and if you don’t like a practice from the developer or publisher or the direction that game was taken or if it just doesn’t look like your cup of tea then don’t buy it and that will send a message loud and clear because money is what motivates these publishers.

I have a friend, we can call him Luis, Luis preorders any game he is even moderately interested in. Then if he decides hes not interested he cancels the preorder. When Luis does this he is helping the publishers get a better and better idea of how many preorders they can turn into actual sales and how many preoder's they need to reach before they can just call it a day. Be smart with your money and help keep the video game industry healthy so we can continue to get quality games for years to come. Don’t be Luis.

What's your stance on preorders? Do you preorder games? Let me know why in the comments down below I would love to have a thoughtful discussion around this and really anything else gaming related you wanna talk about!

Thanks for watching my video! Don’t forget to check out our gaming podcast HardReset and our movies podcast NoRefunds the podcast that watches bad movies so you don’t have to. You can find everything we do all in one spot over at links to everything will be in the description down below. Next week HardReset will be guest written by our very own gorgeous Ben Reynolds so make sure to come back and check that out! Now that I've indulged my hero complex I'm gonna go back to playing Red Dead…just go play some games.

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