Pre-ordering in the days of physical copies of PC games just made sense. It was a way to ensure that you would get the game even if the stores sold out of the rest of its stock. However, why do we even bother to pre-order in a world of digital gaming?
Pre-ordering can be a great idea if you’re looking to get the bonus digital items that often come with pre-orders. It can also give you keys for beta testing and early access to the game. However, if those additional perks aren’t offered, there’s almost no reason to commit to the pre-order rather than waiting for the price to drop shortly after release.
Pre-ordering digital PC games is one of the hottest debates in modern gaming. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons on both sides so you can make an informed decision the next time you buy a game ahead of release.
A Quick History of Pre-Ordering Video Games
If you’ve been spending most of your gaming time on Steam, Epic, or even itch.io, you might have missed out on the heyday of pre-ordering video games.
Gaming pre-orders have always been a way for companies to drum up additional sales. This is a way to get customers to purchase the game before it’s even out and in a sense commit to handing over their money for a game before they can even actually buy it.
Back before games were commonly distributed over the internet as downloadable files, the only way to get a game was as physical media. This meant that a lot of pre-ordering involved midnight releases where people would line up outside of their favorite game stores to wait for the exact moment that the game would be available for purchase on release day.
Now it won’t download in most of our games, should we even keep pre-ordering?
Should You Pre-Order PC Games?
We want to give pre-ordering PC games a fair shake. We’re going to look at both the pros and the cons when it comes to pre-ordering in order to find out if this is worth it for you.
We’ll start off on a positive note by looking at the pros of pre-ordering digital PC games.
Pros of Pre-Ordering
The way we see it, there are four big benefits to pre-ordering modern PC games. Here’s a quick list of the reasons why you should pre-order, but we’re going to go through each one in more detail.
- Bonus Digital Items
- Occasional Physical Bonuses
- The Biggest Benefit: Pre-Load
- Access to Beta
Bonus Digital Items
One of the best reasons to pre-order your next PC gaming purchase is to get the bonus digital items that often come with a pre-order.
These are typically alternative costumes for your characters, powerful early game weapons, or even additional levels or maps.
Most of these items can’t be accessed normally through regular play of the game. While they do sometimes pop up for sale later on, there’s no guarantee that a company is going to make these items accessible unless you get the preorder.
These items are likely not going to make or break your play experience, but if you really want some of the digital goods that come with the pre-order, then it’s definitely worth it.
Occasional Physical Bonuses
This is getting increasingly rare, but you could actually find some physical goods that come with your pre-order. A lot of companies like to offer figures, physical maps, and other goods as an incentive to pre-order the game.
We’ll talk about why this is getting increasingly rare later on in this article, but these items often sell for a lot on the secondary market after the pre-order period is over. Sometimes, the best way to get these affordably is just to order the game ahead of time.
A pre-order usually doesn’t cost more than the game is going to cost once it’s regularly released. It’s a great way to get some additional merch from your favorite game if you’re going to buy it anyway around launch.
The Biggest Benefit: Preload
Now let’s talk about the single biggest benefit of pre ordering a digital release for PC. You get to preload the game and be ready for launch day.
Preload is one of these single biggest benefits of a digital pre-order for a PC game. This essentially means that you get to fully download and install the game before it’s released even though you can’t play it until the regular launch starts.
There’s nothing more aggravating than having to spend hours downloading a game on launch day. Preloading lets you hit the ground running and start playing immediately when a new game comes out.
Some companies even let people who pre-orders start playing the full release a few days ahead of schedule. This means that you get to try things out before the servers start getting crowded and before the game gets spoiled online.
Access to Beta
Speaking of early access, a lot of game developers are starting to offer access to the beta phase of gameplay and design as an early pre-order bonus (this is something that CoD: Modern Warfare 2 offered many players).
Beta refers to the stage of game development right before a game is ready for its full release. This is when the game is mostly together and ready to play, but the developers are still working out the final bugs and changes they want to make before the game gets its full release.
Beta play is an exciting way to see the world of your new game early. Some companies also allow you to hold over equipment, levels, and other perks from the beta playtest. They might also offer a benefit, such as boosted levels or in-game money, if you played during the beta.
The Cons of Pre-Ordering
However, not everything is good in the world of pre-ordering a game. In fact, there are some pretty substantial cons to pre-ordering digital games on PC and we’re going to take a look at each one.
- The Game Might Not Release
- You’ll Pay the Highest Price
- Early Launch is Often Full of Bugs
- Preorder Bonuses are Getting Rare
The Game Might Not Release
We have to start with what could be the single biggest downside to pre-ordering digital-only releases. There’s a good chance that the game might never come out.
This is most often the case with smaller and medium-sized developers. It’s incredibly difficult to build a fully-realized video game and release and small companies often break under that pressure. If you pre-order too early in development, you might not have a game you can receive on release day.
Even if the game does come out, there have been plenty of games that have been almost too buggy to play at lunch, resulting in loads of updates later. No Man’s Sky, Final Fantasy 14, and plenty of other games have been riddled with problems during their early history.
Pre-ordering comes with the risk of getting a game that might honestly not be ready for release. Developers are under a lot of pressure to put games out quickly and that occasionally means releasing a game that’s honestly not done being developed.
At the time of writing (September 2022), STALKER 2 is available to pre-order on Steam – but it’s not due out until December 2023. Plus it’s still at least £50 per copy. Do you really want to tie up £50+ for a game that might not be released for almost a year and a half?
You’ll Pay the Highest Price
You’re also going to pay the highest possible price for your pre-order game.
There’s essentially an unlimited supply of every single digital copy of a video game. It’s not like things were back in the days when physical copies could actually sell out of a video game on release day.
Buying a pre-order of a physical video game used to guarantee that you would be able to get a copy the day it came out. That’s no longer an issue.
Now you’re just paying the highest possible dollar to start playing the first day the game comes out. There’s no longer worried about the game selling out which means you could easily just wait a few weeks for the price to drop.
Early Launch is Often Full of Bugs
We mentioned a few games that were unplayable and bugged out during their early days. However, almost every video game has a lot of bugs on launch day.
One of the biggest problems with how modern pre-ordering works is that the early launch is often one of the most difficult times for a game. Servers are almost never able to handle the rush of players that come to a game its first few weeks.
This means waiting a long time to queue into the game or a very buggy experience during the play itself.
They say that a battle plan never survives first contact with the enemy and even the best designed game never survives first contact with its players. Even if the server issues and bugs are ultimately minor, the first few weeks of a new game’s release are going to be full of patches and glitches.
Preorder Bonuses are Getting Rare
Another thing that we have to keep in mind is that pre-order bonuses are starting to get really rare.
We almost never see physical pre-order bonuses anymore. These are saved for AAA games and even only a few of those.
What’s getting more interesting is that fewer developers are even offering digital bonuses. Outside of access to preload and maybe beta testing, we’re seeing a lot of AAA games not even offer digital goods as a pre-order bonus.
This essentially means there’s almost no difference in buying a game when it releases and buying a pre-order.
Pre-Ordering Games With Physical Copies—Get Your Game Early
The last thing we have to look at when it comes to pre-order in a modern PC game is whether or not you’re pre ordering a physical copy.
There are plenty of games that still have physical copies in the world of PC gaming. Even though this is getting more rare with each passing year, physical copies still have a lot to offer us. One of the biggest benefits comes from pre-ordering.
Physical copies are much more likely to also have pre-order bonuses. These include both physical and digital goods. This really sweetens the deal when it comes to pre-ordering.
However, the single biggest benefit comes from the fact that you might actually get your game early. If you preorder your game from Amazon or another online retailer, they might actually ship it a few days ahead of the official release cycle.
There have been plenty of stories of people getting a brand new game a few days or even a week ahead of time because Amazon accidentally shipped it out sooner than they were supposed to.
This isn’t guaranteed, but it could mean that you got the latest video game a few days ahead of everyone else.