Maybe It’s Time We Stop Buying Games on Day One

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

Sex Pistols singer John Lydon asked that question at the end of the final Sex Pistols performance in 1978, but the question could just as easily be asked by weary gamers. Publishers want their money, so they make launches extravagant. Celebrity appearances, largely value-free pre-order bonuses, massive advertising blitzes, a carefully cultivated first-adopted atmosphere — tremendous effort and money is put into creating the general sense that they’re not just releasing a game, they’re putting on an event, and one you don’t want to miss.

At the same time, consumers get punished for their faith in publishers and developers with alarming frequency. It’s bad enough that developers increasingly rely on schemes like same-day DLC and special editions, but more and more often, games that developers know include bugs and aren’t up to the quality standards players expect are released with the same fanfare as games that actually work.

Why do they do this? Quite frankly, it’s because they’re rewarded handsomely for it.

Visit any game’s forums and you’ll almost certainly find a litany of complaints about that title’s shortcomings, particularly games that came with certain promises about what players could expect. The community is clearly aware there’s a problem. And yet gamers continue to buy games on day one, in such huge numbers that a successful game can make the vast majority of its earnings in the first three days (in fact, the biggest games gauge their success or failure on the strength of their earliest sales). No wonder then that the industry has a carefully coordinated strategy when it comes to how games are launched, and how the gaming press treats that launch.

Take Medal of Honor: Warfighter. When it hit shelves earlier this month, rather than the surgical strike Electronic Arts had promised, it landed like a Nerf dart bouncing ineffectually off its target. The development team appeared to have had almost no time to get the thing right, and MOHW had to be released with a giant patch that still did not address numerous technical problems. But more important than the fact that it launched with problems that should have been fixed during beta is that it really isn’t very good, as reflected by the game’s average review score of 56.

But you didn’t know any of that before the game came out, did you? That’s because Game Front and, as far as we can tell, the majority of gaming publications, did not receive a review copy of the game. Fans found out for themselves how bad things were when Warfighter launched, and negative word of mouth probably did more than anything to render the current incarnation of the Medal of Honor series stillborn. Still, people who bought the game, especially digitally, were probably left feeling a bit ripped off. But, while it’s tempting to call out EA for having lacked the forthrightness to make the game available to critics, they’re hardly alone in the way they do everything possible to make sure games are glowing in the public eye prior to their actual release.

Activision, for instance, is known for sending reviewers to its very posh “review events,” which are basically vacations (full disclosure: we attended Call of Duty XP [which was not a review event] last year, and can report that the gaming press was provided with lavish perks just for showing up). Despite the royal treatment Activision loves giving to the gaming press, Activision still strictly manages the image of its biggest franchise; review copies of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 weren’t provided until launch date. Why send out copies and risk poor reviews when you know a game will sell well without them?

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21 Comments on Maybe It’s Time We Stop Buying Games on Day One

GarynDakari

On November 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I’ve still never bought a game during it’s first week, or even paid full price for one. Most, and soonest after launch I’ve ever paid for a game, was $30 for Portal 2, in it’s first month.

No, I’ve never pirated a game either.

I’m just cheap xD Besides, I’m still working through old games, so I’m not in a huge rush for the newer ones. I usually wait around a year after games come out to play them, so I can get the GotY with DLC and such. Except for Valve games of course, since they don’t charge for their DLC.

Huntsman06

On November 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I only ever bought 1 game the day it came out. Didn’t go at midnight it was like 8 in the morning or something, but still day 1. Worst mistake ever! I payed $60 for a game that received tons of great reviews and praise to only be disappointed. Now I never buy a game within the first month of it’s release UNLESS it’s a sequel that’s on the same console as it’s predecessor

beema

On November 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Great article. As you said, for the past two years or so, it seems like games just punish people for being early buyers. I rarely ever purchase games on release anymore. It makes much more sense to me to wait a few months, and by then, major bugs will be patched and the price will have dropped. Publishers have really done well to cultivate a culture of “me first” mentality among gamers though. Many seem to feel like if you don’t buy every new release that pops out immediately, they are losing out on something. This can sadly be true in cases of the many flash-in-the-pan multiplayer games that come out lately, as a month or two following release, the MP servers will all be dead. Although that usually just speaks to the low quality and lack of staying power for the multiplayer.

Roman

On November 20, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I have followed this for the most part. Early on, I was on the “need to have it” kick, and would be stopping by the store at opening (never a midnight launch for me) and get the game that I “needed”. After getting burned twice, that was enough to make me do one of 3 things. 1) get Gamefly, can get the game and after not liking it, get another that I “needed” 2) use Redbox, though they dont carry many games, I have 5 red boxes in a 3 block area from me, so I can get one nomally, test it out, I like it I go and buy it. Or 3) let the game be out for some time, and get it on the cheap or find out its really good and get it.

Todays younger gamers (not only the young ones, but I see them as the repeat offenders) “NEED” to get the newest “insert FPS game here” game, so some can be the best at leaderboards, which is like being the best nosepicker, good for you, but it doesn’t mean anything.

Wesley

On November 20, 2012 at 2:34 pm

As smudboy put it on Youtube, the people who think they’re the best fans by having their preorders at the ready and forming evidence around opinions as a defence mechanism against constructive criticism are the customers most responsible for keeping the industry in the creative mire. Companies will continue to bleed us dry as long as they’re allowed to, which sadly will be a long time yet.

lol

On November 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Uhh no? Why would you not want to pick something up day one? If a million people buy a game and only a few thousand are having an issue that isn’t anything of a problem.

I agree some game launches were horrible, but those same games were given ungodly high scores *cough* diablo 3 *cough*

JawaEsteban

On November 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Four words: Wait For Steam Sale.

Thatisall.

GarynDakari

On November 20, 2012 at 3:58 pm

JawaEsteban is on to something.

Dumb Killer

On November 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm

‘lol’ – do you even try to be relevant? How can you say the complaints aren’t a problem? Are you just applying your sad appeal to majority bias again? People pre-ordered a game based on getting something, and it was taken away from them within five days. That is a massive problem, just because it didn’t apply to you personally doesn’t give you the right to arrogantly handwave it so you can pretend everything’s hunky-dory.

Everything I’ve ever seen you post on this site has been completely and abjectly incorrect on factual and ethical levels. You have to try to be as stupid as that, so I can only assume you’re a troll. God help us all if you’re actually that moronic.

lol

On November 20, 2012 at 4:50 pm

@Dumb Killer

By that logic the few people that are having problems aren’t entitled to whine or complain either, or be arrogant about the 60 dollars they took a gamble on.

Forcing you to install and use Steam for a pc is something to be angry about. Having your PSN account hacked is something to be angry about, your Xbox 360 red-ringing is something to be angry about. Wii-U charging 50 cents to play online if you are underage is something to be angry about.

Launch day blues is not. You can NEVER prepare for it.

You are the epitome of today’s gaming generation. Needy, whiny, entitled.

S

On November 20, 2012 at 5:33 pm

I have become a lot more selective about the games I buy release day. I need to be very confident, or simply know that I’m going to buy it regardless of reviews for whatever reason. Generally, if I’m buying release day/week, the developer has earned my trust already. If they break that trust, I’ll start questioning their future releases. Simple as that.

quicktooth

On November 20, 2012 at 10:29 pm

@lol- shhh your troll is showing.
@Phil Hornshaw- you’re darn right. It baffles me that games buyers, and ONLY games buyers, are willing to be flagrantly and maliciously abused by games companies. WE’RE the customers; we’re in charge here. Don’t like/approve/etc a game? Don’t buy it! Might want to do an article explaining the (baffling and worring) “need” that various gamers seem to feel for games, to the point of buying sh!t and claiming they “need” it…

Dumb Killer

On November 21, 2012 at 2:11 am

lol
“By that logic the few people that are having problems aren’t entitled to whine or complain either, or be arrogant about the 60 dollars they took a gamble on.”

They’re not ‘few’, they are a substantial number. And again, I’ve made this very clear – playing the appeal to the majority is not a legitimate argument. The fact that you consider that a $60 investment on a false promise should be considered a “gamble” says it all about your myopic viewpoint.

“Forcing you to install and use Steam for a pc is something to be angry about. Having your PSN account hacked is something to be angry about, your Xbox 360 red-ringing is something to be angry about. Wii-U charging 50 cents to play online if you are underage is something to be angry about.”

Another fallacy, I’m afraid. “You can find fault in these things, so you can’t find fault in another thing” is yet more intellectual laziness.

“Launch day blues is not. You can NEVER prepare for it.”

Exactly! You can’t prepare for companies going against their word and ripping off the customers. Which is exactly why you should never, ever buy on the first day. What exactly was your point on this? You’ve literally just agreed with me, so why are we even having this conversation?

“You are the epitome of today’s gaming generation. Needy, whiny, entitled.”

Nope – because you’ve already established that I’m in the minority. You can’t have it both ways. If you’re in the majority, then it’s YOU who’s the epitome of today’s gaming generation: vacuous, unquestioning, obedient and uninformed. I, on the other hand, simply want games manufacturers to be held to account when they clearly lie about a product they’re selling. What exactly is it about this mindset that troubles you? Is it the fact that it might call into question the integrity of some of the publishers you’re so fond of?

You and your ilk are destroying the entertainment form that you claim to love, and you’re so wide-eyed towards the mainstream developers that you don’t even realise how much damage you’re doing with your endless passivity towards their blatant, provable dishonesty. It’s not ‘entitled’ to expect not to be lied to, it’s common sense. Something that you clearly lack, presumably willingly.

Enjoy Mass Effect 4, by the way – another one of your crimes against the industry.

R.J.

On November 21, 2012 at 11:39 pm

The trick of pre-order bonuses lost its appeal to me when it became common practice to sell said bonuses at a later date. Initially, the bonuses really were just for those who pre-ordered, but then the companies figured out that they could make even more money by selling this content later. When that bonus is sold for 99 cents, it should say a lot about how important it really is. Besides, if the game ends up being good, then it isn’t so bad to buy some DLC, especially if you’ve waited and bought the game at a lower price.

Patches on release day just show who is deciding when a game comes out. It’s the publishers picking when it works for them (holidays, fiscal years, etc.) not the devs who would actually know whether their game is ready for the public. When a game has a big patch on the first day, I get very nervous about it because I’m left wondering how many other bugs there are that they didn’t test thoroughly enough to find.

I also agree that the practice of withholding review copies are requiring reviewers to wait until release day is extremely shady. If publishers truly believe in their investments, why are so many of them afraid of informed consumers? If the game is actually good, then early reviews shouldn’t matter. Is it any wonder that the few games that do get advance reviews also get positive reviews? Even if the publishers are worried about reviewers deliberately low-balling their game, they can factor that into who gets a review copy of the next game. Presumably, review copies are only sent to reputable sources, so the only thing the publishers really have to fear is being called out for a lousy game.

Michael

On November 22, 2012 at 11:35 pm

I totally agree.
Stating next year I will wait until I see real reviews of a game before I purchase them.
So far 2 of my favorite franchises this year had me waste 30 hours of gameplay each with horrible endings that ruined the rest of the games for me. Those 2 games are Mass Effect 3 and Assassins Creed 3.

I realyy dont care how good these games are to some people but when you end a story like they did with these games I think we should get our money back for them. Plus also it makes buying future DLC pointless as well.

Vivid8

On November 24, 2012 at 5:25 am

Absolutely right. I stopped buying games day one after Rac City. It looked broken in the demos, but I figured no one could release a game that un-finished. It was the last 65 dollars I was ever scammed out of. Now I let everything release and give it time before I buy it for a number of reasons. I’m much happier now as a gamer, the industry has become so very greedy and the fans get beat on the most. I understand gaming is about to go to a very very bad place because of the greed and peoples inability to say no to horrible products, but I won’t be a part of it. Microsoft will be releasing a game this year that charges you by the HOUR to play. Either don’t buy it, or support the end of gaming. Because I swear to the power of the universe, if you start showing developers you’re willing to pay by the hour, Halo, Call of Duty and all the rest will become hourly payment games. I promise it.

Mozer

On November 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm

What’s wrong with Gaming Publishers is the same thing that’s wrong with all of America right now. It all falls on one word: GREED. It’s all about “How much can I gain at the expense of others?”

If a world existed where we could take people like that and gun them down in the streets, I would gladly pick up arms and laugh gleefully as the blood of greedy, selfish bastards filled the streets. Unfortunately, like all honest Americans, we are forced to simply tolerate it with the excuse “that’s just how things are” looming over our heads.

The least we can do stop buying games on day one. I for one, will be waiting 2 weeks from now on before buying a game even to get the the publishers to recognize that little “ you!” from me.

My apologies to those who think this post sounds very negative. I’m not a pessimist, just a realist.

Heart Fart

On November 26, 2012 at 5:23 am

Mozer – nobody with any sense or experience would disagree with what you said. Only the self-deluded masochistic industry fanboys who have their games bought for them by their parents would find fault in the concept of “waiting and seeing” instead of going in completely blind and unquestioningly.

SXO

On November 27, 2012 at 7:03 am

I currently only pre-order indie games, with a few exceptions for AAA titles I know I’ll love (e.g. Borderlands 2). My money predominantly goes to indies now, and I tend to wait for bargain bin prices on most of the big games. Once in a while I still buy a game at or near full price if it’s a studio I’d like to support, like the people behind Dishonored, but pre-ordering is largely off the menu unless it’s indie or nearly guaranteed to be awesome.

Rista B

On November 28, 2012 at 12:50 pm

I’m sure I’m old, stupid and boring but I have never bought a game on day one. Never understood why people would run out and pay full retail for a game that they could save 20% and more on just a few weeks later. Never paid full price for DLC and can’t figure out why people buy a used game for a few dollars less than a full priced new game when again they could get it for significantly cheaper in the very near future.

And the way the console makers/game publishers are pricing their products makes Steam and PC gaming look better every month. Which is really too bad because I prefer to game on my couch with a console controller.

SXO

On November 29, 2012 at 6:50 am

@Rista B

To answer your question as to “why” people buy games at full price, most of the time it’s because of lack of patience. People want their fixes NOW rather than later. It’s the same mentality that makes people blow through 100-hour RPG’s in 40 hours, achieve max level in MMO’s within days rather than weeks, etc.

Me personally however, my reason as I stated in my previous post is simply to support the developers. I intentionally pay full price for certain games because I can afford to do it, and I want those developers to have my hard earned money so they can continue making their particular flavor of games. I don’t knock people for not doing what I do, it makes perfect logical sense to wait for a better price, especially if you don’t intend to play the game right away. I just feel like doing my part, however meager, to keep the good people in the industry going.