I know it's bad for me. I know it's expensive. I'm not addicted. I don't have a problem. I can stop anytime I want to.
I'm talking, of course, about pre-ordering video games.
In the course of my gaming career I've fallen into the pre-order trap maybe a dozen times. It's almost never gone well. I can name, maybe, two games that I've pre-ordered that lived up to my expectations. One of them was Saints Row The Third. I'll let you guess what the other one was. (It starts with a D and rhymes with Mook Rookum schmore-schnever.)
The rest of them have been resounding disappointments. Patapon was an interesting concept that devolved into a combination of everything I hate about strategy games and everything I hate about rhythm games. To this day I want to have liked that game, and to this day I like everything about it except playing it. 3D Dot Game Heroes was another disappointment. My wife and I were so excited to play a new game in the style of Zelda, only to find a game that included everything about the Zelda experience except the part where it was an enjoyable.
The ending of the first Darksiders literally gave me goosebumps of anticipation, but I never expected the game to get a sequel. When Darksiders 2 was announced, my wife and I did the dance of joy and pre-ordered it on the spot. Then it came out.
The most frustrating part? It wasn't even bad enough to hate. About halfway through it, we just got bored and stopped. You'd think a game featuring Death as envisioned by the dude who paints fantasy murals on conversion vans from the late 1980's would be more exciting.
My inability to stop buying disappointing games prior to launch has many causes that are completely tangled up and root-bound like a child's FFA project left to grow too long in a Dixie cup. Untangling it will take patience, perseverance, and the willingness to kill whatever is still able to grow in that tiny, tiny pot.
The first pre-order initiator is fear. Over the past few decades, the videogame industry has conditioned me to live in fear that the game I want will be impossible to actually get. GameStop is notorious for fanning these flames into a wild brush-fear that consumes all reason and frugality. Their stock is determined by pre-orders, so if I don't pre-order a game then my odds of actually laying hands on a copy of the game drop through the floor. This is especially true of the sort of bizarre little niche titles that I have favored my entire life, where GameStop is my only real, viable option for grabbing a copy of the sort of game that broader retailers like Best Buy or Walmart are unlikely to carry. Most recently this was driven home by Farming Simulator 15, a game which shipped all of four copies to every GameStop within a twenty minute drive of me, and of those I got the last copy. On launch day. At the second GameStop I tried.
Oh, how the clerk chuckled at the look on my face when I asked for the copy I had called to reserve and he told me they just sold it.
Ha ha, just kidding. Here it was behind the register the whole time. Har har har. Very funny. Ho ho. Aren't we being funny? Har har har. Of course I didn't insert a used SkyLanders figure up his nose. That would have been uncalled for.
It was an Amiibo.
Spending life In fear and regret, however, is no way to live. I can't buy every game I'm ever likely to want. That way lies financial ruin, and anyway, who's got that kind of time anymore?
So I try to compromise, and look to the second thing that gets my wallet warmed up: excitement.
I like to think of myself as a person who knows, er, myself. Knowing that I'm a contrary, grumpy bastard doesn't change the fact that I will bounce up and down like a poorly tuned suspension in Rhode Island when a launch trailer tickles my fancy just right. I'm a geek. I like geeking out.
At this point I'd like to pause and remark on how this is different from falling prey to hype, or wishing to be "part of the conversation." Hype is artificial excitement created by marketing people with a little knowledge of psychology. Hype alone may entice me to buy a game, but it won't get me to pre-order it. I know myself well enough to recognize when I'm excited about something rather than just juiced up on flashy marketing. One has me speculating about playing the game, while the other is merely a compulsion to own it.
As for "being part of the conversation," well, I like Twilight and Duke Nukem Forever. I don't get to have conversations; I get to have arguments.
No, when I talk about getting excited about a game, I mean I'm entirely dedicated to playing it as soon as possible. The idea of the game is so strong in my head that the only way to check my own enthusiasm before injuring myself is to put some money down on that bad boy. The pre-order receipt in my pocket is my golden ticket, baby! In TBD 2015, I'm going to have some real fun! See if I don't!
So I pre-order only the games I'm truly excited by. The games I want to play day-one. The games I'd be really sad if I couldn't get. I temper my fear with excitement – or perhaps the other way around.
The problem is that there will never be a game released that can deal with that sort of emotional cocktail. Think about it. How would you like to be the one making a game that a user is not just excited to play, but is actually frightened of not playing it because it will be so awesome? That's a lot of pressure to put on one game. It's like if you offered to make pancakes for your significant other, who then stipulated that he or she would leave you if they weren't the best pancakes he or she had ever eaten. Could you even touch the griddle under that kind of constraint?
Nope. There's clearly only one rational, reasonable course of action here: Don't pre-order games. Ever. Period.
I can do that. The game will be there. Probably. And even if it's not, there will be a hundred other ones out to try. In fact, if I'm willing to be very reasonable, I can hold out for the Game of the Year Edition, which will be the same price as the plain vanilla version is right now but will have twice as much content, and some bug fixes. All I have to do is wait a year or two, in a very reasonable way.
The fact that I did just that with Borderlands 2 and was largely disappointed is meaningless. How many times could that happen, right?
So no more pre-orders. I mean, look at my backlog, for crying out loud! Over three hundred fifty Steam games, and I've finished three of them. I shouldn't even be shopping for games, let alone pre-ordering them!
Wait. Fallout 4 is coming? In November, you say?
Okay. I'm being strong!
No more pre-orders.
After Fallout 4.
And this time I mean it!