Pre-ordering a game is supposed to be convenient. Not.

Pre-ordering used to be a convenient way to ensure that consumers received their favorite games on launch day. It used to be easy, one could go in the store and pick it up or have it delivered. Things have changed. Store owners want you to come into the store and purchase your game, and game publishers are backing their plays.

I purchased my first pre-order digital download game with Steam. I purchased the Digital Deluxe Edition (DDE) of Mass Effect 2, being released today. GameStop had a midnight release, which was not announced when I pre-ordered the game. When I pre-ordered I had this thought process:

  • By purchasing the download edition of the game, I miss the inconvenience of having to physically pick up the game or have it delivered.
  • I have to download the game, and there is no guarantee how long it will take to download it. To me, that balances out physically picking it up.
  • I’d start downloading the game at 12:01am.
  • Worst case scenario: it takes all night to download but when I get up in the morning (or sometime in the morning), I’m in Mass Effect 2 happily playing the game.

That’s not what is happening.

What really happens?

I was pleasantly surprised when I found out I could pre-load the game. Meaning, I could download the game early. Whomever thought of this was brilliant. I cannot play the game early but the downloads were spread over a couple of days versus madness on launch day. A good number of people have already downloaded the game and troubleshooted issues they had downloading the files.

The game does not unlock at midnight. According to the countdown counters on their site, the regular edition unlocks at around 1pm EST and the DDE (which costs $10 more than the regular edition) unlocks around 5pm EST. I looked at the page perplexed because that makes no sense. The people who paid more, one would think, would have quicker access to the game. One of the selling points for the DDE could have been the additional items and access to the game four hours earlier. I have no doubts that more people would have purchased the DDE if only for early access. Perplexed, I looked on the Stream site to see if there was a way to upgrade my account to a premium account to receive games early. Nope.

Essentially, people who spent more money on the game are being penalized for doing so. By 5pm EST I could have had the game delivered and received it. Not.

I usually purchase from EB Games/GameStop and for the most part, I usually have the game on launch day. It ships, overnight delivery, the day before. Not Mass Effect 2. It ships on the launch day so customers wouldn’t receive the game until the 27th. Why? Because of the midnight launch. They prefer people come into the store.

It’s only a couple of hours…

This is true, it is only a four hour difference. And let’s be honest, what are the odds after tomorrow I’m going to care about the four hour difference? I’ll happily be playing Mass Effect 2, right?

I’ll remember the next time I want to order a game.

I understand that they wanted to stagger the number of people logging in to reduce loads on the server. I understand that companies providing digital downloads have to come second to retailers. What I don’t understand is why people who paid more for the game have to wait four hours to play it?

The publisher sets the release times, not Steam. The publisher set the times this way to encourage people to come into the store so they can sell more retail copies. As it is now, if this is their normal practice one would have to weigh if the extra items in game (which might be downloadable content, who knows?) is not only worth the extra cost but the extra wait.

Why does this matter?

Many companies are happy to get a sale. What I’m seeing here are retailers trying to dictate how the product is sold. Regardless of whether there is a midnight launch or not, ship the game so the customer receives it at launch. The customer is paying the extra shipping. Instead, they opened hours early (or stayed open late) to have people come to the store and purchase the game. I’d love to see the cost difference – which is more, people ordering and processing the shipped games or having stores open longer to sell games?

On the digital side, taking a back seat to retailers, they’ll restrict the number of installs, delay the release times, etc. which hinders the customer. Yes, they have to battle piracy but let’s remember, the game leaked early. The people who legitimately purchased the game didn’t leak it because they don’t have it yet! In either case the sale is no longer good enough.

The end result…

Even though there were different times stated on the game page, both editions opened up at 1pm EST. As I am writing this, the game is decrypting (about 51% complete). There were many responses in the Steam forums about the different launch times, confusion about whether the DDE actually unlocked four hours after the regular edition. Gamers are emotional about their games so I was surprised that no one from Stream responded in the forums. A simple explanation pinned to the top of the forums would have stopped a lot of the bitter angry (and confused) feelings people had.

Will I order from Steam again? Yes, because 1pm EST unlock is reasonable to me. However, I really miss the convenience and ease of pre-ordering and you just get the game, no questions, no hassle. Those were the good ole days.

And with that, I’m outta here cause my game is done. Deuce!

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