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Like Pants

June 22, 2020 by Tim

I’d be super interested to know what the industry’s pre-order numbers look like over the past decade, and how presales have been trending overall. I know that, personally, I used to be incredibly guilty of pre-ordering games. I’d get caught up in the hype, in securing the preorder bonuses, telling myself “I definitely want to play that game, so why not just order it now?”

I started doing that drastically less within the past few years, and in fact I can’t even recall the last game I pre-ordered. Spider-man for the PS4, perhaps, and that was “pre-ordered” about 48 hours before release. I feel like the emphasis on pre-orders has declined as well a bit over the past couple of years… or am I just getting better at tuning it out? I know for sure the practice is out of favor with the vocal contingent, but how does that translate to actual sales? Are pre-orders still a big thing amongst the silent majority, or have they all felt burned too many times as well by buggy, patch-starved launches?

I was shocked this past week to find that, when I went to consider purchasing Desperados 3 on Steam, that there was an option to download a demo. I feel like that’s such a rarity these days that I did a double take to make sure it wasn’t some oddly-worded earlier-access nonsense.

Suffice to say, I downloaded the demo, loved it (incredible stealth gameplay, no surprise given the Shadow Tactics pedigree), and purchased the full title. I understand why demos are problematic for developers; you either have to showcase the slower, potentially duller early ‘tutorial’ levels, or throw the player into a more exciting later game section with no idea how the mechanics work. OR, you custom-craft a demo experience to showcase what the meat of your game is really like, but that costs precious development hours that the game proper needs.

Still, it’s hard not to wonder if demos kept some developers… I don’t know, more “honest,” for lack of a better word? Obviously it’s a lot less work to splice together a trailer of the juiciest gameplay, and a lot easier that way to avoid showing bugs, or general half-assery.


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Brian Jones
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Brian Jones

I only pre-order games that I’m interested in for the discount (usually $20 off). No other reason to pre-oder a game IMO.

Mr. Casual
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Mr. Casual

Steam’s actually currently having a game festival with demos all over the place. It’s great to see.

Marth Koopa
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Marth Koopa

I’ve never really thought about how tough it must be for younger people with no experience with video games to decide what to buy. With all the undeserved “10/10 masterpiece!” triple-A nonsense and YouTubers/Streamers shilling for the worst garbage… being a fledgling with no idea what to trust would be a nightmare (and no wonder how Fartnite became so damn popular) I’m glad I grew up with NES and PC as a starting point, all the experience needed to have full resistance to marketing and shills. Knowing exactly what I will enjoy or not is just so nice in this… Read more »

Pal87
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Pal87

It’s really easy actually.

Don’t buy it at launch, wait a week, watch the user reviews(critic reviews are paid for) watch some gameplay, watch a few YouTubers review it and if it’s still to your liking, buy it.

But in a world where

Fallout 76

Battlefield V

Anthem

Star wars battlefront 2

All exist, preordering games, buying at launch is the ultimate gamble.

Case in point, look at TLOU2 user reviews.

no thanks nintendo
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no thanks nintendo

User reviews are just as useless as critic reviews. Look at TLOU2? Okay. A bunch of 10s from fanboys and a bunch of 0s from people based on the leaks rather than actual playing of the game. And most are one or two sentences, completely useless for helping make a purchase decision. Forget the critic reviews because those outlets care more about woke points than games, forget the user reviews because users don’t care about producing good reviews, forget garbage like Metacritic in general. Go on YouTube and find yourself a good selection of people who care both about games… Read more »

Vandril
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Vandril

I find that the best way to read reviews that have a 1-5 star rating system is as follows: If the game has ANY 3 or less star reviews, ignore the 5 star reviews. If the game has ANY 3 star or above reviews, ignore the 1 star reviews. Merely doing this entirely cuts off the blind fans who can see no wrong and the blind haters who can see no good. There is NOTHING more useless to me than a 5 or 1 star review, because they are total bullshit 99% of the time. “Great gaem” and “This gaem… Read more »

ArdentSlacker
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ArdentSlacker

My review interpretation method is: Find one that’s not short, read what was a dealbreaker for that reviewer. If that’s something you don’t care about, switch to next review. For TLOU2, I watched some of a streamer’s play, but when he got to the end, I checked his take and his fresh thoughts about it. He wasn’t enthused. He admitted technically enjoying the gameplay. The story… not so much. Not a great tale, not told well. I don’t know from him if the disturbing bits would have broken the game for me… he’s not who I go to for that.… Read more »

Jacob
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Jacob

I follow the same method. I focus on the 2’s and 4’s. 5 is self explanatory (you love it, or you are motivated to tell others you love it), 1 is also self explanatory (you hate it or you are motivated to tell others you hate it), 3 is average. A 4 is either a lazy 5 (I loved it, but I cant give it a 5) or they may offer some meat as to where it fell short of a 5. A 2 is either a lazy 1 (its not the Star Wars Christmas Special) or they have some… Read more »

Lily
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Lily

I find steam reviews to be really helpful. Even though any one review isn’t useful in general, if you read several of them it forms a pattern. Usually if you look at all the negative reviews, they are usually complaining about similar things so you can get a good grasps on the shortcomings of the game and decide if that is an issue for you.

Seizuregman
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Seizuregman

Steam also has a trends setting so it helps you know if lets say there’s laods of recent negative reviews but it had 3 years of mostly postive it helps you see if the game has been review bombed or a recent change has ruined the game.

Urazz
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Urazz

Depends on the reviewers. I find it best to avoid those reviewers given preorder copies, including the youtubers/streamers that receive them as well. Also, be suspicious if a game receives a bunch of perfect reviews before/at launch and then has lower reviews after the launch.

I also find it a good idea to not just use one review to base your decision on but several and preferably reviews that go into detail one why the game is good and such without spoiling the plot of the game.

Helldemon
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Helldemon

And if everyone followed that advice, video games would be dead

Pal87
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Pal87

It’s really damning of the industry if people getting honest informed information about whether they would actually enjoy a game before they buy it would “kill the industry”

If the industry survives on people going in blind and buying a game they end up hating for them to get their money, well, it deserves to fail at that point.

wkz
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wkz

If an industry cannot release proper games, then it deserves to die.

Thankfully, there’s just enough good games (let alone the few excellent ones) to stop another Video Game Crash from happening anytime soon.

Unagiman
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Unagiman

Even then it’s tricky to be sure you’re going to love it. I played about two hours of Red Dead Redemption 2 and never even bothered trying it again. It’s probably one of the most hyped, well reviewed and beloved games of the last 10 years and I found it incredibly unsatisfying. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, I can see the appeal and level of craft, I just didn’t have a moment where I went “Oh man this is so much fun”. I had the same experience with the first Uncharted game. I played the entire Bioshock Infinite… Read more »

Scott
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Scott

Could not stand RDR 2. Way too slow and boring for me. That being said, I also bought Last Of Us (the first one) this weekend and barely got 2-3 hours in before I put it down too. If most strategies in a game involve “if you are seen by two enemies at once, run like hell” then that’s not for me. Give me a .50 caliber machine gun against 5,000 zombies ready to die over a pistol with 15 bullets against three zombies that are nearly as strong as you. It’s all about taste, really. Different strokes for different… Read more »

Nono
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Nono

Best case scenario is that you find yourself in a social circle (whether online or not) where you can at least trust their opinions.

Like, I have no experience at all with, say, Resident Evil. And even if I did want to play one, at least I’d have some fallback on what’s the best game to start with, what’s the appeal of it in the first place, how does the next game or whatever look like…

Jesse
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Jesse

Resident Evil 4. You just need to play Resident Evil 4. Not as horror-driven as some of the others, but an absolutely phenomenal game nonetheless.

Vandril
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Vandril

I outright stopped playing when I was a kid the moment it seemed to turn into a never ending escort quest. I was like, “Nope. I’m out.” I did make sure to find a way to “accidentally” shoot and kill my escort NPC despite her ducking out of the way (and below your shooting range) when you aim near her before quitting, though. 😛

Looking back, I actually have no idea if the “escort quest” really does span most of the rest of the game or if it was just a segment gig.

Jesse
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Jesse

Significant portions of the game are indeed escorting an NPC, and if that’s not for you, that’s fine. As you noted, it’s actually pretty hard to kill her by accident, so it’s not as annoying as some other escort games, but that aspect is certainly something to consider.

Lt. Kettch
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Lt. Kettch

Yarr!

Scott
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Scott

Yub yub, Commander!

Hand-E-Food
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Hand-E-Food

I was interested in Moving Out on PS4. I thought, maybe I’d buy it. We were still playing Overcooked 2. I’ll wait and see what the reviews say. I downloaded the demo.

The demo sold us instantly and I made sure the full game was downloaded by the time I finished work on release day!

But I also remember as a kid, just playing the games on demo disks again and again. That possibly explains why now I prefer a small game that does something well over a giant game that lacks variety.

ReaverRogue
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ReaverRogue

Man I miss demos. Though they’re from a time where game developers did it for the love of the craft and development cycles weren’t quite so arduous. I remember when I got a Soul Reaver demo and holy shit that convinced me to buy the full game! Or at least, get my big brother too!

ValentinesAshes
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ValentinesAshes

It was its demo in The Official PlayStation Magazine that made me buy Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver too. I was so excited that I rented it several times until I had enough money to buy the full game. I still can’t believe that it was beaten by Tomb Raider in a comparative article in the same magazine, but then, I found the original Tomb Raider games to be a bit dull, personally. It was PC Gamer demos that got me to buy the most games though – Half-Life (it was the Half-Life: Uplink demo that got me hooked, and… Read more »

Skorpeyon
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Skorpeyon

That was a nice period of time. Except for the time Sony sent out a disc with the Viewtiful Joe (2?) demo on it that wiped your memory card if there was one in slot 1. I don’t know anyone who ever removed their memory card. I had so much FF on that card, all lost to someone not testing their demo well enough.

Avary M
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Avary M

Personally I never really enjoyed demos. But that’s probably because I prefer either story driven games (and I don’t wanna be spoilded by a demo) or longer world strategy games like Civ or the Paradox games and a demo can’t really do it justice until you’ve put your teeth in for several hours at least. But in general I absolutely agree. They are the best idea if you are unsure if you’d like a specific game or genre. As for pre-orders I got very wary of them in the last years. Overall I think I pre-ordered 4 games ever. One… Read more »

BakaGrappler
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BakaGrappler

Personally, I’m playing a lot of Demos.

On the Switch.

Seems if we want good consumer practices we have to depend on Nintendo and CDPR.

The Legacy
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The Legacy

They’re both guilty and not guilty of it. Depends on what part of Nintendo you’re looking at.

Paul
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Paul

I guess when it comes to Steam, ‘Early Access’ has taken over the need for a Demo in some ways. Except you’re paying for it. Now that I think about it, I’ve been totally screwed by some of those too…but at least you can refund in many cases.

Rachel
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Rachel

When my Dad first retired he had no idea about Steam or Gamefly. He ended up paying full price for several junk games before I was able to inform him how many options there were compared to when he played 20+ yrs ago. As for me I don’t usually preorder unless it’s for a game I absolutely want.

Giuliano Marques
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Giuliano Marques

I only buy games months or when years of the launching. I don’t care about spoilers and this way I don’t pay full price and I get less bugs

iago
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iago

I’m pretty sure piracy took over the role of demos. Most people I know buy the game if they liked what they pirated.

CTOWN
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CTOWN

Well, if games would turn out to be less terrible less often, maybe pre-ordering would be even more popular.

ValentinesAshes
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ValentinesAshes

Ah, I remember the demo discs you used to get with The Official PlayStation Magazine – they were great. I know that game demos are still a thing, but you sort of need to be interested in them first in order to look them up, and then spend time downloading it, whereas those old demo discs provided you a selection of what was popular at the time, all of which were ready to play at the press of a button, plus the occasional homebrew Net Yaroze game (anyone remember Terra Incognita…?). And then there’s the PC Gamer demo discs, which… Read more »

Doodm4n
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Doodm4n

Gave you the +1 just for the last paragraph. Sorry about your friend.

Hunter
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Hunter

I think the lack of demos in the last decade was more of a marketing tactic then just avoiding a technical issue.

Demos can drive sales, but they can also lose sales. Every person that doesn’t like the gameplay in the demo is lost money. The big corporations don’t give that much of a shit if you love the game, just that you buy the game. It’s much easier to control what the potential player sees through other forms of marketing, ie paid critic reviews, paid for YouTuber gameplay, so on.

Fela
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Fela

IMO it’s running deeper than people not getting a chance to taste games before buying.

The whole fanboy culture with early access, buying unfinished products etc. destroyed a perfectly useful job profile – game tester – and with a healthier customer culture around games, we would probably have millions of additional jobs.

7he3rain
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7he3rain

Thanks for pointing me towards Desperados 3! 😃 Didn’t know about the game until now.

EpochAWOL
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EpochAWOL

I’d argue that my Steam problem is more akin to buying those poorly-sewn pants because they’re on sale, whether I actually need new pants or not. Now I have way too many pants and no time to wear them. I’ve metaphorically got a giant walk-in closet full of clothes that I’m basically just hoarding.

Reiss Myskiw
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Reiss Myskiw

God I miss demos, so many games I want to try first before buying…

Erugan
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Erugan

In recent years, nintendo has got the opposite direction in this regard. They used to maybe put a sales demo out in the “try it out” console in stores , but lately a good number of its big name IP’s have demos you can download and try out, with the option of keeping your save for when you get the real game. This typically covers the first level/dungeon, IE the tutorial mode of the game. For example, Super Mario oddesy only lets you do the limited first visit of the dinosaur area (can’t get most of that zones power stars… Read more »

Almost never finish games.
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Almost never finish games.

This hurt me so deeply…

Dan
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Dan

The Early Access model is so much worse. Companies expect you to pay full price for a game before they’ve even mapped out the game they’re trying to make.

Skorpeyon
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Skorpeyon

Nowadays, thanks to auto-refunds, demos are almost unnecessary. You can buy a game, play it for an hour, and refund it if you don’t enjoy it just fine. The primary reason I miss demos is the AAA titles that weigh in at close to 100GB, needing to purchase them, then download the ENTIRE thing just to see if I enjoy it. Would much rather have downloaded a 2-5GB demo to see if it’s any good first.

Karrde
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Karrde

Just play TLOU2 huh?

Futeko
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Futeko

When I pre-order I game, it’s when (1) I’m sure I’m going to play it, and (2) I want to support the studio. For example, as an unconditional fan of Hitman games, I’m going to pre-order Hitman 3, especially since IO Interactive went independent. It’s mostly a show of support to the developers.

Otherwise, since my backlog is anyway gigantic, by the time I’ll get to play that shiny new title that just came out, it’ll have undergone massive discounts, so it doesn’t make sense financially for me to buy them as pre-orders or at launch.

Faki
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Faki

Never pre-ordered a game. Never.

Josh Smith
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Josh Smith

I downloaded the heck out of demos on Steam this past week and then added some of the games to my wishlist to purchase when they release. I miss the days of the PC Gamer demo cd with the magazine. My Steam library is FULL of games I bought because a game looked cool, but then had horrible gameplay.

Suckerpunch
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Suckerpunch

The first and only game I ever pre-ordered? Duke Nukem Forever. I learned my lesson on that one.

Jsn
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Jsn

I only pre-order games i know I’ll like or previously played. Do you guys remember Apogee and there demos or ID did with Doom, Wolfstein 3D. Let you have one episode.

Grayzzur
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Grayzzur

I’m at a point where I’m just too busy to devote a large chunk of time to playing games. So I wind up wishlisting the new releases that look interesting and picking up things when they hit a big sale. Then, like it or not, I won’t be spending too many hours on it either way, and it doesn’t feel like a waste.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

The Switch eShop has tons of demos for big name games and smaller ones, too. 😁

Alcor
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Alcor

I preorder when you get artbooks and stuff, but otherwise don’t.

James Rye
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James Rye

I never pre-order, period. Thus I do not have that problem. In a couple years I can buy the products I liked to watch on LPs when they are supercheap and I only buy full price of Indie games when i like the concept and want to support the company making it (Battle Brothers for example, great game, great demo, AMAZING development from the demo to the finished game which is STILL getting new updates/additons either for free or for a small and fair price considering the stuff you get for it). Doesn’t mean I always get it right, like… Read more »

dpia
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dpia

At the very least, some games are doing demos again, though I argue the games doing are kind of promising enough already, such as Gloomwood or Ultrakill.

Aichon
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Aichon

I am glad that the worst of the pre-order madness is behind us, but my habits thankfully shielded me from most of it. Ever since I realized in grad school that time was a more precious commodity than money, and that time, not money, would be the thing keeping me from playing the games I wanted to play, I landed on the principle that “if a game isn’t worth playing in 5 years, it probably isn’t worth playing”. Holding to that idea has had several nice benefits: 1) Nearly every game I play is great. By the time I buy a… Read more »

Patrick
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Patrick

Demos used to serve another purpose, to gain exposure. Back in the day before the internet got as widespread and used as now, demo discs with magazines often were one of the very few avenues that developers ad publishers could use. Demos carry a risk. It risks that people get saturated with the content in it, and thusly don’t buy the game. It risks that people get turned of by a demo, when that demo isn’t perhaps representative of the game. It also risks that people feel cheated after purchasing the full game, because the demo encompassed the good parts… Read more »

leduk
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leduk

I only pre-order games I’m sure I’m gonna play a lot. Works pretty well (only games I’ve not played more than 5ours after a blind-buy were max payne 3 and monster hunter world)

Scott
Guest
Scott

I used to pre-order before I could download the games directly from the internet. Now, instead of pre-ordering Spider-Man from Gamestop and going to get it at lunch the day it comes out, I just buy it in the morning and let it download/install while I’m at work.

For the other aspect of pre-ordering, which is the bonuses offered, I can’t remember the last pre-order bonus I saw and actually thought “hey, that’d make the game more fun.”

Nick Gaston
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Nick Gaston

I’ve been trying to avoid pre-ordering games. The one exception recently was for Star Wars Squadrons, because all of the advertising shows a game that I’ve wanted for a while now and even if the game is not as good as I would like, I see it as a way of saying that there is demand for this kind of game.

Mr_Meng
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Mr_Meng

I don’t pre-order unless I’ve thoroughly researched the game and the company making it and I’m 100% certain I’m going to like the game. Some previous pre-orders have been The Outer Worlds, Greedfall, Red Dead Redemption 2 and I’m currently waiting for Ghost of Tsushima and Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines 2. So far I haven’t been disappointed.

Joel B
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Joel B

I was one of those who pre-ordered like crazy back in the day and loved all the extras I would get. After getting burned one too many times with shoddy games, I gave up and just waited until the first drop in price for the games I was waiting to play. Then at least I could get a sense of what people thought of it before I bothered. I still have the occasional dud, but they are few and far between. Loved demos, and still do. I am glad to see they are making a comeback! As solely a PC… Read more »

Atli Geir Larusson
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Atli Geir Larusson

Pre orders used to be necissary back when people bought physical disc and there was a genuine risk that the game in question would sell out and you would miss out on the conversation if you didnt get it at launch.

But as things got more digital it wasnt possible for game copies to run out anymore, so puplishers started butting more emphasis on pre order bonuses to drum up excitement and ensure purchases. Its taken a while for the larger public to realize what an anti-consumer practice this has become.

Paweł Zdanowski
Guest
Paweł Zdanowski

I’ve never preordered a game. I don’t know why I would? Bonuses are either cosmetic or altering the gameplay in a way I don’t appreciate. Additional gold or equipment? Nope. I want to play the way it was supposed to be. I don’t want an unfair and unbalanced headstart. The only thing that would make me consider the pre-order would be a better price. But demos? Man I want more of them! Or at least give me the possibility to give the game back if i don’t like it – like Steam does. I demoed many games on Steam and… Read more »

Unagiman
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Unagiman

I’ve pre-ordered three games in my life. The first was the Chronicles of Riddick video game back on the original xbox. Tried the demo in store and loved it. Then I pre-ordered Borderlands 2 and 3. It probably made more sense to have preorders when physical distribution was the only option. The real benefit of pre-ordering a digital game is for those of us poor schmoes who have jobs and can get home and play quickly.

John
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John

Former GameStop employee here(within the last six months). Obviously I can’t speak for the community as a whole, but from what I’ve seen, pre-orders are still huge and thriving, and are pretty much one of the only reasons GameStop is still in business. They get like 50% or more of their revenue just from pre-orders, hence why they push them so hard. And the anti-pre-order crowd is still a pretty small minority. That said, it’s growing loud enough that one of the questions my boss asked me in my interview was if I was comfortable promoting them. I don’t know… Read more »

Corned Beef
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Corned Beef

Probably to this day, my favorite demo is the Metal Gear Solid demo for the og Playstation. It had quite a bit of actual play, while still being short and sweet. I also enjoyed the demos for Resident Evil Nemesis and Dino Crisis.

Ah the late 90s and early Aughts, those were the good ol days of demos

Shae
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Shae

Because I live in a fairly rural area, if I want to support my local game store, then I need to pre-order. If I don’t, they may not get it in.

Tales
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Tales

I pre-order at least 95% of the games I buy mostly cause half the time I can get more enjoyment out of talking to the store workers than the actual game otherwise it’s for a game that might not make it to my town. Hell the first game I ever pre-ordered was Pokemon Emerald and I think I’ve only canceled two, the most recent being TLou2 and the one before that was The Last Guardian for PS3 when they finally had announced it for PS4. Having a SKU deleted on my pre-order list for a couple of years was fun… Read more »

Admiral Casual
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Admiral Casual

Hey, Tim.

Your kid is pretty smart.

Jacob Keller
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Jacob Keller

I think demos went out of the window whem the internet and video game content creators became bigger.

Why make a demo when you can give the game to an influencer to talk about how good the game is.
Also its just easier for a game developer to play through a pert of the game that they have completed and upload it to youtube and people get an idea on how it plays.

Timothy Ray Jr
Guest
Timothy Ray Jr

I saw a demp for the new FF7 remake on PS4….Take took me back. I was like last demo I played was on PS2 I think.