You go into your local video game store to pick up that new title you’ve been looking forward to. After browsing the shelves for a few minutes to see if anything else might catch your attention, you stand in line to make your purchase. You get to the front counter, money in hand, mind itching to get out of the toxic public sphere and into the safety of your house/room/mother’s basement. Suddenly, disaster strikes: “Would you like to pre-order anything?” You give him a skeptical stare before declining. “Would you like to purchase this game used? You save 5 dollars!” Again, you decline. “Are you a deluxe member?” Feeling a bit irritated, you assure him that you’re just a normal customer. “If you fill out this survey, you’ll get free shipping on your next online order.” Mumbling to yourself, you take your receipt and leave.
The clerk was just doing his job, you can’t discredit him that, but his job includes offering a bunch of one-sided deals exclusively in the businesses’ favor. True, one of the primary purposes of a business is to make a profit, but it is not the only one.
There are plenty of games to be excited about, and plenty of ways to show ones enthusiasm—be it cosplaying or standing outside in the cold for a midnight release. Pre-orders, while present for quite some time, have recently been surging in prominence for all the wrong reasons. Things like retail-exclusive DLC, bonus items, and stickers, posters, or other paraphernalia have all been used to encourage the anticipating gamer to pre-order their wish-list games.
There are several reasons why this is bad for consumers and for the industry. It encourages people to blindly purchase. Buying something worth $60 based upon speculation is unwise in any field, including digital entertainment. By purchasing a game (or electing to put money down), it sends a message to developers that people are willing to buy games just upon precedent because previous titles were good or because public press up until this point has been positive. As such, they have less reason to let potential customers access things like demos or in-game footage of mechanics if they can generate just as much press and popularity from a pre-rendered cut scene without the risk of negative feedback. Furthermore, some publishers and developers have withheld review copies of games to press sites in order to keep the overall quality of a game shrouded in mystery. This action alone calls the reputation of such a company and the quality of that title into question: if it’s so good, then why not let reviewers and players see it? If the game turns out to be total crap once the reviews come in 2 days after the release, everyone who elected to pre-order and then buy said game is sadly out of luck.
What’s worse, if you end up not purchasing the title once it’s released, your payment becomes pure profit for the retailer. Doing a cost-benefit analysis, the only thing procured by putting money down to pre-purchase a game is being assured a copy the day-of, while if you do not purchase the title, the money is lost. This doesn’t seem like a fair trade in the slightest. In ways, it presents a conflict of interest; if a retailer is inclined only to have enough copies for those who pre-purchase a game rather than stocking enough for all customers, underhanded tactics usher more and more people to pre-purchase games, and by proxy, more pre-orders that are not redeemed and more profit.
Being a wise consumer is important, especially when the video game industry is almost exclusively driven by what people buy. There are cases when pre-purchasing a game is not bad, or even good. Steam, for instance, offers a tangible discount (~10%) on games if you pre-order them, the trade-off being that you have to pay up-front the total cost of the game. In addition, owning the game prior to its release allows you to download the game before-hand so that you can play it as soon as it unlocks, the exact same benefit as standing outside for a midnight release without the actual standing or waiting.
The difference between a price discount as offered by Steam and something like a weapon or skin pack as an incentive to reserve a game is that the weapons and/or skins should already be in the game, but they were removed as an after-thought. A similar argument can be made for Day-1 DLC—that if it’s finished by the time the game is released, it should be in the game just as any other content would be. However, that’s a different topic entirely.
Saving money is nice, nobody denies that. In fact, it’s so good that using retail services like trading in your old games and buying used games is a blatant ripoff, even more so than buying a brand-new copy; when you purchase a game new, you are both supporting the developer and the series. When you buy used, you’re supporting only the store.
When you trade in a game, you’ll probably receive somewhere from 30 dollars for a new game to 30 cents for a very old game. The person who buys that used copy will pay anywhere from 10 dollars to 55 dollars. The range differential is straight profit for a retailer, and one of the reasons that companies like Gamestop are worth more money than the companies that make the games they sell and resell.
Local companies are always a good alternative to chains when it comes to getting a fair deal on trade-ins. More often than not, their profit margin is only a few dollars from what they give for the game and what someone pays for it, rather than several fold the cost of the amount originally payed. Another problem arises, however, when some local companies mark up older games, sometimes higher than modern games, because they are harder to find. Whether buying local or from a chain, being informed is the best way to protect your wallet.
The entire industry of used games, however, could be extinct in the next decade with recent developments such as one-time-use multi-player codes included only in original copies of the game, cheaper and more generous digital distribution that allows a person unlimited download and use of a game, and even rumors of next-generation consoles and games that will lock copies of games to the first system that they’re played on. Or rather, the exploitative industry that makes the majority of its money on.
If the primary motivation behind using a trade-in service is to save money, there are numerous cheaper, better, and friendlier options. Sites like Ebay and Amazon allow you to sell your old games and buy those of other people for much more generous prices for both parties. Recently, trading sites have also emerged, where you can do a 1:1 trade of your game with another person for only the cost of postage. If that’s not enough, Craigslist and even local listings in your newspaper can be used to trade, sell, or even give away games to fellow enthusiasts, all more reasonable than a rigged buy-low sell-high system.