Why you should worry about pre-ordering games.

Hey you. Are you thinking of pre-ordering a game, console or peripheral? Then stop, breath and consider if it might make you a dick.

I’ll offer a bit of background for my theory that pre-ordering can cause dickishness. I’ve spent a lot of time studying magic and working as a magician, so have spent a lot of time learning about misdirection. Many people assume that misdirection is simply making the audience look the wrong way while you do something sneaky. It’s actually a lot sneakier than that. A true master of misdirection makes your mind look the wrong way.

Our decision making process is brilliantly flawed. Our subconscious makes assumptions for us and then we build our conscious understanding around that. When magicians talk about subliminally influencing you what they are saying is they manipulated your subconscious to make an assumption. Any time a fact is not specifically stated it’s talking to your subconscious. A deck of cards is spread face up that’s a sign of openness. Two metal rings are clanged together – that’s a sign they are metal and solid. You don’t need to state the ‘obvious’ after all.

But what does this have to do with pre-ordering games?

Well, it’s what happens next. If you’re a magician it’s hard to know if you’re any good. People have a habit of being very polite so your amazing trick may have fooled no one. So eavesdropping is very important. And what is fascinating, and scary, is that once some people decide that they’ve seen the most impossible magic trick no one can convince them otherwise. I’ve frequently heard people describing tricks I showed them 60 minutes ago with extra conditions that would have made it impossible. ‘He showed his hands empty’ (not true) ‘he let me shuffle the cards’ (true, but during a different trick). What’s happening here is they’re convincing themselves, re-enforcing that the initial decision was right.

When you pre-order a game you’re making similar decisions. In fact games have an easier start point as your likely already predisposed to liking the genre / IP.  It’s not hard to to start thinking ‘I’d like that game’ and start to convince yourself.  You make some assumptions based on faith and maybe there is a pre-order bonus that’ll make justification easier too. Then you then place down your hard earned cash. In a lot of cases once you make that decision you can’t even get your money back. Think about it for a second. You’ve convinced yourself to part with £30 + based on a promise. The product won’t  run out of stock, in fact it will probably be cheaper after a month or two when you can make an even better decision about it. But your putting your faith in it now.

You can even add some safety net thoughts.   Ones that justify your choice even if it’s wrong.  Maybe you blog or stream… so it’ll be for your viewers. “I’ll be helping the developers” is a good one (and hard for a developer to disagree with) but if you think about it your supporting the developers to make a bad game out of something you wanted to be good.  The publishers will see this as a sign that they went the right way, and don’t tell me that twitter backlash matters more to publishers than that sales graph.

So – you make your choice.  You love the series and the trailer looks amazing.  You make your pre-order. A few weeks later someone says ‘I don’t think that game will be good’ and points to some article detailing why.

Everyone reading this far will probably think they will deal with this rationally. But you wont. Forget the money, you now have  an emotional interest in this game being good. If they’re right and it’s not good that makes you a fool and that can’t be right, so they must be wrong. So you start to re-enforce your justification. You start to convince yourself, which in turn makes your faith stronger.

The media doesn’t help at all in this process. Currently most outlets are bemoaning Bethesda’s decision not to provide review codes until the day prior to release. (That sucks btw and Bethesda are clearly stacking the deck in their favour). But they’re still running Dishonoured 2 preview puff pieces and talking as if they’ve independent had hands on time. In fact, at the time of writing, Dishonoured 2 is running adverts showing Eurogamer’s ‘Game of the Show’. Why do Bethesda need reviews? You’ve already given it an award!

It even carries on once your playing the game too. No one can tell me they’ve not felt that nagging voice at the back of their mind saying ‘I don’t think I’m having fun’ and you squash it down and remind them of that cool bit 2 hours ago before this boring bit which is probably necessary for narrative or something.

And if your doing that. If you’re having an actual argument with yourself about if you’re having fun. If you’re arguing that something will be good (when you don’t have any evidence it will be). You’re being a dick.

I have to confess at this point that I’m not an innocent when it comes to pre-orders. I’ve pre-ordered games and been rewarded and burned. A PSVR arrived on launch day (review coming soon) and I’m guilty of heading directly to Amazon during the Nintendo Switch announcement and I will hunt the postman down for my copy of Breath of the Wild. But if you’re pre-ordering a product that will not have stock issue you have to be honest with yourself about one thing – it might suck.

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