Buying video games is a skill. At least, it is now. When I was a kid, you had one method: drooling while staring through a GameStop window until your mom told you to stop licking the glass. Then you walked away crying, because you couldn't afford it. And if you did happen to luck out and get a game on a gift-giving holiday like birthdays or Arbor Day, whatever was on that disc was what you got. There was no DLC, and patches for broken console games weren't a thing yet.
Eventually, I became an adult, and money began to trickle into my bank account. I started buying games like crazy to make up for a childhood of wanting things I could never get. Between these two periods I learned that there are so many more rules to consider when buying a game today than there ever used to be (five more, if I'm to be believed). But there's one rule I've got to talk about first, because it sets the table for every rule to follow ...
#5. The Era Of The Preorder Has Ended
There was a time when video game stores had us all convinced that if we didn't preorder a game we would never be able to play it for the rest of our lives. There was such urgency behind a GameStop employee's insistence that I preorder a game, I wondered if his only food source was store copies of preorder receipts.
That urgency served a purpose at one point. Preorders were for people who wanted to ensure they could play a game on release day. No more calling every store in the tri-county area to see if a game was in stock -- preorders allowed you to walk into a place knowing a copy was waiting behind the counter because you ordered it 17 months ago when Electronic Gaming Monthly reported unsubstantiated rumors of its development, so GameStop immediately started selling a product that didn't exist yet.
"Give me $60 and you'll get a bundle of UNLIMITED POTENTIAL."
I remember trying to buy Halo 3 from GameStop on the morning of its release. On big release days, GameStop has only enough copies to cover preorders. Walk-in buyers, like me, walked right back out empty-handed. So I went to the Best Buy up the road, where I found so many copies I could have Scrooge McDuck-dived into a pool of Halo 3s. That's when I got my first whiff of the bullshit behind preordering.
Pair that with the fact that while the bulk of consumers are still buying physical game discs (and it'll continue that way for a while) digital sales of video games are catching up fast. The beauty of a digital sale, other than the convenience, is that you don't have to nervously wonder if there's physically enough of something to go around. If you've got the cash, it's yours. Digital sales are bringing preorders to the brink of extinction.
"Hey, guys, do you think that bright streak represents our impending doom? No? That's what I thought."
Don't be fooled by the outdated allure of the preorder, no matter how many stupid-ass bonuses publishers use to ensnare you within their greedy trap. (Yay. A bonus weapon I'll find a better version of an hour into the game). Games are bigger and more complex than ever, which has led to some spectacular release-day fuck-ups. So before you buy a game at all ...
#4. Make Sure The Game Actually Works First
Day 1 disasters are nothing new. Fellow columnist Luke McKinney recently wrote about games that were dysfunctional hunks of shit from the day they were released. With Triple-A games only growing more complex, we'd all better get used to the occasional release-day clusterfuck of bugs, glitches, and crashes with no patch in sight for weeks or months or kind of just ... "Eh, whenever."
One of the more recent release-day calamities was with Batman: Arkham Knight. You know all that stuff I wrote in the previous entry about how I long ago learned my lesson about preordering games? Well, see, about that: I'm human and I am susceptible to severe bouts of stupidity. In my excitement, I preordered Arkham Knight ... for the PC. A lot of you just made the same sound as the America's Funniest Home Videos audience during a compilation of guys getting hit in the dick.
For those who don't know, Arkham Knight flat-out did not work on most computers for months after its release. Months. I stupidly preordered a game that I had no legitimate reason to preorder. I didn't want to have to wait to feel the satisfaction of owning it. Preordering a digital copy had accomplished nothing, but doing it convinced me that servants should carry me on a golden bed.
If I could bottle that false sense of satisfaction, I'd be the world's first trillionaire.
What I should have done was wait two seconds to check out what people were saying after the game's release. I tricked myself into thinking a preorder for a game I knew I'd love would make me feel good when the opposite would have made me feel so much better. It would have made me feel superior to those poor impatient dipshits who did preorder. And, as we all know, feeling superior to the less fortunate is so fucking delicious.
So, you should wait. But then that brings up the question of how long? Well ...
#3. You Should Wait A Year
This picture is irrelevant but wonderful.
I don't actually believe you should wait a literal year to play a game that has cock-teased you into lunacy with trailers, sneak peaks, first-impression articles, E3 demos, and the general hype-riddled chatter of fans across the Internet. If you're hyped, indulge on Day 1. Who cares? I'll probably be doing the same thing. A year is more of a rule of thumb to use if you're very patient and want to see a game in its most polished state.
"If you can rub The Witcher 3 on our optic nerves, that'd be just super."
If it's a glitchy wreck, waiting gives the developers time to work out the kinks. If it's one you bought on Steam, waiting a while also gives more time for competent people to create mods ... some of which are so complex they literally rewrite the game into something much, much better than the original. Hell, there are so many Skyrim mods out there right now, it no longer makes sense to play just the original version. You'd be robbing yourself of content.
Partially relevant; also wonderful.
If it's a DLC-heavy game, waiting for a "Game of the Year" edition will save you nutloads of cash. With a base game sold for $60 and all the extra missions and expansions running upwards of another $30, that's $90 spent on one game. To put it simply, fuck that shit. Just wait it out. GOTY editions are almost always cheaper, and they often include some (if not all) DLCs and special bonus items. Yeah, those bonuses are usually stupid cosmetic bullshit, but hey, I bought my Happy Meal for the burger and fries. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the toy in the bottom of the box.
But all of that stuff -- the savings, mods, patches -- seems to take six months to a year before players have settled in and declared, "The best way to play this is to buy this DLC, then use this patch, then add these mods." It definitely saves the Day 1 headaches of, "Dammit, every time I try to reload my pistol, my character shoots himself in the face. Anyone find a fix for this yet?"
Oh, wait, before we get too far away from the issue of money ...