Editorials

Why Pre-Purchasing Heart Of Thorns May Not Be A Bad Thing

During a recent conversation regarding pre-orders, someone echoed one of the positions heard in the community this past week: anybody who had pre-purchased at this stage was an idiot. Having already done so myself, I was a bit taken aback at the strength of this statement. I’d certainly agree that people should be careful about when they pre-purchase, but given the current controversy, I think the other side of the issue should be presented.

But first, let’s have a look at the orthodox view regarding the stupidity of pre-orders. For those who have twenty or so minutes to spare, this is probably best epitomised by TotalBiscuit, showing his characteristic angry Britishness, here.

To summarise for people for whom it isn’t convenient to watch a twenty-minute video right now:

Until a game releases, generally all you’ll know about the game is what the marketing team for the game has chosen to let you see. Unless this includes demos or reviews of the full game, this will naturally be the most polished parts of the game – even developers that fully intend to fix up the weaker areas will prefer not to show off these weaker spots until they’re brought up to scratch. Limited-access demos can hide areas of lesser polish in later parts of the game (arguably this happened with the later Personal Story) and some companies engage in marketing practices that go beyond showing their best side into outright deception. You never quite know what you’re getting until reviews of the full game are available.

Is it too soon to throw your money at this screen just yet?

Is it too soon to throw your money at this screen just yet?

Thus, buying into a pre-order carries both a risk to the customer, and a risk to the industry as a whole. The risk to the customer is that they’ll find that they’ve purchased a lemon, and thus thrown money down on something that wasn’t what they’re expecting. The risk to the industry is that it encourages dodgy business practices, which can include parcelling off portions of a game as a “pre-order incentive” that could otherwise have gone to improving the game as a whole.

In the second case, I don’t think this is what ArenaNet is doing. As people have observed, there isn’t anything in the pre-purchase package that really makes it worth pre-purchasing for the sake of the incentives. Beta access is essentially a Kickstarter-esque perk of investing early that will be useless once the game releases proper, while the title is… pretty much not anything more than a thank-you, really.

(That is, of course, until the announcement that veteran players would receive an additional character slot while new players would receive a refund on the original GW2 purchase. However, additional character slots available through means other than preordering, so this is more akin to a loyalty discount.)

So this brings us to the first case: the risk of purchasing something that you wouldn’t have paid that amount for if you’d known the full picture.

Many gamers were burned to bring you this example.

In this case, I think the risk is much less as an expansion pack than it would be for a full game. Chances are, if you’re reading this article (unless you’re someone who’s internet-stalked me personally… Hello, hypothetical future internet-stalkers!), you are someone who already has a more-than-average investment in the game already. This makes it much more of a known entity – you’re not paying in advance for something that may be a proverbial lemon, you’re paying for an improvement to a game you presumably already enjoy (in general – I’m sure we all have our lists of things we’d like to see changed or improved).

However, I have seen people baulking at the price, and at whether they expect it to be value for money. Considering that there is still a lot left to be revealed, this is a reasonable precaution to take – however, I do suspect that everyone who doesn’t quit the game will almost certainly be buying Heart of Thorns sooner or later, probably sooner. With that said, there is one thing I definitely agree with TotalBiscuit on here regarding pre-orders, albeit from a somewhat different angle: only make a pre-purchase if you’re absolutely sure you want what you’re buying. Particularly if you’re in financial circumstances where spending that money on something you later decide wasn’t worth it means you’ve missed out on something else that you would have enjoyed more, rather than simply being a matter of adding a little less to savings that fortnight.

If you have any doubt whatsoever about whether you will be buying the expansion, then you probably shouldn’t. Wait until you know. From my perspective, though, I felt that it was already a certainty that I would be getting the expansion anyway… whether that will be a good move or not will be determined in the future, but if Guild Wars 2 goes into a terminal decline, I can always choose to opt out next time. The second season of the Living Story, and what’s been shown of Heart of Thorns thus far, have restored enough faith for that.

There was a lot that needed to be restored after this particular arc…

Another reason for pre-purchasing, in this particular case, is that it allows the pre-purchaser to vote with his or her wallet for the future of Guild Wars 2.

This is a term that is usually taken to be in the negative – a person is usually said to be voting with one’s wallet by choosing not to buy something. However, with the structure of NCSoft, this can actually go both ways. The reason for this is that NCSoft is in a bit of a weird position where it is essentially competing with itself – it produces several games that are all MMOs and hence in competition with one another. While in development, Guild Wars 2 was generously funded by revenues from other games for half a decade, including Guild Wars 1… but eventually NCSoft decided enough was enough and it was rushed out the door, with consequences such as promised features that still have yet to be implemented and disappointing late-game content (insert obligatory Zhaitan reference here). Immediately after release, Guild Wars 2 probably had to pay back this debt in supporting other games such as Wildstar, which may explain its slow performance in the first year or so.

At some point in a game’s lifespan, however, the support that NCSoft continues to give it is likely to start becoming proportional to how much money it’s bringing in. Pre-purchasing early, then, is sending a signal to NCSoft – that you’re willing to spend money on the game, and that an expansion-based business model works. This will likely lead to more resources being given to ArenaNet so they can make the game better. Paradoxically, this is where the lack of an announced release date (one of the common reasons given for not pre-purchasing) may actually be a good thing – a longer development time justified by pre-purchases may allow additional features to be added and polished that will improve the game, and have us avoid a repeat of the Zhaitan fiasco.

Will ArenaNet ever be allowed to live this one down? Signs point to “no”.

So in conclusion:

There are certainly good reasons not to pre-order. If you have doubts about whether you will be purchasing the expansion, then it is probably better to wait until those doubts have been resolved, whether your concern is about value for money and you’re waiting for a discount, the possibility that you may be quitting the game entirely, or some other reason.

However, if you have already decided and you’re confident in that decision, then putting your money down sooner or later may not be just about getting to beta the game or being able to flash the title. It may also be about helping to make the end result better, for early adopters and the more reluctant alike.

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