Preloading Physical Games: A New Industry Practice?

Is it possible that physical gaming media might be more feasible for consumers?

I’m going to go on the record here by saying that as a consumer, I used to enjoy midnight launches of games. Jumping in the car and driving down to my local retailer to pick up the next big game like Fallout 3 or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was a good feeling. I’d be able to grab my game and head home to pop in the disk and play for a little bit, after months of ludicrous anticipation.

As a retail employee though, I hated midnight releases. Sure, there were some fun times, like the time I organized a target practice range with a Nerf rifle to celebrate the launch of Halo: Master Chief Collection. However, running a midnight release meant being forced to stay open until at least 1:00am, and then having to open the store the next day at 9:00am. Couple that with rude customers, running out of copies (which leads to more rude customers), and generally being tired from working the entire day beforehand; and you might understand why it sucks.

Well a recent proposal by the Electronic Retailing Association might change that.

Preorder And Take It Home Today!

According to GamesIndustry.biz, the retail half of the gaming industry may be toying with the idea letting customers carry home and preload game disks prior to launch, with a few strings attached.

Digital gamers already know the benefits of preloading in today’s gaming environment. You get to install your game, along with the obligatory and massive Day One patch before the game officially releases. It means that a digital copy owner will get to play the game the moment it is unlocked. However, the same can’t be said for us physical copy connoisseurs. We have to wait for our copy to be handed to us, or hopefully be lucky enough to be the beneficiary of a shipping error that results in the game being delivered early to finally gain the ability to install our games. This often ends up being a huge pain in the ass because we sometimes must wait for hours before our game is ready to play or risk trying our luck with the game’s unpatched code.

What the ERA is supposedly proposing is to allow retailers to sell game copies in advance of the official release date, allowing their customers to enjoy the best of both worlds; they get to get their shiny disk and still be able to preload the game. Of course, that will also mean that they wouldn’t be able to play it until release anyway, thereby negating the benefit of buying a physical copy anyway.

Am I On Board With It?

Truthfully, no. The idea of being able to play my physical copy of a game as soon as possible seems alright in theory, given the way that gaming is delayed nowadays due to installation times and patches. I have a few reservations with the idea though.

First, retailers would need to rethink their policies on accepting back opened copies of games, at least prior to release. If Joe Blow buys a prerelease copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops IV and installs it on his PS4 when he gets home, but then changes his mind and tries to take it back to the store, current return policies would mean that the guy behind the counter would be forced to reject the return. Not to be mean, but if I were the guy behind the counter again, I wouldn’t honor the return unless there were some extremely extenuating circumstances to consider.

Second, there would be a requirement for the game to either be able to lock itself somehow before the release date, or have a requirement for an online connection. If the locked game is waiting for the release date to unlock itself on the device in question, it’d be as easy as just changing the date and time of the console to allow the user to play the game. The way around this would be to design the game with an online-only requirement, which would undoubtedly piss people off, especially if the game has single-player components.

Third, there would be a need for almost all publishers to be on board with the practice, otherwise there would be unnecessary confusion and vitriol about games that didn’t allow physical preloading. Imagine trying to explain why Call of Duty: Black Ops IV can be sold early, but Grand Theft Auto VI can’t. I already had a hell of a time trying to explain why I could sell some games at 12:00am EST (11:00pm CST) on the official launch day of some games, but I had to wait until 12:00am CST for others. It was never a fun practice, but it happened quite a bit, and I always ended up being on the receiving end of customer frustration because of it.

There are just so many unknowns and negatives about it that makes it difficult to think it’s a good idea. It puts such a burden on the retail stores to explain the way it would work. Forcing a under-paid retail employee to explain to a customer that they won’t be able to play the game that day, while fielding the barrage of inevitable questions, is too much for the average employee to deal with.

What do you think? Is allowing customers to take home their physical copy early a good idea, even if they can’t play it?

Sources: IGN.com and GamesIndustry.biz

Header Image Credit: Dawn.com 

 

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27 thoughts on “Preloading Physical Games: A New Industry Practice?

  1. Very interesting! I’m really not sure how I feel about this. My inelegantly-phrased knee-jerk reaction is “This is a stupid idea.” I guess I understand that businesses are trying to make physical copies as appealing as digital, so when you “pre-order” a game you can have it right then and not have to deal with the horrible, terrible inconvenience of going to the story again (sarcasm), but then I start thinking about hype culture and how I just want everyone to calm down and realize life is about the journey and not the destination, so chill, man.

    Part of me also appreciates the effort to keep physical copies relevant in an increasingly digital world, since I’m quite a fan of physical copies of all media, be they games, movies, CDs, or books. Again, though, the issue of digital vs. physical could be remedied by folks not needing things right now… But, to focus back on the micro instead of the macro, the more immediate concern definitely is that this practice sounds like a royal pain for the clerks in the store!

    Regarding the actual question you asked at the end of the article, I don’t think taking a game home and not being able to play it until X day is inherently good or bad. But there is the sales end to consider, as well as how this would actually work in practice instead of inside a theoretical “perfect world.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I can see why this is being done. Physical retailers are trying to find ways to stay relevant in an increasingly digital age of gaming. How many PC games do you see in stores these days?
    I don’t think this is the way to go though, and not just because preorders are terrible. The points you make are all very good and need considerable thought before this practice can have any hope of working.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah PC games appear to have been on the way out of retail for a while. I rarely ever got customers in my store buying a PC game. Mostly just Steam cards.

      I don’t see why games can’t have the preload option, at least on Xbox One. The system treats digital and physical copies the same, so whether you have the disk or the license, you can play. Just let people download ahead of time for free, and require the purchase of it later.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yeah, I think my reservations are mostly outweighed by the whole “helping to keep physical media relevant” thing, which I think’s important. I expect there’d be some initial issues before everyone falls into a rhythm/standard practice groove, but in theory, it’s a decent attempt at approaching the issue in a way that benefits everybody. Or, at least doesn’t overly, erm, unbenefit anyone.

    It’d certainly make my life easier, given that the shipping time/release delay in Brazil, the traffic (getting to a store that has a particular game in stock can take several long and frustrating hours) and my hilariously slow Internet speed can often mean I’m already a couple of days behind everyone else, even if I do get a game “at release”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This ultimately sounds like a portion of what Microsoft was aiming for when they unveiled the Xbox One. Basically the physical disc would just be a key to the digital content. This of course, as you described, would require the key to be verified online and that was the key component that caused a lot of backlash.

    I’m not opposed to the idea though but it would certainly need a lot of coordination to get right.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. One of the things I regret the most about being born in 1999 is that I kind of missed the reality of the midnight launch and it’s fleeting before me, I don’t think I’ll ever be a part of it like you used to see on TV, with queues for the launch of Halo 2 to be 3 blocks long lol

    Interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The midnight launch experience really depended on the people organizing it. Some stores have a bigger budget to spend on launches, hiring DJs, organizing tournaments, and getting food and drink. I had to get a little creative with my midnight releases because my store didn’t have a high enough volume to justify allowing me to use store funds to set everything up.

      I remember when Fallout 3 released. I picked it up at Hastings at midnight and there were about seven people there including myself and the staff. There was no excitement or anything. I just bought my game and went home.

      Skyrim was a completely different story…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Being able to have the game installed and updated right at the launch date would be ideal for me – having a slow Internet connection means that launch day doesn’t always happen if a game needs a 6Gb patch to work with it.

    The digital pre-order and pre-load thing that’s happening now on consoles has helped there a lot. It might still take me a long time to download the game but I usually have it ready to go long before the launch so I can jump in with everyone else. If I relied on the disc I could still be waiting to play days later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a very tempting change to make. I only have a 10mb/s download and 1mb/s upload speed for my connection, so patches are a pain in the ass to download. I prefer physical copies of games because I can get them much cheaper at launch than a digital one. I just don’t know how they’d make it work without making people’s lives a living hell or creating some sort of online DRM thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Patches are a nightmare! But true about cheaper physical copies – that discs can still be bought more cheaply totally goes against the purported value of going digital. Games I don’t need to play at launch I’m happy to wait for and get them at retail during sales. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I think this is necessary if retail video games are to stay relevant. As stated already, if you come home at 12:00am after buying a highly sought after anticipated game to find not only do you need to install it, but let’s say there is a day 1 patch, then you are SOL while you wait.

    For digital pre-orders, at least on Wii U, I’m not certain about other platforms but I imagine they are if Nintendo is, I can pre-order a game, pre-load it, and upon release at midnight, a small patch is downloaded to unlock the game and I can play right away. I think this is the right way to handle this because not only do I NOT want to wait, but some of the prices of games on day 1 are getting absurd, at least here in Canada, I better be able to play my games at midnight.

    I think if they don’t allow this for physical copies, then physical retail stores would eventually phase out, because why would I line up for hours sometimes in the cold to get a game on release just to wait hours to install/patch the game just to I can start playing. It just doesn’t make sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly, Day One patches are one of the main reasons that I don’t bother with midnight releases anymore. There’s no point, because I’d have to wait to play the game anyway.

      That and I’m getting old, so staying up past midnight is a chore.

      Like

  8. I’m going to be very direct here: nope, I don’t think it’s a good idea, at all.
    I do enjoy playing games at launch, like everyone else, I’d say – but the idea of preloading with a physical copy just doesn’t make much sense to me. In my mind, if you’re going to get the physical copy, you’re getting it at launch/after launch and then it’s just install and play.

    Liked by 1 person

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