The Fizzz Gamer’s Guide to Avoiding Those Steam Sale Pre-Order Stings

The big Steam Next Fest sale is coming up this February 22nd, and when there’s a Steam Sale, there’s always winners, and losers. We’ve all been there – grinning like we’re a kid again when the trailer for a new game drops, eagerly combing the internet for any new scraps of news about an upcoming title, staring in wonder at the launch date countdown, and putting our pre-orders in as soon as they’re available so that we can play our game the instant it becomes available.

And then… what’s this? The game doesn’t look nearly as good as it did in the trailers, features on the store page are missing from the game, you can’t connect to multiplayer matches, and the game keeps crashing! What happened?

Looks like you’ve just been hit with the Steam Sale Pre-Order Sting!

It’s a surprisingly common occurrence, leading to review bombings, mass-refunds and very angry customers. How could this happen, in this day and age? And how can I avoid it happening to me again? If this is you, don’t worry. The Fizzz is here to show you the way.

Here are The Top 6 Steps to avoiding the Steam Sale Pre-Order Sting:

6.  Don’t buy into the hype!

A disappointing game can come out of nowhere, but it can just as easily hit even the most well established franchises around. Duke Nukem Forever was in development for fifteen years before it came out and was so critically mauled it buried one of the longest running FPS franchises around.

Pre-Release marketing for a sequel always leans heavily on the games that have come before it. ‘If you liked the last one, you’ll love the next one!’ Don’t believe it. A game won’t be good just because of the title on the box. The developers and publishers need to be united in what they’re making and how they’re going to make it- and you won’t see the results of any of that until the game releases. A good rule of thumb is if something looks too good to be true, it usually is!

5.  Make no mistake – trailers are not your friend!

In 2011, the internet was set on fire by the hottest new game trailer around, the reveal trailer for Dead Island, a brand new upcoming zombie survival game. When pre-orders opened for that game, players flocked to it, eager to be among the first to cut through hordes of zombies in an island paradise. What they got instead was a vastly underwhelming game bereft of features that paled in comparison to that reveal trailer.

Here’s the thing about trailers: They are not your friend. Their sole purpose is to generate hype and get people to buy the game as soon as possible, preferably before release day. What can you do to buy smarter in future when watching these trailers? The biggest tip is to look out for actual gameplay shown in the trailer itself. If the trailer is just a pre-rendered cutscene, as Dead Island was, then it tells you nothing about the quality of the game itself. Gameplay footage on the other hand, gives you a much clearer idea of where the game is at, and what you can expect when it finally lands in your hands.

4.  Ask yourself- what could the publisher be hiding?

If a game is bad enough after an impressive marketing campaign, as was the case with Aliens: Colonial Marines, people will go as far as suing the company that made it – such is the level of backlash from those that pre-ordered the game. Aliens: Colonial Marines’ marketing showed atmospheric, dynamic combat between Aliens and Humans, with environmental destruction and adaptive Artificial Intelligence on display. But the game that released was an absolute mess, stripped back to a fraction of what was promised before launch.

What’s the lesson to be learned here? When a game is advertised before release with a list of features, it’s best to take that with a grain of salt. Even the best games are made in an iterative process, and not all features will remain in a game at launch. Treat all pre-release information as subject to change, and it will be much harder to be stung when a game releases.

3.  Delays are good, actually. Embrace them!

Speaking of iterative processes- the games industry is notoriously bad at time management. Predicted launch windows are often far more optimistic than reality allows, and often publishers are forced to make a choice:

  1. Either release the game now, in whatever state it’s currently in, or
  2. Delay the release to finalise the features that need more work.

We’ve seen what always happens when the first option is taken. That’s when you get your No Man’s Sky, Driv3r, Cyberpunk 2077 releases – unfinished games not worth even half of their buying price. When a publisher decides to delay a game, they’re spending more resources to improve the quality of what they already have. This is good, actually.

2.  Roadmaps are never set in stone. Don’t believe them!

When a game releases in early access, or worse: as a Live Service like 2019’s Anthem did, it usually comes with an image detailing what future content will arrive, and when. Here’s what roadmaps never say though: All of that content is dependent on the game selling well. If the bare-bones product that drops on launch day doesn’t sell like hot cakes, that roadmap content will likely be abandoned. And why wouldn’t it be?

Who wants to spend money and time making content for a game that has already been released and has already effectively died, like what happened to Anthem? Roadmaps are just another part of the game marketing, to entice you to put your all-important money down to buy the game now. NEVER assume a roadmap will be completed. 9 times out of 10, they never will be.

1.  Pre-Ordering: Just don’t do it!

If it seems like there are a lot of downsides and hidden traps to Pre-Ordering, it’s because quite frankly, there are. Pre-Ordering was introduced for a specific purpose: Back when we still bought games in brick-and-mortar stores, availability was limited. When the next big thing released, sometimes you’d get to the store and all the copies would already be gone.

Pre-Orders were introduced as a way to reserve your guaranteed copy in the first batch that arrived in stores. When games companies realised how much profit they were making through Pre-Order sales before their games even released, they started putting more and more effort into the pre-release marketing, and less into the games themselves. Now that games are released digitally, there are no shortages anymore, so publishers artificially give Pre-Orders earlier access to games than everyone else. It’s a classic FOMO tactic.

And even if the game is terrible, even if the trailers lied to you and your gaming experience comes as a huge disappointment, you’ve still given them your money for a product you’ve never even seen. You’ve just shown them their tactic works.

So if you want to know the best way to avoid the Pre-Order sting? It’s simple: NEVER Pre-Order.

Pay close attention to game previews (but remember even these aren’t always reliable) and just wait until launch before you get the game. If you wait for the reviews and wait to see everyone’s first impressions, you’ll start dodging so many bad-game bullets you’ll lose count of them, along with the money you’ll save. Plus you’ll be sending them a very different message – that you try before you buy, so the games better actually be good!

But if you really can’t hold out and absolutely MUST Pre-Order that game and get stung yet again, just remember you can get a full refund if you bought the game on Steam sale, if you’ve played it for less than 2 hours. You’ll still have given a bad game another sale, but at least your wallet won’t be embarrassed about it!

READ MORE: 10 Video Game Series That Deserve a Comeback