I remember when pre-orders used to be intended as a means to secure a copy of a game. Because store quantities were limited and physical copies were the only way to play a game, pre-ordering the game meant that you’d be able to pick it up the day it released. From a game store perspective, it also made sense because the store could accurately predict the quantity they’d need and secure the funding to order those games. Most stores always stocked extra because there were lots of folks who didn’t closely follow video game news and only learned about games after it was too late to preorder them, but the number was limited and a popular game was usually sold out within an hour of the store’s opening.
These days, stores seem to rarely run out of stock. Between how much easier it is to produce games in mass quantities and the fact that you can just buy and download the game digitally, stores rarely run out of stock. The upside to this is that, if you strategically forget about the existence of cool video games so you can deal with your anxiety in a healthy manner, you can still preorder a game for pickup on release day less than 48 hours before it comes out! There isn’t really a downside, either, so I honestly appreciate this more than the old way of doing things. I wish consoles got on the same page, or that stores instituted basic security checks on their online storefronts to prevent their entire stock from being bought out by bots the instant they’re listed, but I rarely buy consoles the day they’re released so it’s a less pressing issue to me.
As I was browsing games that have recently come out and are about to come out, I realized that stores were still doing store-specific pre-order bonuses and exclusive package deals. I had been under the impression that this practice had faded away as a significant chunk of sales went digital, or that most “rewards” had been changed to relatively insignificant prizes like cards or sticker or whatever (I think there were some for a game that came out last year that I just told the cashier to keep). Apparently the practice is still going strong. The studios will encourage pre-orders with exclusive cosmetic items or in-game rewards that will eventually be available to all players (which has resulted in the “no preorders” movement when combined with lots of overhyped games and disastrous day-one releases), but most of the physical rewards have turned into special edition versions of the games.
The last time I bought a special-edition of a game via pre-order, it was one of the Halo games and it came with this neat Master Chief helmet that I carted around with me for over a decade before I think I gave it to someone or never packed it up when I moved out ahead of my roommates. I honestly don’t remember. It was cool, but definitely a waste of eighty bucks. Despite my love of knick-knacks and bookshelf accouterments, I’m not really a “collectibles” person. My parents made me throw out all my Harry Potter stuff when I was 10 for incredibly dumb and frivelous reasons rooted in the insecurity they felt in their children’s adoption of their beliefs, but I’ve never really gotten into collecting stuff since then, which means I have almost no reason to ever buy a special edition. The last two I remember buying were because the “add-on” was something I needed, like a special edition Super Smash controller or a Legend of Zelda themed Wii Motion Plus remote. I needed those controllers anyway and the special edition cost was the same as buying one of them, so it was a no-brainer.
I’ve confronted my detachment from the physical trappings of the things I enjoy at this point, but it’s difficult to get back into that kind of enthusiastic collection when it all just seems frivilous. Art books, sound tracks, and figurines are all neat, but I am self-aware enough to know that I’ll never look at the art book a second time, that I listen to maybe one video game soundtrack (Celeste, if you’re curious), and the figurine will be put on a shelf and forgotten until the next time I move or rearrange my apartment. It all just becomes clutter eventually, and most of the reason to preorder a special edition has disappeared now I can just get a copy of a game whenever I like.
All in all, I think things have largely improved when it comes to obtaining a video game. I think that early access is largely still a racket, but that’s a rant for another day.