On risky investments and how to deal with a pre-order happy industry without loosing your mind and emptying your wallet.
Malcontent arising from pre-orders and Kickstarters indicates mismanaged expectations about risk and fuzzy thinking about what is valuable to you as a consumer.
There's been a strong push for commercial exchanges with a high risk disparity in the past few years. Some folks have happily adopted while others have been burned by the practise. Regardless of how a game turns out, you can curb your disappointment if you manage your expectations about how these work.
Your Money's Worth
The decision to pre-order a game or fund a Kickstarter project ideally revolves around 3 things: money, value & risk.
The money in your pocket is the potential of value. When you have it, you're able to choose between anything you'd like to experience and enjoy, as long as it's available for purchase. Use it and this ability to choose is lost but hopefully you've gotten something neat in return.
Pre-orders and their ilk ask for your money now, in exchange of a thing that is yet to come. To trade real, present assets for the promise of future value means you take a risk on an unknown and lose flexibility in the process.
An equivalent exchange demands these higher risks are ofset by equally higher rewards. Value is personal but it's always in your best interests to figure out if the deal you're offered works for you.
Different Flavours For Different Risk-Takers
Nowadays, there are four high-risk commercial offerings: pre-orders, season packs, early access games and Kickstarter projects.
Pre-orders have traditionally been justified on matters of supply: pre-orders ensure you are able to obtain a product as soon as its available and before supplies run out. For digital games, supply concerns are virtually meaningless. Pre-order in the digital world greatly benefits publishers and, unless it also greatly benefits you, there's no real reason why you should do it.
Season packs are pre-orders in a different guise. They tend to be a worse deal: you're generally not told what the DLC will entail nor when it'll release. The fact that these are peddled before the game is even released means you could invest on additions to a product you don't enjoy in the first place. A product that might not work in the first place.
Early access games stand on a shaky middle ground. On the one hand, they offer a tangible way to enjoy a limited version of the game while you wait for the project to be finished. For those on the fence, it's also easier to track down early build reviews or gameplay footage.
On the other hand, the developers aren't as pressured into actually finishing the product. Many early access games sit perpetually on a sort of perennial development limbo, its developers either unable or unwilling to pull the trigger and finish the project.
Kickstarters are the riskier of them all. Pledging to a project means you are donating money towards development. While you are offered rewards for doing so, these are usually completely ephemeral at the moment of purchase. The products are not yet built, not even conceptualized sometimes. The whole project might be a flop, change mid way or take way longer than advertised.
Kickstarter is a good deal when you can get all or most of the value out of your donation from having funded the development of a project, rather than from any rewards you might obtain from it.
The Bottom Line
People should use their money as they see fit. The question to ask yourself is why. Why should you invest your money in the promise if something of ephemeral quality and even dubious function? Only you can answer.