In the games industry preorder systems serve a variety of purposes. For companies producing niche games within a limited market, the opinions of customers voiced through preorders can help direct development efforts to the highest demand products. If payment is required up front, preorders can also help fund production. And preorder systems can be used to reward loyal customers with discounts or other benefits, while at the same time generating buzz for upcoming products. Also whether intentional or not, I’d be remiss in not pointing out that that the ability to preorder a game may result in a few extra sales, as sometimes it’s easier to punch that button for an order when you know that the money you spend may not be charged to your credit card for quite some time (I speak here from experience).
Of course the terms and conditions for preorders vary by program. Here are some examples:
- GMT Games established the P500 program years ago as a way to avoid the risk of “guessing wrong” as to which of its many war games under development will sell enough copies to be profitable. In this system, preordering customers get a 30 percent discount, are not charged until about a month before the game ships, can withdraw their order at any time, and sometimes are given a unique premium such as bonus scenarios. GMT commits to eventually print all games that reach 500 preorders, though practically, games are not generally assigned a specific slot in the production schedule until about 700 to 750 orders. At the same time, watching and promoting games as they rise up the P500 list builds a lot of excitement among GMT fans, and certainly leads to a number of additional orders.
- Valley Games’ 750 Special is an example of a Euro-style board game preorder program. Through the program, Valley Games offers customers defined discounts and premiums for ordering direct from the company games that have entered the final production stage. Typically, the discount offered begins at 30 percent and declines each month closer to shipping. Premiums have included upgraded components.
- In the RPG sector, preorders have more often been used by smaller publishers to finance printing costs for games already destined for publication. Evil Hat Productions began not too long ago offering free PDF versions for paid preorders of printed books. This way, the most anxious fans get an early view of games, while the company raises cash to help pay for production. The approach worked well for both Evil Hat and customers, and was soon adopted by other publishers on IPR. Eventually, Evil Hat even began expanding the program to brick-and-mortar retailers. At EndGame in Oakland, California, customers who preordered print copies of Spirit of the Season (a Spirit of the Century supplement) were given CDs with PDFs of the book at time of ordering.
- Another approach among small or individual RPG publishers makes use of the patronage or ransom model. Here, the publisher proposes one or more basic concepts for games or supplements. Individual customers, then, choose their level of financial commitment. If enough funds are raised, the publisher moves forward with development, sometimes allowing patrons to participate. Wolfgang Baur (also publisher of Kobold Quarterly) takes this approach with his Open Design Project.