The debate over pre-ordering rages in the game community, following some questionable practices by publishers combined with bug-filled or otherwise disappointing game releases. Pre-ordering isn't necessarily a bad thing that should be avoided, though, as long as you handle it correctly.
There have been multiple articles screaming for gamers to not pre-order. You'd Have To Be Crazy To Pre-Order 'Star Wars: Battlefront proclaimed Forbes following the game's recent reveal. Even back in 2012, CNET was explaining You should never, ever, preorder a video game. I fully expect another round of "don't pre-order!" once the next Assassin's Creed is announced.
However, the real answer to the pre-order question isn't "Yes, you should pre-order" or "No, you should never pre-order." Instead, the answer is "It depends on what you can get to benefit yourself, the consumer."
Nobody said you have to pay full price for a game, and it's fairly common to get games for $15 to $20 off a few weeks after launch. But, there's no reason you can't save money at launch, too, with a pre-order.
Best Buy provides the current benchmark of the price that you should pre-order retail games at in the United States. The store's Gamers Club Unlocked program offers 20 percent off new game purchases, bringing the price down to $47.99. Additionally, pre-ordering some titles comes with $10 credit that can be used towards future purchases.
The same goes for digital releases of PC games. It's not uncommon to find 20 percent off codes via etailers like GreenManGaming.
If you can get a game at launch for $48 or less at less, don't feel guilty. You're getting the game you want at a discount when it first comes out. Yes, it'll be sold for dirt cheap much later, but it's an opportunity cost situation. Do you spend a few more dollars to get a game at launch, or save a few dollars by picking it up later? It ultimately depends on your level of interest and desire for that particular game.
When you want a physical goodie.
I'll be honest and say I'm a sucker for posters. If a store is offering a nice looking game poster along with their game, I don't feel guilty pre-ordering for $5 down or no charge in exchange for a poster. I did just that with Halo 5, so my son could have Master Chief's head adorning his wall.
Remember, nobody said you have to actually purchase the game. For example, I have posters for both Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and Watch Dogs, yet I never purchased either game at launch. Concerns about both led to me cancelling my pre-orders. I only later got Black Flag because it was on sale for $10 digitally a year after release.
When it's truly a limited collector's edition
This is perhaps the toughest to judge because you never know how limited a limited edition or collector's edition run will be for a game. Sometimes, they sell like hotcakes and end up on eBay at 100 percent markups. Other times, stores have them discounted by 90 percent just so they can clear shelf space.
I'm still kicking myself over missing the Borderlands 2 Ultimate Loot chest. I was concerned about missing out on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Collector's Edition though, but got lucky and found one for $60 months after release.
Ultimately, your desire to get a collector's edition is the ruling factor here. Just try to get the best deal you can at the price you can afford.
To get into a beta
Offering an early chance to try out a game via a beta test is a pretty strong pre-order incentive. It is part of the reason why we saw Call of Duty: Black Ops III go the pre-order beta route. This isn't just a marketing incentive, though. It's a good indicator for you to determine if you want to buy a game at launch. You can always cancel your pre-order if the game doesn't interest you once the beta is over.
That fancy skin or digital doodad adds very little actual value to a game overall and will probably be available later anyways. In-game digital items provide next to nothing in terms of a tangible benefit, unless they are combined with a discount.
The exception to this is possibly added missions that come with a pre-order, such as Batman: Arkham Knight and its offer of Red Hood and Harley Quinn story DLC packs. Even then, so little is known about them that they don't stand on their own as a benefit.
When you are charged the full price of the pre-order
Avoid stores that charge upfront for pre-orders like the plague. Never put down more than $5 for a $60 game.
Also, don't forget that you can cancel your pre-order and get back whatever money you put down for a game. It's as simple as a cancellation on a store's website or running by a physical location if you pre-ordered that way. Heck, even not picking a game up results in a cancellation as I learned one when I completely forgot I had pre-ordered a game once.
It's your money to do with as you wish. Just know that you are in control of how it is spent for games and you can get good to great launch deals despite the trend of hate towards pre-ordering.