The Order 1886 a Commercial Success: Or How Pre-Orders Killed the Review


If you want to add nails to the coffin of the concept that “reviews matter,” look at the sales figure on the big blockbusters that have been critically panned since 2014. Destiny was an okay game, earning at 76 on Metacritic with a 6.2 user score. Assassin’s Creed: Unity earned a 70 on Metacritic with a 4.6 user score. And now, The Order: 1886 earned a 66 on Metacritic with a 6.8 user score. What do all these games have in common other than Metacritic scores? They pulled through their lukewarm reception and were commercial successes.

Destiny raised $500 million in one dayAssassin’s Creed: Unity sold 10 million copies, and now The Order: 1886 is the best selling title in the UK for its launch week. We will see exactly how well it does soon (I am definitely keeping an eye on VGChartz), and developers are notoriously pretty cagey about sales numbers unless a game has broken a record. The fact that a game that’s earned a 66 is at the top of the charts anywhere is pretty surprising, however, and the fact that it’s ranked that high most likely makes The Order 1886 a commercial success.

One question to ask, though, is how many of those sales were pre-orders? Destiny, for example, almost certainly raised all that money based on its hype and its pre-orders. Destiny also didn’t allow any reviews until launch day (though that could be argued it’s in large part due to the online component). Even after that, though, Destiny continued and continues to sell. Assassin’s Creed: Unity also had a harsh embargo on its reviews, disallowing anyone to post a review until noon on launch day. The Order: 1886, however, did not have that harsh of an embargo. Reviews were allowed to publish on February 18: two days before the release of the game. So what gives?

While Paul Tamburro at Crave Online seems to believe the success of The Order: 1886 means we care too much about graphics, I beg to differ. This all, in my opinion, has to do with hype and pre-orders. Through the hype machine of trailers and previews, developers are now pushing harder than ever to convince consumers to pre-order titles. Beyond the obvious reasons (it’s a good way to get early money and interest in a game), there’s another reason they want us to pre-order: despite the quality of the game or the bad reviews, we are much less likely to pull a pre-order out of stores. With a pre-order comes a sense of pot-commitment. We don’t want to pull our order because that’s extra work. That also means reviews no longer matter. A bad review, or even a series of bad reviews won’t be enough to convince us to not get a game, so what does it matter?

That’s not to say reviews serve no purpose, mind you (Emily has a review for a Vita game that should be published within a day or two,) but do reviews actually impact consumer purchasing habits anymore? I’m not entirely certain, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer. What does sell games is a strong brand and pre-launch hype. Reviews just seem to be a way to reflect what gamers already know after playing a game, or are soon to know. Reviews can also help a small title that doesn’t otherwise get much media attention get some sales, but in the end that tends to be a drop in the bucket compared to Let’s Plays from big names anyway. Where does that leave the review industry then? I don’t know.

Have you read a review of a AAA game recently that directly impacted your purchasing decision? Have you either bought a game after a positive review, or withdrawn a pre-order after a negative review? How about for indie titles? Let us know in the comments! I’m genuinely curious.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends!

Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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  • Matthew Price

    I was almost put off buying ‘The Order 1886’ by its poor reviews but still went out and bought it, although I did agree with some points the review raised I didn’t think it bore much of an impact on the game as a whole. As a rule I tend to try and avoid reviews before purchasing a game as it always highlights the negative aspects and I feel that many of the review writers tend to rush through games in the interest of writing their piece on time and miss the true appeal.

  • Kailen Lee Mitchell

    I have stopped preordering all together and I watch/read multiple reviews as well as seeking personal opinions from friends who have purchased a game already. Now I have maintained loyalty to Bioware rpgs. I do buy them regardless of review, but still do not preorder.

  • Justin Machado

    I have never preordered a game in my life. I guess I just don’t see the value in it. Especially nowadays when the game is probably just going to need a patch to make it work better in 3 months anyway. I still believe in reviews and I’m a big believer in watching game plays on YouTube , because the truth is in the game play. I guess you could consider me a bit old school or just plain long in the tooth by today’s standards though. I still remember having subscriptions to both Nintendo Power and game players magazine, which was just what you did if you valued your gaming experience, were on your parent’s dime, and wanted the two or three games that you got a year to really count. the way that I see you is a game is worth your money it will be worth your money 3 months after its release why not wait and see what other people have to say about the experience?

  • Orion Kongmalay

    Reviews on steam / youtube have influenced me sure. Sometimes though, in a bad way. I watched a review of The Last of Us for instance, and the reviewer made the game seem like some sort of try-hard zombie game that had no originality(lol right?). So I didn’t buy it. Then I decided to pick it up out of nowhere and was stunned at how good the game was. I had let my choices be dictated by one person and that was bad. HOWEVER I do follow Angry Joe’s word pretty much religiously. He takes a fuckload of time on reviews but they tend to be very well thought out, entertaining, and an overall wholesome look on a game… so there’s that.

    • Quinn Marsden

      The last of us actually touched my heart lol it had some pretty heart warming moments but anyways yeah I agree with you

  • Sean Ginley

    Jesus Christ, talk about missing the point… Over emphasis on graphics? Pre-orders? Sure, those affect sales, but asking “Do these render reviews irrelevant?” I don’t know HOW I could be the first to break this to you, but since we’re pretending to lack awareness of it, reviews have been irrelevant in terms of sales for years now, because they’ve become farcically, laughably innaccurate. The proffessional critics seem to be in the grips of some truly outrageous corruption I imagine must be tied into bribery or advertiser requests, and the amateur critics are chronically unproffessional in regarding things so subjectively their take on games are useless. I cannot even think of a medium that has a worse community in terms of review, I can’t think of a single gamer I know who doesn’t either laugh or cock an eyebrow at the very suggestion of “checking reviews”. Reviews don’t affect sales because it’s been concretely established critics can’t be trusted further than we can throw them.

    And we’re gamers, so we throw like 6 year old girls.

    I’m not going to say these other complaints aren’t affecting the industry… Gabe from Penny Arcade posted a review saying the Order was an 8 hour game with a story he didn’t give a shit about that he loved because it was pretty, and the hype mill does more for sales than game quality (seriously, someone crunched then numbers… 3 times more effective to spend on advertising than development), and yeah, I think I’ve canceled a preorder all of once, and it was Asura’s Wrath and I canceled it because they released a demo and it hurt my thumbs. But asking if these things are “negating the purpose of reviews”? That’s as moot as points get. No one has listened to reviews in a good while, and the reason had nothing to do with graphic lust, pre-orders, or hype (well, probably did have to do with hype, but in the sense hype-heavy devs were probably handing out pay-offs). What happened to the weight of the review? It crumpled in on itself via pure corruption. I have no idea how long you’ve been doing this or if Armed Gamer is the sort of site that might have been involved with shilling, but please… don’t try to B.S. us and act like you’re totally aware the reputation of the critic community is in the toilet, it’s just embarrassing…

    Reviews still have a point, but it’s objective information… people read them to hear the facts and ignore the opinions… if they read them at all. Previews are more trustworthy than reviews as a result, in my and many others minds. If you or any other members of the critic community want people to be influenced by reviews again, start discussing games in terms of the facts and keep your appraisals brief or to yourselves… because we stopped trusting those a good while ago and the more content they compose in a review, the less interested anyone is. Really, I think you hit the nail on the head… give it awhile and we’ll all just load a Let’s Play if we want to know what a game is like.

    And as an aside, I don’t know if this was meant to be a lamentation on how companies are getting away with getting rich off half-assed games because we’re letting company-stirred buzz influence our purchasing habits to much… but it comes off like whining along the lines of “Wheh! Why don’t you let critics control your decisions any more?! We miss controlling you!” Which since most people I know in the hobby already have it in our heads that review quality nosedived into nil as a result of graft, the implication we take is that reviewers are concerned about their lack of influence because it threatens their under the table income… which ain’t a good look.

    • While I can’t comment on other publications, but I will say the implication that anyone at Armed Gamer got paid to write any of our reviews got a good laugh out of me. Hell, the implication that I get paid at all also makes me laugh (though that one is more of a bitter, sad kind of laugh).

      I wouldn’t go so far as to call this article a lament on reviews being ignored. The truth of the matter isn’t so much that they are “ignored” in the sense that no one reads them, it’s that they’re “ignored” in the sense that the judgments rendered don’t matter.

      And I also never understood what people mean when they say a review should be “just the facts”. No they shouldn’t. A review is, by nature, the opinion of someone on the subject. Ebert’s reviews on movies were full of opinion. Take, for example, his review of Spirited away were he said “The story of “Spirited Away” has been populated with limitless creativity. Has any film ever contained more different kinds of beings that we have never seen anywhere before?” He rated the movie 4 stars.

      Or how about Ebert’s rating for The Last Boy Scout where he said “The only consistent theme of the film is its hatred of women.”? He rated that movie three stars. He ended his review saying ““The Last Boy Scout” is a superb example of what it is: a glossy, skillful, cynical, smart, utterly corrupt and vilely misogynistic action thriller. How is the critic to respond? To give it a negative review would be dishonest, because it is such a skillful and well-crafted movie. To be positive is to seem to approve its sickness about women. I’ll give it three stars. As for my thumb, I’ll use it and my forefinger to hold my nose.”

      Reviews, by nature, MUST be opinion pieces, or else there will lack any variety between outlets. What you seem to want is something closer to a hardware review vs. an artistic critique which I would argue shows the difference in how some seem to view the industry. I fall into the camp that says games are an inherently artistic medium. Art, being subjective in itself, lends itself to reviews that are in of themselves subjective. Any discussion of a work of art is in itself a revelation of the person discussing it as much as it is a revelation of the artistic piece. Others, on the other hand, care about games more in their technical achievements. What’s the FPS? What’s the resolution? How many polygons were crammed into the screen? That’s not necessarily a wrong approach, either, but I think it’s a lot more dishonest to care more about polygon count vs. aesthetics.

      • Ryan

        As I have heard it, it was developers choosing not to offer early release editions of a game to reviewers that have given poor reviews for previous works. So developers like EA can deny certain publications early access to their new game while a publication that had far more favorable reviews gets to see their newest work and can put reviews out on it before it is released. These early reviews are looked at by many, and thus has an effect on the advertising revenue that the reviewing publication earns. If people can only find the content they’re looking for at publication A, then that is where they’ll go (even when they are aware that the reviews are all softballs). So while not directly accepting checks from developers, there is a reason behind the undeserved favorable review. The erosion of trust in these publications is more at the heart of what I believe Sean Ginley was trying to say, and once that trust is lost, it is not so easily regained.

        “A banker, a senator and a Fergusen police officer are in a room with you and your case with 1 million dollars, you need to let one of them watch it while you use the restroom, who do you trust?”

  • Quinn Marsden

    I have never pulled a pre-order because of a bad review but I have bought a game based on a review. And as for indie games, I love them and some of the time they do better than the big company game

  • Godless Machine

    I pay very close attention to reviews… in aggregate. One single review isn’t going to sway me one way or another except in a few rare cases.

    I think the issue raised in the article is missing a fairly large point though: people have these $400 machines sitting under their televisions and one can count the number of original AAA titles released for each in the year plus that they’ve been around with only 2 hands (and still have a finger or two left over). I read the reviews for Destiny and went out and bought it anyway, despite the lukewarm reception…and was unsurprised with how unsatisfying it ended up being. Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered but my library consisted of a total of 3 games at the time and I was desperate, hoping for at least a little entertainment to justify the hardware investment. I traded it in 2 weeks later.

    I learned my lesson for sure. I won’t bother with The Order… I’ll just sit on my expensive device and wait for other devs to (finally) start releasing quality titles.

  • junkyfour

    How does anyone know it was a commercial success? No. 1 on the sales charts in the UK during a month with no competition hardly qualifies as a commercial success. If I sell lemonade from a lemonade stand on a street in which I own the only lemonade stand guess what? I’m no. 1 on the MyStreet lemonade stand sales charts! vgchartz lists the game as having sold about 500000 copies the week of Feb 21. My guess from these (perhaps suspect but it’s all I have) numbers and assuming: (1) a 50% drop off in sales week after week, (2) 70% of a game’s lifetime sales is achieved in the first month, and (3) digital comprises 20% of sales, The Order: 1886 will sell 1.7 million copies in its lifetime and I think that’s generous. GTA V sold I believe 35-40 million copies to an install base of 150 million consoles or so (Xbox 360 and PS3). So tops a game can sell to 20-25% of its install base if it’s a massive hit. With 20 million consoles sold then I’d expect The Order to sell no more than 4 million copies. Supposedly Infamous: Second Son sold a little more than 2 million copies to date and it was released when the PS4 had an install base of about 6 million so 33% of that number; however these are presumably year-to-date sales so 20% of of an install base is a decent enough estimate. Now The Order is hardly a hit so I’m predicting total sales including digital of 1.7 million copies. Pachter predicts 5 million by year’s end. OK so I’ll say 2 million. In other words the game will earn Sony about 65 million dollars. Success?