Why Are Some Digital Pre-Orders Timed To The West Coast?

An all-digital future seems inevitable at this point. Netflix has buried traditional video rental services, Amazon’s Kindle and Comixology are making printed books and comics less and less convenient, while Steam made the idea of physical copies of PC games obsolete years ago. Now, with the new generation of hardware, consoles are making the transition as well, but there are still a few kinks to work out. There are obvious conveniences, such as not having go out and get your copy of a game, and come back home with it. Or the addition of pre-loading, so that gamers no longer have to wait until launch day and then queue up in some server along with thousands of others to try and download the game at the same time. But despite these strides, some companies, namely Activision, have thrown a monkey wrench into the works based on geography. Anyone that doesn’t live on the west coast of North America doesn’t play their digital game at midnight. If you live on the east coast, or are in the Atlantic time zone, you don’t get to play your game until three or four am.

Destiny
Destiny

This is baffling in the extreme. Sony itself has a policy of timing digital releases to the east coast so that everyone in North America gets to play the game at midnight or as early as 9 pm for west coasters. Electronic Arts does the same thing. The thinking at these publishers seems to be, “Well, we’ve already got their money, since we charged our digital customers as soon as they put in a pre-order, so what’s the harm in letting some people on the other coast play three hours earlier?”

“What possible advantage does Activision have in locking out midnight releases of digital copies for anyone not on the west coast?”
Activision, on the other hand, is adamant right now about their west coast time zone policy. It’s unclear why they believe a digital release—which has already been paid for—should not unlock until the company’s home time zone arrives at the appointed hour. It’s unlikely that they’re just being petty, but it’s also obvious that this isn’t some legal problem, as both Sony and Electronic Arts haven’t encountered any hurdles in making a game digitally available as early as possible to as wide an audience as possible.

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The one thing this DOES do for Activision is hurt their digital copy adoption rate. If someone in Toronto, for example, can play Dragon Age: Inquisition at midnight EST, then the convenience of a digital copy is obvious. There’s no line up on a cold November night, no time lost going to and from the store, just maximum convenience for an impatient gamer. On the other hand, if that same Toronto gamer has to wait until 3 am to play a digital copy of Destiny when a nearby EB Games has a midnight launch, that same impatient gamer will probably trudge out to the store to get a copy. Even if it takes an hour, they are still playing the game two hours earlier than east coast consumers that bought a digital copy. It also means that Activison now runs the risk of a used sale to EB Games for that same physical copy if the player tires of the game in a few weeks.

Diablo III
Diablo III

So what possible advantage does Activision have in locking out midnight releases of digital copies for anyone not on the west coast? How does it hurt them if they DON’T do this? Obviously there must be some financial consequence for Activision to be willing to give such an advantage to EA, with its more east coast friendly digital unlocks. No profit-driven company would give a competitive edge to a rival unless there were some significant financial loss in trying to match that same move. Whatever that reason is, Activision isn’t saying. Hopefully, if the this trend with other companies continues, Activision will eventually follow suit. However, they stuck to their guns for Diablo III on consoles, and they appear to be firm in their commitment for Destiny.