These days, you can practically pre-order a video game the moment someone thinks of a concept. But that's no longer the case in Germany, as a recent ruling has banned the pre-order of games with "vague" release dates. In that region, anyone wanting to collect money for a game had better have a decent launch window in mind moving forward, which would have come in real handy for Kingdom Hearts III fans about a decade ago.
Following a ruling in the Higher Regional Court of Munich, via Eurogamer, retailers can no longer collect pre-order sales for games that don't have a decent launch window pinned down. Specifically mentioned are products with the phrases "coming soon" or "available soon" attached, as we've come to learn over the years that those phrases can mean "well, actually, in a year or so, but we'll take your money now."
What's interesting about this case is that it didn't start out with a focus on video games, but rather a smartphone. The whole thing kicked off when a case was made against the retailer Media Markt, who was offering pre-orders for the Samsung Galaxy S6 back in August of 2016. In other words, it took the court a while to come to this decision, so they clearly didn't make it lightly. However, the ruling for this case applies to pretty much all products in Germany, including video games.
A statement from Dusseldorf Consumer simply states that, when someone makes a pre-order, they should be able to know when the product they are paying money for will be available. That's a drum folks have been beating here in the U.S. for quite some time, but we've had no similar luck concerning a new rule when it comes to pre-orders.
Some would go so far as to argue that the idea of pre-orders is antiquated and serves little purpose for video games these days. There's seldom a supply issue unless a game is extremely niche, and we're still offering pre-orders for digital sales, which makes even less sense. Still, we frequently learn about new games long before they are set to be released and, quite frequently, that initial announcement is coupled with pre-order opportunities. Games like Death Stranding and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice still don't have a definite launch date attached to them, but you can still pre-order them right this very minute here in The States.
In Germany, that will no longer be the case. It seems like the easy solution would be to attach a narrow window to a product even if you know it will not be met, but we've got a feeling this new ruling will not view such actions very favorably. There's a big difference between a game not quite making its launch window and said window shifting an entire year or being as nebulous as games like The Elder Scrolls VI.