All this recent talk about a community-funded games industry got me thinking about our modern pre-order system. As it stands, game stores take our money on a promise to sell the game to us later – rarely offering any tangible return on your crisp five dollar bill. There must be a better way!

I love the idea of funding poor indie developers as much as the next guy. Still, I’m forced to confess that there’s only one sure thing in games – a veteran development team with a proven formula, backed by a publisher who stands to lose millions if their sequel doesn’t stack up. I’m rooting for Brutal Legend along with everyone else, but I wouldn’t lay my plastic down today. Not before seeing the reviews or putting my own hands to a demo. An ugly truth, my friends.

So, let me play the devil’s advocate. Here I put aside the struggling artists and think about the games I already know I want. Surely, there’s a way these companies can snake their way into my wallet ahead of time? After all, in my gaming budget, the sequel to my game of the year is what the kids call a ‘sunk cost‘.

I asked myself, just what would it take? I came up with EIGHT answers.

Instead of leaving $5 for nothing, if I could buy a pre-order disc in a store or online – maybe with a teaser demo, beta key, theme, avatar, early soundtrack, in-game bling, etc. – I’d drop $20 to pre-order something like Halo 3: ODST a year in advance. $30 if they throw in a decent t-shirt!

Lower Prices for Early Adopters
At a $40 limited pre-sell price point, I’d have paid for Assassin’s Creed 2 a full year early. I’d have made sure my friends heard about it, too.

Return on Brand Investment
I’d buy Mass Effect 2 for full price right now, if I could get a dollar in “Bioware Bucks” for every 100,000 the game eventually sells. Too complicated? How about a free month of Star Wars: The Old Republic?

DLC with Purchase
It really must sting to be a day-one fan of Fallout 3, knowing that next year’s Johnny-come-latelies might score all $50 of the DLC for free in the inevitable Game of the Year Edition. Shouldn’t the most loyal fans get the same treatment? Why not offer a ‘Free DLC Guarantee’ for those who pre-purchase?

Reduced DRM
It seems that Blizzard doesn’t trust me to play Starcraft 2 legitimately over my own network. How about if I put down my $60 today? How much faith does that buy me? Can I get a “Special LAN Editon”?

Graduated Release
Imagine a world in which “Final Fantasy XIII (Part One of Three)” is already available for $20 over PSN, while Square Enix works on finishing the other two-thirds. Can you see it? Isn’t it beautiful?

International Release

Why wait for localization teams? Yakuza 3 isn’t planned for North American release due to localization costs – what if digitally distributed pre-sales (with rough subtitles) could pay for the English voice work? They could even patch it in as they go!

Buy the New One, Play the Original
One more. If you have a Wii, it’s a good guess you’re looking forward to Super Mario Galaxy 2 – but would you pay for it today if you could download Super Mario World or Super Mario 64 in return? What if you just got 1000 bonus Wii points to use as you like?

So, how about you? Does it still sound so evil? Has my worthless Canadian money made me lose all concept of value? Let me know what you think!