You really shouldn't preorder video games. Getting some shiny, exclusive item when the game arrives isn't worth gambling $80 or more for an experience that's buggy on launch day or not as fun as you thought it would be once you start playing.
That said, if you can preorder a game from a place that gives you a decent discount for throwing down some cash in advance and you're allowed to cancel your preorder within a reasonable time limit, that's not so bad. Better yet, if the game you're interested in offers an open beta, you're golden: This is the winning combination, an opportunity you should absolutely take advantage of to ensure you actually like what you're pre-purchasing.
Beta tests are the best - for games
While an open beta, stress test, or whatever else a developer is calling it isn't going to guarantee that your game isn't a hot mess at launch, it's a great way to test the waters. You'll probably get a pretty good idea of whether a game lives up to all the hype you've been reading or watching, even if the game's early beta offers a more limited experience than its full release.
If you're lucky, playing in a game's open beta might even give you a few exclusive rewards - perhaps even negating the need to preorder a "deluxe" or enhanced version of a game instead of its cheaper regular edition.
Consider Mario Tennis Aces, a game that's been at the top of my preorder list ever since Nintendo announced the title in March. Not only has Nintendo announced a limited, free beta for the game starting June 1 - with multiplayer support - but the company also built a progression system into the beta.
If I play enough, and I plan to, I'll be able to storm the courts with five additional characters in addition to the four I'll get at the start of the beta. I'll also be able to unlock an exclusive outfit for Mario once the game launches on June 22, which is less interesting to me, but that might be a huge deal for other tennis fans.
Most importantly, the beta will give me a chance to see whether Mario Tennis Aces is as good on the Nintendo Switch as it was on the Nintendo 64 - the last time I lobbed aces at Mushroom Kingdom characters instead of fireballs. And if the experience isn't worth paying a small fortune to have the game on launch day, I'll just cancel my preorder and wait for Mario Tennis Aces to hit the bargain bin. Easy as that.
Not all betas are created equal
Should you check out every beta you can get your hands on? Possibly not. Games are one thing - a buggy experience there won't cause you any stress. Digital distribution services? Sure, go give Steam's beta program a try, or check out a Battle.net beta to play with a few new features before they go live. Go try the public test server for your favourite games. No big deal.
Sign up for a beta for, say, your operating system on your primary computer, smartphone, or tablet, and a bug or two there might give you a huge headache. While it's uncommon, it's not unheard of for a prerelease piece of software to totally mess up in horrible ways. And if you don't have a secondary device you can use in the meantime, you're going to be stuck waiting to reinstall a stable version of your OS. If you haven't backed up your files in a while, but a beta just trashed your stable system or smartphone, you might be looking at some data loss. That's not good.
Our advice? If you're even the least bit nervous about the concept of pre-release software, stick to games. Better to have a bug botch a serve than brick your system, right?