Out of nowhere, Apple just added support for preordering upcoming apps and games to the App Store.
The first wave of games have already been made available for preorder, and they're some big ones. Life is Strange, Bridge Constructor Portal, Inside, and Thumper: Pocket Edition (no words yet about whether or not these will support controllers, but we're optimistic!)
Customers can pre-order your app from your product page, search results, and the Today, Games, or Apps tabs if your app is featured.
On launch day, your app automatically downloads to the device on which the customer requested the pre-order, and to their other devices that have automatic downloads enabled. Customers will also receive a notification letting them know the app is available.
Customers who pre-order a paid app won’t be charged until the day the app is released for download. If the price of your app changes during pre-order, they will be charged the price that is lower: the price they accepted at pre-order or the price on the day of release.
Customers can cancel their pre-orders in their App Store settings on iOS and macOS, and in their iTunes settings on desktop for iOS, macOS, and tvOS apps.
Pre-orders can be made on devices running iOS 11.2, tvOS 11.2, and macOS 10.13.2 or later. Product pages during pre-order are accessible for customers on earlier operating systems through direct links. However, the buy button is disabled and customers are prompted to update to the latest OS version to pre-order apps.
At first blush, preordering digital apps and games would seem to make no sense. In the physical realm, preorders are used by retailers as a way to gauge demand, to help the retailer know how many of a product to order for launch day. This reason doesn't apply to digital goods, obviously. But there are other reasons to allow preorders.
Developers frequently upload apps to the App Store early, but don't make those apps available for download. This is done for numerous reasons, such as making sure the information in the store is accurate and allowing promo copies to be gifted to media. If nothing more, preordering provides a more codified way of implementing these features.
Developers of premium apps and games frequently have special launch day pricing, to rewards fans. Developers will often promote a game on social media, and then rush to tell fans to buy the game early if they want to be rewarded with discount pricing. Preordering provides a way to give special discounts on apps to people who are already committed to buying, without hurting profit from first-day sales.
For users, the benefits are less obvious, but not entirely absent. If you're already 100% committed to buying an app, the preorder might give you a discount. It'll also provide a convenient notification when the app is finally available to download, so you don't have to remind yourself about release dates. Lastly, if developers change their mind about pricing and launch the app for cheaper than you preordered, you only end up paying the cheapest price - you'll never be hurt by preordering.
Honestly, this doesn't seem like a huge change for users or for developers, but it also doesn't seem to have any downsides. If it helps make premium games more viable on the App Store, there's nothing to complain about. If it mitigates some of the risks involved in the App Store, and convinces bigger studios to consider porting more games to mobile, everyone wins. If it turns out to be a rarely-used and unpopular feature, well, we're not any worse off than we would be without it.