Cross-posted from an old forum haunt of mine, but this is one of those incredibly rare cases I'm actually happy with how the post came out. Incredibly. Rare.
It basically boils down to this:
The general majority of the gaming populace wants what it can get, as fast as it can. Heck that's a thing for humanity in general - Amazon Prime, advanced shipping services, paying for convenience. That's what you're doing here - paying for some modicum of convenience. Publishers, in their infinite wisdom and desire to pile more money on their piles of money (in general, not all of them are typically doing well in that regard - yes, they pay themselves thousands of dollars weekly, but more on that later on), have found a way to monetise this.
However, in monetising this, there also is the catch of receiving money for a product that hasn't been reviewed yet (in most cases) and (in all cases) hasn't been released yet. Paying for beta access, etc, or whatever early-bird access the developers provide, is a relatively new thing that actually does help the case for pre-orders in terms of a real, valuable product you can then access. A positive impact of Kickstarter on the industry, really, avoiding the complete off-topic that is paying for beta-testing. It's all supply and demand. Regardless of the ethics people like arguing about, if you want beta access, it's entirely up to you to invest in that.
So we have bad launches. We have demos that aren't indicative of final gameplay. These have been happening for years. As you get more games, more high-profile games, more coverage of video games in general . . . these cases crop up more. They're more visible. I can't even begin to comment on if they're actually occurring more often, because I don't have any statistics that support this. But they're definitely more visible - which is good, because this puts more pressure on the publisher model to stop simply relying on the mass gaming populace that normally buys into things like pre-orders.
Case in point - Arkham Knight. In an unprecedented move, Warner Bros not only owned up to the mess around the PC launch, but also pulled it from sales so they couldn't get any more money from a broken sale. Steam Refunds are chugging through nicely, and they've made Rocksteady work directly on fixing the PC version to minimise the delay on a solid, working product.
Should it have been that bad in the first place? Absolutely not. But this whole publicly-admitting mistakes and actually following through about it is a rare thing, and in my opinion needs to be valued that bit more. Smack them when they're bad, praise them when they're good. Teach them we're not a mindless pit of money, but also teach them we don't rage indiscriminately. There's a balance there.
But back to pre-orders. Games are expensive to make. Pre-orders gauge interest in a product and allow an early start on recouping investment costs, to show the investors "look by this trend of pre-orders we can expect X sales", which determines whether they think the game will actually do well or not. If a game's going to do bad, it provides an early-bird warning on how to modify their planned strategy to account for this. Likewise if the game will sell well. Sadly, there is always potential for abuse in either situation - bad games get chopped up more to force as much revenue as possible, or good games get chopped up because people know that the gamers will pay for it. Of course, the reverse happens as well.
But that's the important thing. That's the result of investors as an income model, and the direct result of upper management on the development and support of the product itself. Not the developers. That's just business - and sensible business, mind - it's not good for us as consumers or even for the developers themselves. But that's immaterial, because, business. That particular organ machine of doom and gloom trundles on inexhorably. The execs in a publishing firm won't lose money. They'll rarely lose their jobs. Whatever happens, they're safe, they don't care, and short of some kind of capitalist / anti-capitalist revolution, that is how business works. We can't do anything about that, at least in the short term.
All we can do is decide when to pre-order, and while there are arguments to be made for it, you're obviously paying for a non-product (at that time). My personal advice is just make that decision yourself. Don't listen to people that say you need that game, because you don't. It's a fecking video game! But likewise, don't listen to the people that say never pre-order, or shame you into doing so. There are arguments to be made for it, it's just that there's incredibly limited and depending on personal circumstance.
But they are there. This isn't a black and white thing. It's personal choice - remember that.