Let’s Get Rid of Pre-Order Bonuses

Free DLC, extra weapons, additional costumes, and more. There are a laundry list of items that game companies offer up in an effort to get you to plunk down the cash for a game long before anyone has played it. But what are these items really costing us, and should we continue to support them?

Pre-orders were designed to serve a legitimate business purpose. They helped retailers determine how many copies of a specific game they need to order to keep up with day one demand, and they let gamers “reserve” a copy of a game that they really want to play. Both of those aims are good ones, although they still require the gamer to put up his money for a game sight unseen.

Unfortunately, pre-ordering doesn’t really guarantee you a copy of a game. Just take a look at GameStop’s policies. Both online and in-store, GameStop makes sure to point out that if they have a limited amount of product, you could be out of luck on launch day. Furthermore, if you don’t pick up your pre-order within 48 hours of launch, they can sell your “reserved” copy to someone else.

In the past few years, the pre-order has gone from being a somewhat useful tool to just another marketing scheme for companies to separate folks from their money. Almost every game that gets released at retail these days will have a mountain of unique pre-order bonuses. You can get a special “exclusive” outfit at GameStop, a different “exclusive” weapon skin at Wal-Mart, or an “exclusive” multiplayer map at Best Buy. All you have to do is plop down some cash and pre-order.

All of these so-called “exclusive” digital goodies are really nothing more than money makers for the publisher. That “exclusive” tag just means that it’ll be a while before you see the same content available for purchase for a few dollars as DLC, allowing the company to recoup the investment they made into developing those items. As gamers, what are we gaining from this process? Is access to a few trivial items before people who bought the game at a different retailer really something we should aspire to?

Obviously, the answer is no. These pre-order bonuses and the culture around them encourage gamers to pay for games long before anyone has played them. Inevitably, that leads to dissatisfied customers. How many times have you pre-ordered a game, only to have it not live up to the company’s promises? How many time in recent memory have pre-order customers found themselves unable to play the games they paid for weeks or even months ago because online servers can’t handle the load?

It’s only going to get worse. In fact, it was revealed earlier this week that GameStop wants to offer “exclusive gameplay” to customers who buy from its stores. While that might only take the form of exclusive maps or missions – things we’ve seen before – it’s not a good thing. With the increasingly online focus of gaming, user fragmentation is a very real danger, and myriad versions of the same game only exacerbate the issue. Remember that Ubisoft launched so many versions of Watch_Dogs that you needed a spreadsheet (pictured below) to keep up, and you could have spent well in excess of $1000 to get all the content that was parceled out among them.

More importantly, we as gamers need to stop enabling bad games. Diablo 3 might not have worked right for weeks at launch, but Blizzard already had a mountain of money from pre-orders. How much faster might the Error 37 demon have been slain if no one had bought the game yet? Instead, Blizzard had 3.5 million sales on day one, and an additional 1.2 million who had received the game by paying for a year of World of Warcraft.

How many games have you pre-ordered, picked up, and then regretted your purchase? How many times have you said, “I wish I’d waited for the reviews on this one.” It’s not uncommon for game reviews to be embargoed until release day, and by then, you’ve already picked your copy up and started playing it. That’s not to say that you’ll always agree with reviews, but the more information you have as a consumer, the better.

Furthermore, massive pre-orders, in my opinion, contribute to the problem of games being forced out by release date regardless of the state they’re in. I also believe they contribute to the cutting of features or compromises in design. For a shining example, let’s look back at Mass Effect 3. It smashed the pre-order numbers of its predecessor, and when we got our hands on it, it turned out that the ending of the game felt haphazard and rushed. Did Bioware and Electronic Arts decide to forego a needed delay because of pre-orders? Maybe, but there’s no way to know for sure.

So how do we stop the pre-order culture? It might seem like a daunting task, but the solution is very simple: Stop pre-ordering games. When GameStop or whatever retailer you frequent tries to sell you a pre-order, tell them no, and tell them why. Tell your friends. Post about it on social media. Do all the things you do when you’re fighting something that you feel threatens your hobby of choice, because make no mistake, pre-order bonuses are doing just that.

Ron Whitaker is the managing editor at GameFront. Read more of his work here, and follow him and GameFront on Twitter: @ffronw and @gamefrontcom.

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9 Comments on Let’s Get Rid of Pre-Order Bonuses


On July 9, 2014 at 4:37 pm

I quit worrying about pre-order “bonuses” when it became the common trend for companies to double dip by selling those bonuses later. If I am really interested in whatever the DLC was, I canpick it up for a small price, but most of the time it’s not even worth the 99 cents or whatever. I can pretty easily live without a skin that serves no real purpose. And waiting usually means getting a game at a cheaper price even if I end up buying what was used as pre-order content. The other thing that made me stop concerning myself with pre-order content was how every retailer seems to have its own content. It’s hard to get worked up about it when I know I’ll miss out on something no matter what retailer I choose.


On July 9, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Get rid of the bonuses, and more importantly, get rid of Gamestop. They are the EA of the retail video game market.


On July 9, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Looking at the spreadsheet for Watch Dogs is infuriating. REALLY Ubisoft, in they could have everything they wanted, would have liked you to buy the game a minimum of 4 times, at specific times on specific platforms, to have access to absolutely all the content. There is nothing that is going to convince somebody to buy multiple copies of the same game at the same time. In fact, as far as I know, there is only one franchise that can get you to buy multiple copies of the same game (at the same time) and that’s Pokemon.


On July 9, 2014 at 8:37 pm

I personally dont have a problem with pre-orders or Gamestop. I usually only pre-order games that I know I am going to purchase anyway. I do prefer real world items, like the tarot cards of USB LED lamp for Disonored than the digital junk that has become the standard “bonus” with most games.

Also I thought it was funny that the current home page for Gamefront has an article titled, “Pre-Order Alien: Isolation and Get the Old Crew Back”. That is the type of pre-order bonus that I think is problematic in the industry because it sets out to actually limit the enjoyment you can have with the game without putting the money down first.


On July 10, 2014 at 2:16 am

“More importantly, we as gamers need to stop enabling bad games.”

This one sentence alone highlights the primary cause for most of the gaming industries problems right now and it needs to be hammered home over and over by gaming journalists. There are too many whiny folks out there who try to lay the blame squarely at the feet of EA or any other publisher/developer. What none of them do is stand up and admit they are the biggest cause as they cannot get a grip on their need to have the latest game with all the whistles right now and be the first to gather all the achievements.

Gaming has got to the stage where you can almost compare it to a heroin junkie, gamers want the next game over the horizon to be bigger, brighter, and louder. Companies make these promises and then gamers want it NOW, they then throw money at publishers in preorders which helps to drive the pressure for release dates. This in turn blows methodical testing and bug fixing out of the water and you get day 1 patches, along with canny publishers spotting an easy extra revenue source. Gamers then squeal like stuck pigs at the outrage that a company game them a product they asked for and seceded to time demands.

Six months later the cycle begins anew, wake up folks you are causing this problem not the publishers.


On July 10, 2014 at 4:49 am

I usually pre-order any non-MMO game i know im going to want to play no matter the review (Any Fallout or Elder Scrolls game, the newest Dragon Age (Last chance for bioware), and a few others).

Pre-order bonuses dont affect me at all, mostly because i play on PC. You will notice on the Watch_Dogs charts the PC deluxe (Because why would you pre-order a standard edition?) got all the “exclusive” bonuses you cant get from the season pass. Hell, the Origin Pre-order for DA:I Digital Deluxe has 3 mounts. And on PC, the pre-order serves a secondary function. it (Usually) gives you a chance to pre-load the game so its available when you get home from work/school.

So for PC the pre-order still serves a real function for the consumer with little bonuses attached. The only people really getting screwed over here is the console gamer.

Ron Whitaker

On July 10, 2014 at 5:13 am

@ObiWanChernobyl – It made me chuckle when I saw that article land right after this, too. Again, as I said above, you can bet that if you don’t pre-order, those missions will be available as DLC at some point after release. Just play them after you finish the game.


On July 12, 2014 at 9:04 pm

It’d also be nice to get rid of all these betas and early access BS. Why should people pay to be your QA team? Once they get their money, there’s no incentive to finish the game.

And whatever happened to demos?


On July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm

The only thing I like about all this pre-order DLC is when the game goes on sale on Steam a couple years later, it’s all bundled in for dirt cheap. Heh. That said, I still pre-order games from smaller companies like Atlus, whom I really want to support. Speaking of which, Atlus Pre-Order bonuses tend to be physical items, hit or miss, but more interesting at least.