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.