Pre-orders are everywhere, there is seemingly no end to them in sight. Are they good for games, though? Are they good for gamers? Read on…
I’m going to bet that most people reading this can instantly think of at least one game which they pre-ordered that they now very much regret. We’ve all got those (damn you Brink!), and publishers are increasingly adding DLC, offers, and even discounts for other games to them in order to drum up more pre-order sales.
The latest game to use this is the upcoming Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The latest game in the popular Assassin’s Creed series, Black Flag is set in the early eighteenth-century Carribean and almost half the game will be set at sea, adding naval combat and missions. On paper at least it sounds like an interesting new twist for an established series, but Ubisoft also announced the “Black Island Pack”, exclusive DLC for pre-ordering the game at GameStop, which includes an exclusive quest, an exclusive ship, exclusive weapons and some multiplayer bonuses, too. The game isn’t even out yet – won’t be out for another five months at least – but hey, at least there is DLC that we can get excited about right? Said no one ever.
On the one hand publishers know that those first few days and weeks are pivotal to the game’s success (or failure) and want to give the game every chance it can to succeed. They know that offering players bonus content for “free” (including it in the base price of the game) is a good way to do this, but it starts to get ridiculous when different retailers receive different bonuses and you then have to start to pick and choose where to buy. “Well if I get it from Steam I get this Jewel of Awesomeness and an exclusive quest; if I get it from Origin I get the Slippers of Amazingness and a different exclusive quest; but if I buy it from GameStop then I get the Hat of Hattiness and yet another exclusive quest”. Items I can at least understand (to an extent), but when exclusive levels and missions are tied just to certain retailers then gamers get caught in the middle of this turf war. Some people will even pre-order from different retailers simultaneously in order to try and secure all the bonuses from certain games, and that is the most ridiculous thing ever.
There are ways it can be done without screwing gamers, though.
A few weeks ago I wasn’t intending to pre-order BioShock Infinite, but was instead just going to pick it up a few weeks or months after release when I saw it on sale. The offer that GreenManGaming put out for it though was difficult to pass up. $16 in credit (effectively making the game $44) + XCOM: Enemy Unknown (an excellent game) + The Darkness 2 (also apparently an excellent game) + some reasonable in-game items for BI. Once those early spectacular reviews of BI hit the net on Monday for its release the following day, I knew I couldn’t pass up this excellent offer. I supported a developer I very much admire and I got an excellent deal on what will certainly be a contender for Game Of The Year, so I do not regret it one bit.
Really though, making different “exclusive content” packs and putting them behind pre-order walls at different retailers is placing the average gamer in a bad position. If I like your game I should just be able to go to my favourite retailer of choice and buy it, I should not need a spreadsheet and protractor to figure out the best place to go to receive all of the exclusive content that you have made available. Maybe I don’t like GameStop. Maybe Origin made some inappropriate gestures to me while we were children and now I do not wish to associate with it anymore. I should not need to include any other considerations in where I choose to buy a game from, and publishers should end this practice before the pushback on it begins to hurt, rather than help them.