Would you gladly pay today for a hamburger on Tuesday?
I’ve noticed lately that the games industry has become obsessed with pre-orders. Back in the day, I would go to Toys’R’Us or Circuit City to reserve a copy of an upcoming video game, which was good for making sure I could get one come release day (and at a reduced price if I made a down payment). It used to be something unique to each retailer, but within the past year or two, the game companies themselves have been utterly invested in the peddling of pre-purchases. They announce the release date up to a year in advance and slap the perfunctory “PRE-ORDER NOW” on the game’s official site… Is this just the next step in the evolution of pre-release hype, or are they really trying to get you to pony up before you even get a chance to read any reviews or try out a demo? Everybody’s trying to count their chickens before they hatch these days, and it can’t be good for the consumer in the end. Yeah, you can always cancel your pre-order, but if the hype was successful, you wouldn’t even consider that. Especially if the Supreme Delux-o edition you wanted was discontinued two months before the game comes out (Dragon Age II).
This begs the question as to why this is happening. Have circumstances in the entertainment industry become so dire that publishers have actually resorted to leveraging their pre-sales figures somehow? The virtual dollars they accumulated on promises of in-game items and DLC that probably should’ve been included in the game in the first place? Perhaps it allows them to more easily secure financing for the next project, or inflate the sales figures they can report for the first day/week/month after release. One thing is for certain -- this nonsense with pre-order “bonuses” needs to stop. It wasn’t so bad at first, when character skins and other cosmetic variations were the norm rather than the exception, but it’s progressively transformed into a way to legitimately cheat. Why bother putting effort into playing when you can just pre-order from GameStop and start out with free weapons and armor that give you an advantage you wouldn’t otherwise have? Dead Space 2 pre-orders allowed unlocking a suit, which you get for free, that is better than anything else you can find for the first 2/3 of the game!
Who determines the exclusivity of these pre-order offers, anyhow? Rarely are they fairly balanced amongst different retailers, with GameStop -- and to a lesser extent, Best Buy and Amazon -- always offering the best stuff. Obviously they pay for the privilege of ensuring most people buy from them, but it’s just not kosher. If you’re going to offer pre-order bonuses, make them identical across all retailers and etailers. They’ve already gotten into the garish habit of selling pre-order bonuses as DLC a month or two down the road, which only serves to alienate the early adopters that drove much of the game’s success. Although, they’ve probably already decided that they don’t mind alienating people, which is why we’re in this situation to begin with. At the end of the day, it’s not a big deal if the game itself is good, but it’s difficult not to feel a bit slighted.
There are some games that do pre-order bonuses right, though. I just recently saw what Capcom is offering along with their upcoming fighting game, Marvel vs. Capcom 3: T-shirts! Yes, snazzy apparel with different designs depending on where you buy from. No semi-exclusive bonus stage or character with special moves, just something tangible and collectible that doesn’t have any influence on how the game plays. I’d like to see more stuff like that, and not just as a part of extravagantly expensive collector’s editions. I suppose if you’re buying from a digital distributor like Steam or Direct2Drive, you can’t expect anything beyond some soundtrack MP3s or a PDF artbook… However, I would consider going retail more often if a pre-order netted me some sexy steel-book casing or a hardcover instruction manual. That’s what I like, something to display on my bookshelf, not a stipend of in-game currency and consumables.
Firing Points is a weekly editorial that explores popular, pressing, or otherwise provocative topics in the world of gaming. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the FiringSquad team, or anyone else for that matter.
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