Pre-order giveaways are meant to encourage consumers to purchase games early, which will in turn help the games’ launch reputations, thus garnering solid player bases straight out of the gate—which, in our multiplayer-heavy world, is pretty important. The key phrase in all that is “meant to.” Turns out, these little prizes do just the opposite if handled incorrectly. In fact, this benign gimmickry can not only hurt a game’s launch period, but deter players from getting the game altogether.
Take a look at Call of Duty: Black Ops II’s recent multiplayer fiasco. Pre-ordering the game provided access to the exclusive multiplayer map Nuketown 2025, which was meant to give devoted players a small “edge” over the competition. Well, it actually gave these players a Greatsword and came with a tyrannical disposition. For the uninformed: Playing Nuketown 2025 is basically like shooting abnormally vibrant fish in a transparent barrel, point-blank, with a sawed-off shotgun. Players were racking up so many kills that the multiplayer level balance quickly became unfairly warped; pre-order players were prestiging left and right, and there was some serious animosity from the players who missed out on the map. As a result, good old 2025 was taken down in its entirety, leaving pre-order purchasers out to hang—that and newer players were noob-tubing like never before.
Even without adding multiplayer into the equation, poorly planned bonus content can be a real buzz kill. I’m sure most of us were excited for Dead Space 3’s release, and many of us had pre-ordered the game. But should we really have been too eager to get access to overly-powerful weapons early-game—it is survival horror, after all—which just so happens to be the game’s pre-order bonus? Now, obviously, I don’t have to use these weapons, so it shouldn’t pose a major issue. Regardless, introducing this sort of unstable variable into a game’s formula is rarely a good thing. In Call of Duty’s case, it turned an entire multiplayer system into a one-sided slaughterhouse; in Dead Space, it hindered the already fleeting survival aspects of the Necromorph infestation.
We’re all familiar with the oh-so-tempting offers of bonus skins, shinier weapons, and early access to random beta servers that usually come with a pre-order (which can be quite cool on occasion), but we’ve only seen half of the argument against them. Not only is this kind of throwaway content potentially detrimental, it’s rarely enough to convince me to shell out sixty bucks in the first place. Sorry to break the news to you, developers (and GameStop), but no amount of smoke-and-mirrors, one-time-use cosmetic items is going to hold my attention. How about offering some quality incentive to the players supporting a game?
Among the multitude of reasons behind getting a game in advance—impatience, locking your copy of the game in, avoiding long lines at a midnight launch—supporting our favorite companies ranks pretty highly. Sure, gamers are generally a selfish and ravenous bunch, but we have our honor. We’ll follow our favorite games like lost puppies, and that includes pre-ordering them.
But what kind of bonus is a trash armor set or worthless weapon? Come on people; get creative! There’s a lot more to offer as in-game content than the atypical recolored suit. Bonus quests are certainly an RPG favorite, and sneak peeks at DLC would be more than welcomed for any genre.We all know you have DLC prepared at launch—which is a problem in and of itself, but that’s for another article—so why not make use of it?
Even then, there’s plenty of actual merchandise to choose from without undermining the value of collector’s editions—which is an important problem to keep in mind. How about a keychain version of a game’s iconic weapon and a small poster that would allow us to flaunt our “pre-order pro status” to the entire world? An access code for an online game guide and a miniature art book? Why not. I wouldn’t mind having a Plasma Cutter next to my car keys, and I would reconsider the value of having both my kidneys over an exclusive Pikmin 3 figurine. Heck, ramp it up another notch: Put developer signatures on the stuff; that’s sure to get the fans drooling.
Every player who pre-orders a game is tipping their hat to the developer, so it’s fair to get a little something special in return—I’m sure we’d all be pissed if we didn’t. I’m all for getting some free stuff to gawk at while I tear through the morning hours following a game’s launch, but I shouldn’t be worried about the fairness of a game because of it.
With that in mind, we’re left with quite a few questions. Are the bonus skins and weapons enough if you just want the game early, or would you seriously appreciate some better fan candy thrown our way? Should pre-order bonuses exist at all? Should developers just offer special edition bundles of a game? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Date: February 7, 2013