I don't know how we got to this point with the insane number of pre-order bonuses tied to seemingly every major AAA game. Or, well, maybe I do; we as consumers have been compliant in sending the message to publishers that we're willing to plunk down a few bucks ahead of time to secure "exclusive content." But what seemed like an innocuous practice has quickly become an obnoxious core tenet of video game marketing.
It's no secret that pre-orders are good for game publishers. It's an easy way for them to gauge interest in their titles and adjust sales expectations accordingly. For smaller publishers of especially niche games, it's actually vital that they know how many copies to ship and to where. In 2016, however, virtually every game released from this point forward is going to see a simultaneous digital release, making it impossible for them to sell out. This does not account for the possibility that servers may eventually go down, of course, and I certainly understand the appeal of owning hard copies of your favorite games - I'm something of a collector myself, after all - but pre-orders are increasingly less necessary in today's gaming ecosystem.
So why do we continue to hand over money that effectively says "I have been swayed by your marketing and have committed to buying your product at full price, regardless of its quality"? It's simple: because we get something for doing it. Why walk into a store and pay $60 for a game the day after release when you could pre-order and get some sweet freebies included in your purchase price? The trouble is that those "freebies" are starting to feel more and more like content that's carved out of games for the explicit purpose of holding customers at ransom.
It's not just the type of content, but the sheer volume of it being offered as pre-order incentives that has me frustrated. Horizon: Zero Dawn has retailer-exclusive costumes. Mass Effect: Andromeda comes in no less than five different flavors. But you'll find no clearer example than Final Fantasy XV - Square Enix recently released a series of 16 trailers to detail each piece of DLC available via pre-ordering at each retailer. 16 trailers! Are you kidding me? In no world should I as a consumer be required to view 16 separate pieces of media to determine where to order a product.
Worse still is that most of the DLC in question is exclusive in some fashion, meaning that no matter where I make my purchase, I am effectively barred from accessing a piece of the game that should've been there in the first place. Much of it is of little import - car skins and throwback weapons - but one retailer is offering an entire spin-off game that enriches the Final Fantasy XV universe. It presents an unfair choice to consumers, one that spits in their faces while asking them for money in the same dribbling breath.
I am most certainly guilty of pre-ordering my most-anticipated games. In my complacency, I've grown to accept a practice that affords me little benefit as a consumer, and instead shows marketers that they've succeeded in monetizing the hype surrounding their games. Yet this method of baiting pre-orders only hurts players, because it incentivizes publishers to carve content out of their games and release it piecemeal under the pretense of it being a "bonus." Pre-order culture is so insidious that it has become endemic to the video game industry. I can only wonder how bad things will get before we finally put our collective foot down and say "enough is enough."