Pre-Order Ponderings

2 09 2011

This man speaks the truth. In ‘Pre-Order Penance’, published today over at Gamesindustry.biz, columnist Rob Fahey explains the reason why he’s being put off from pre-orders: the various bits of bonus content that can only be bought from certain retailers. The case in point is Batman: Arkham City. We already know that certain shops have been allotted exclusive skins for the game: buy from one and you get a bonus 1970’s Batman costume in-game, buy from another and you’ll get a version based on his look in the animated series. Then there’s big chunks of exclusive content like new levels and scenarios which are also being dished out. Whilst these promotions are meant to encourage pre-orders, Fahey rightly points out that it creates a strange situation where consumers are pushed into deciding which piece of extra content is worth more to them rather than shopping based on price, which can make the process seem ‘exploitative and unpleasant’.

I haven’t reached the stage yet where I don’t pre-order certain titles, but I still find it annoying when I don’t get certain bits of content unless I’ve shelled out beforehand. There is, after all, no promise that the content will be released later on as DLC with a price-tag or not. The problem for me, though, is not primarily one of finance or trading practice, but instead about the nature of the game itself. Additions like bonus skins are annoying but hardly cause for major concern. When I pre-ordered Test Drive Unlimited 2, various retailers offered bonus cars, and I plumped for GAME’s Bugatti Veyron Supersport rather than Play’s Carbon Black Aston Martin DBS. That’s no so great a problem: I would have liked the DBS, but its admission barely affects the game at large.

Big content additions like extra levels are the problem. With Arkham City, Tesco’s exclusive bonus is the Joker’s Carnival Challenge Map, which supposedly tot up to 4 hours of gameplay. I’m sceptical of that figure, but no matter how small a percentage of the total game it comprises, it’s still a major addition that should be in the base game. Likewise, Gamestation customers will be the only ones able to play as Robin, who has a completely different set of skills from Batman. Robin is a major part of Batman canon and a character who the developers will have had to put in the time to develop and implement in the game, yet it feels like he has been taken hostage for the monetary concern of the publisher. 

EDIT: as I publish this I notice that Robin also has bonus skins as pre-order bonuses. I missed this news last week when on holiday. Just how deep is this rabbit hole…

Then there’s the longer term view. How will people appreciate bonuses like this in years to come when they look back on the games of the early 2010s? If you were trying to preserve and record these games, would you count the extra content, since no ‘definitive’ edition with all the content may ever be released? Are they merely unimportant additions or must they be considered in an appreciation of the whole game? Developers and publishers clearly don’t consider bonus content to be integral to the experience or they’d be included in the base game. I think that what makes pre-order bonuses unpleasant: they are so knowingly corporate, rather than artistic, in purpose. I just hope that if this trend continues it is limited to the smallest cosmetic differences.

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