Published on July 2nd, 2012 | by Brandon17
Publisher Greed: The Insanity of Pre-order Bonuses
Once upon a time, pre-orders used to mean something. Back in the days when games came on discs, there was no worse feeling than walking into your local game store after the release of the game you’ve been looking forward to all year, only to find every copy on the shelf sold out. Luckily, in order to avoid this sad tale, you could make a pre-order–a down payment beforehand to guarantee yourself a copy of a game on its release day. You got peace of mind, and the game publisher got an idea of how much cash they were likely to see on release day–very much a win-win situation.
However, those days are far behind us now. In the digital age, game quantities are no longer limited by the constraints of physical media. Digital distribution has greatly simplified game releases, removing the layers of manufacturing and supply chain that were required in the past. So what happens to pre-orders when their initial purpose is rendered unnecessary?
Well, publishers weren’t about to give up that delicious guaranteed money, so they had to come up with something to entice customers to continue forking over their cash before having the opportunity to read reviews and potentially change their mind. Thus, the idea of the “pre-order bonus” was born. While these extras initially started out mostly innocent and insignificant, they have grown more and more egregious over time as publishers have become more desperate to hedge against any negative reviews from the press and sites like Metacritic.
Before Battlefield 3 was released last year, I discussed why you should be pissed off that EA was offering pre-order bonuses that affected gameplay and created an imbalanced playing field between pre-order customers and everyone else. Activision then followed suit with an equally absurd and awful retailer-specific pre-order bonus scheme of their own for Modern Warfare 3. While I didn’t think it could get much worse, Activision is apparently out to prove me wrong.
Black Ops II is right around the bend, and along with it, the now-typical pre-order bonus lunacy. In addition to retailer-specific bonuses, Activision has gone a step further this time around by forcing you to pre-order if you want to play the new iteration of the popular Black Ops map Nuketown. This goes past simply being a bonus–it amounts to you getting an incomplete version of the game if you don’t pre-order. Activision is holding content for ransom and punishing you if you choose to wait and make an informed purchase decision based on reviews and public opinion.
While Activision isn’t exactly known for its customer-centric focus, I think Black Ops II is taking it to another level. This practice reeks of a company that’s not confident in the quality of its product and is downright afraid of what reviewers will say, so it resorts to consumer-hostile measures to ensure that sales expectations are met.
While I’m sure many eager gamers don’t care and will pre-order Black Ops II in droves, I refuse to play into the insanity any longer. The state of pre-order bonuses is out of control and getting worse, and the only way to send a message to the offending publishers is to vote with your wallet. If you pre-order Black Ops II (or the next AAA title that inevitably tries something similar), just know that you’re playing right into the publisher’s hand–and giving them permission to go even further next time.