Daily Reaction: Hitman, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed 3 – Are Pre-Order Bonuses Mishandled?

With Grand Theft Auto V’s pre-order incentives set to be announced soon, the Daily Reaction team of Seb and Dan discuss the problems with pre-order bonuses and why they need to be changed.

Seb: I get the point behind pre-order bonuses – publishers and retailers want to be able to guarantee a sale so that way they make money and they can plan stock better. And I’m not adverse to pre-orderers getting a little something for showing their support for the game.

But the way it’s handled is downright flawed. Take Assassin’s Creed 3 for example, is clearly aimed at just making publishers and retailers happy. There is no effort to please consumers. What they did is offer a different pre-order bonus for each retailer. Let’s take a look:

  • GameStop/EB Games: A single-player mission, Lost Mayan Ruins, and the Sawtooth Sword weapon unlock.
  • BestBuy: A single-player mission, Ghost of War, a Obwandiyag’s War Club weapon unlock and a crafting blueprint for an upgraded Naval convoy, allowing for increased trade with overseas merchants.
  • Amazon: A boarding axe weapon unlock and the Captain of the Aquila single-player character.
  • Wal-Mart: A single-player mission, A Dangerous Secret, and the Flintlock Musket weapon unlock.
  • Target: The Colonial Assassin single-player character, the Scottish Flintlock weapon unlock, and the Redcoat multiplayer character.

You can’t get the full package even if you pre-order, if you wanted to have everything you’d have to pre-order 5 different games. That’s a slap in the face to everyone that pre-orders, and those are the guys who really care about the game.

Dan: Much of the issue that pertains to pre-order bonuses, are not just the fact that each retail is trying to get the sale from the consumer, it is the fact that they are segmenting the experience a game has to offer. Much like day one DLC, the initial product we all leave the store with and play on that first day should be something that contains an experience that is complete, and not something partitioned out between retailers who are just throwing money out for sales. While it could be beneficial for developers to accrue more income to develop the title, they are actually spoiling an experience from the outset, if there is content audiences will get late or never.

While it may seem mundane or trivial to complain about not having access to different muskets, swords, or player skins, the problem stems from having content that is unobtainable. As gamers we are very much conditioned to seek out every possible bit of content, no matter how remote it is in games, and the fact that certain pieces of the puzzle are out of reach due to exclusivity breaks our immersion. There will be things never available in game, due to factors from a world outside of it. Although this disconnect is something that many people will eventually get over, this will only happen as long as the quality of the title makes up for any gaps created by pre-order bonuses.

Seb: One game that has managed to pull off pre-order bonuses pretty well is Hitman Absolution. Pre-order it from pretty much anywhere and you get a sniper challenge minigame. It’s great fun, filled with tons of hidden challenges, has a competitive element and you can play it right now. It gives you an actual reason to pre-order, while not keeping anything out of the core game (especially not multiplayer bonuses).

The only negatives are that obviously the content must have taken a lot of developer time and focus that would have been better spent on improving the main game, and that those that don’t pre-order miss out on a fun little minigame.

But having something that benefits pre-orderers is something that we shouldn’t be adverse to, so I disagree with you on that point. Hell, early adopters are the ones that have to pay full price and have to suffer through all the bugs.

I’m perfectly happy with a future where pre-order bonuses aren’t different at different retailers and don’t disadvantage people by being multiplayer improvements. Unlike you, I’m not against the very idea of the bonuses, just the way they are handled right now.

Dan: I am not against bonuses for pre-orders, but game content is something I believe needs to be on disc or available to everyone day one. Having anything that splits the audience is a bad idea, and content that is exclusive on day one does exactly that. This is more noticeable with pre-orders from games like CoD, where map packs are the biggest draw. While the map pack is available to those who pre-order, if it is like the first Black Ops, it could be months before those who missed out are going to be able to play the maps.

Ultimately, the big issue is when the market pulls content out of reach of gamers instead giving it to them. If retailers are looking to draw in consumers, deals like Amazon’s $10 to $20 off of another purchase is a great way to incentivize consumers to not only to shop at your store, but to also keep them coming back.

What do you do when two retailers have different pre-order incentives? What pre-orders exclusives have been the most memorable this generation? Let us know in the comments, by email, or by following us on Twitter to get exclusive tweets by Seb and Dan.

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