Crazy Ideas: The Release Bonus
Lately the concepts of the pre-order and pre-order bonuses have gotten a bum rap, and deservedly so. The idea of reserving a copy of a game before its release to guarantee you got it made some sense back in the dark ages of the early 90’s.

Dark times indeed

In those dark days and depending on where you lived, you may only have had one or two places to purchase video games, and if the store ran out of copies of the game you wanted, it was too bad. You are going to have to wait for the store’s next shipment. Have fun watching all your friends play the latest and greatest video games to ever grace TV’s and computer monitors, while you sink to your knees in the pouring rain screaming about why the gods have abandoned you.

Even gods will curse

But as we drew closer to the age of enlightenment that was the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the number of locations to make our video game purchases grew, and thus the chances of you screaming in the rain cursing the gods were lowered. And now, with digital downloads on nearly all platforms, it is practically a guarantee that you as a gamer can get the latest game in any form near-instantaneously. The idea of pre-orders should of became less necessary, but it has not. It has become a major part of many retailers’ operations.

What’s up

To add to all this, developers and retailers have been using “bonus†content for pre-order to make it easier for us gamers to make the mental justification to continue pre-ordering games. Disturbingly, more and more games have been buggy or outright broken upon release. To add crazy spice to this, some retailers have had “exclusive†content that you could only get from them. So now if you want all the content for the game, you have to purchase the game multiple times.

The ultimate pre-order craziness was when Square Enix announced their tier-based pre-order system for Eidos Montreal’s Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, where the number of pre-orders for the game would determine what bonus content you get for pre-ordering the game. This of course did not go over well for them, and in a short amount of time they scrapped the entire system and replaced it with the typical pre-order system, except for the inclusion a “Day One†edition of the game. Apparently the “Day One†edition, which retailers have only a certain amount, will include all the bonuses of pre-ordering without having to pre-order and it will not cost anymore than a standard copy of the game.

I believe this concept should be developed further. Maybe instead of just limiting it to which copy/edition a gamer buys, have it where it is a time based purchase. Say if you purchase the game within the first week, you receive the bonus content for free. This way, publishers/developers can incentivize gamers to buy their game when it releases, but allow reviewers and gamers to make sure the publishers/developers are not screwing people over with a buggy and/or broken game. Thus the pre-order can be finally allowed to die the natural death it deserves.

I think the concept is sound, but of course I am open to suggestions in the comments below. If nothing else, it would be nice not to be badgered by some acne riddled teenager who is working their first job and being first to spout out the lines that a corporate marketing team came up with to get me to pre-order a game that will not be released in two years in my local game store.
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At major risk of dissuading new ideas for marketing models, the best scheme to me thus far has been Dragon Age Origins, which has a fairly dull model but with desirable properties.

The model:
  • After the release of the game, extra content is developed and released for a small additional price.
  • New purchases of the game include for free all of the extra content which has been released thus far.

The results:
  • Work on extra content does not impact the quality of the initial release (as opposed to focus being diverted due to motivation to sell launch DLC).
  • Keeps new purchases flowing for way beyond a game's normal life.
  • Isn't punishing to grey market purchases (a used copy plus the cost of separate extras was approximately equivalent to a new purchase with the free extras, which gives you a great option if you just want to play the base game then move on).

Bioware's only mistake there was to place an NPC in the game, in the player's party camp no less, for the sole purpose of breaking the fourth wall by trying to peddle the DLC to the player. I imagine it was likely an EA-induced feature, but I can't let Bioware off the hook there because it should have been on them to argue that it's a poor-quality thing to be doing, especially given how insulting it was to immersed players. The game gives you a good amount of control over your camp, which goes completely against this uninvited random appearing there with zero background at all, then just tagging along with no purpose.