Opinion: We Need A New Approach To Pre-Order Bonuses

One of the changes that you couldn’t possibly have missed over the last generation or so is the increasing efforts by publishers to combat pre-owned games sales. Online passes. Project Ten Dollar. Batman Arkham City’s Catwoman levels. Having to quit out of the game you just bought, then started, then patched, then installed, just to stick a couple of codes into the store so you can actually get the whole game that you bought to begin with.

Sure, you might be getting the content for “free”, but its still just as bloody annoying to actually access for the people that purchased the game new as it is for those who pick it up used.

[drop2]I happened to be looking at a couple of upcoming games on Steam this week when I noticed the service’s new (or newish at least) push for multi-stage pre-order rewards.

Yes, some of those rewards (usually the first level) are the expected extra character skin, mission or multiplayer map that you’ll also get as a ‘reward’ for buying the game new on consoles, but there’s some more interesting stuff in there too that’s normally missing on PS3 and 360.

Look at the new Tomb Raider for example – there’s a multiplayer map in there, and an extra level, but there’s also a free copy of the really-pretty-decent Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. It’s similar to the deals that saw Saints Row: The Third and Battlefield 3 owners on PS3 get free downloads of Saints Row 2 and Battlefield 1943 respectively for redeeming the online pass code that came with new copies of the games.

While all three are lovely gestures, they’re also offering free versions of games that were all a good two years old by the time they were offered, that fans of the series would likely have already picked up, and that had all been significantly reduced on the digital stores a couple of times by that point.

But it wasn’t Tomb Raider’s offerings that inspired this article. Instead, take a look at Resident Evil 6, where the third-stage pre-order reward is an included copy of the game’s season pass of additional downloadable content.

That’s right – if you buy the game via Steam, you get access to extra content that hasn’t just been kept back from the original game for that specific purpose, but actually created at a later date with the intention of being made available for an extra cost, and you’re getting that for free just because you’re buying the game new and supporting its creators. My mind was blown.

[drop]”Sure,” you say, “but that’s hardly the first time this has ever happened.” Point taken. Your example would probably be Mass Effect 2’s Cerberus Network, and yes, that were it not for the fact that it was clearly so unsuccessful for EA that they haven’t done anything similar since did it again. What I’m talking about is not just the odd example of good customer support, but rather a complete rethinking of how the pre-order ‘problem’ is dealt with entirely.

How about, instead of removing content from the base game to offer as part of a pre-order/first-run ‘limited edition’, you instead offer some form of pass to future content to those who buy your game new (whether that be forever or for a limited time). Reviews don’t mark your game down because pre-owned buyers who don’t buy DLC only get half the story, retail staff don’t spend half their time having to explain how code redemption works to people who come back into the store complaining about missing bits of their game, and you might even entice buyers who otherwise wouldn’t pick up your game.

In the current market, it’s all about the first-week sales, so if you know reviews are telling consumers that £40 is a bit pricey for the game’s five hour playtime, why not offer some future expansion free for those who pick it up in that week? It’s all about positive reinforcement: reward those who buy new rather than just punishing those who don’t (and making things complicated and confusing for those who do buy new anyway).

Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, especially with the bigger publishers, but game sales are going down the crapper anyway, and attempts to slow pre-owned sales have so far failed. Why not try treating your customers less like criminals and more like honest people who want to enjoy your products? Go on, give it a go.



  1. I’ve recently watched the first half of Total Biscuit’s rant about pre ordering games and in my opinion, he completely missed the point. At least from my perspective.
    I don’t pre order games to get some kind of bonus content. I don’t care about skins or multiplayer maps and weapons. If there’s some single player content in the bag, great, I’ll take it but it’s not the reason I pre order.
    I pre order games when I’m genuinely excited about the release based on information I have read or seen beforehand. I don’t care if it’s carefully crafted PR material or just a simpöle trailer. If I’m excited enough to warrant a day one purchase, I might as well pre order it so I don’t have to worry about remembering the release date. If that is the case then I’m probably at the point where bad reviews don’t affect my purchase descission anymore unless the previously seen footage was clearly misleading and that is pointed out just before the release.
    So if you ask me, we don’t need a new approach to pre order bonuses. I couldn’t care less if they got rid of them.

  2. It’s an interesting notion to have codes against future content rather than additional content now, but unfortunately, you’re dealing with people, and on a large scale the term ‘people’ turns into ‘mob’ – they will see the promise of future content as a view that if content was even discussed/designed/levels drawn out on the back of a napkin before the main release, it should be in the main game, and there will be no reasoning with them. It’s happened many times before, even with the goal of positive reinforcement – the game gets released and in order to ensure the game stays relevant to gamers, who nowadays rarely play the same title after a month, the publisher talks DLC, Season passes and upcoming content – this then create the knock-on effect of ‘it should have been in the game to start with, if it’s so far along in development’

    The saying goes, ‘You can’t please all of the people all of the time’, but being able to have a reasonable debate about the gaming and it’s associated economic timescales which force the perceived ‘shilling for pennies’ model would at least be a start, but for many gamers, the argument starts and ends with ‘Well, Company X is evil’

  3. Never normally pre-order as there’s a HMV’s flagship store is ten minutes walk away from my office.


  4. I don’t preorder any more because most Hanna half in price after a month or two. No preorder bonus is worth about £20.

    • Stupid predictive text, should say games not Hanna

      • Who is this Hanna you are talking about? She sounds lovely! :P

      • Hanna – great film

  5. I rarely pre-order anything, it’s not like there’s going to be a shortage in the age of digital distribution. And i hate how publishers have split game content up just to incentivise pre-orders.
    There’s no way back now though so i guess a free pass for future content would be a less bitter pill to swallow.

  6. They should use the model that singles used to use. They would be discounted for the first week and then double in price afterwards. That would boost first week sales

  7. Wow, didn’t realise Steam did pre-order stuff like this. My mates and I decided last night that we will be opting for PC gaming this coming generation so this comes as a pleasant surprise :-)

    • I’ve not been drawn in myself just yet as all my Steam content comes from Humble Bundles or Steam sales, but yes… that’s awesome.

      This summer I’m selling my gaming laptop, PS3 and a couple of slightly older desktops and I’m going ‘all in’ on PC gaming this generation too.

  8. It’s a great idea to offer season passes to those that buy new. And it’s a bit ironic that this is offered by Capcom, as we all know how much they love selling DLC and Ultimate Editions.

  9. A great example of what’s wrong with preordering can be seen by looking at the current video game charts. Aliens:CM is straight in at number 1! Without preorders, that would never have happened.

  10. I don’t care for pre-order bonuses, all I want is the game of release day without having to make effort to get it myself.
    Still I dont like the direction taken with these bonuses, we should all have the same game on release.

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