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.