Pre-Order bonuses in gaming are nothing new and are unlikely to go away any time soon. You can either gripe and complain or HYPE and dole out the cash, either way there’s little chance that companies and retailers will be scaling back the pre-order machine. This is simply, and most absolutely, due to the money. Lots of it. Flowing in many directions.

As for my opinion on this matter: It’s complicated. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. To make things somewhat simpler, we will focus on in-game content such as exclusive gear and cosmetic items for your character.  This will NOT include physical items such as figurines or other collectibles.

Let us start with the disclaimer that I do enjoy me some pre-order bonuses. Which of course flies in the face of the title of this blog post.

Well, not quite.

Pre-Orders Defined

The first thing to discuss is why pre-orders exist. Firstly, they act as marketing and advertising for the game. They give some easy content for advertisers to place in banners and commercials, it gives the community something to talk while they are waiting for the game, all the while keeping the game on everyone’s mind. They throw out a few images and a quick add-on for a trailer, and the community buzzes about how awesome/lame the items are.

The second thing that pre-orders do is they generate an additional bit of cash for all parties involved. Both the retailer and the game company takes in profit not only for the early sale of the game but also for the full retail value. Before the game is even released these copies have been sold at full price, or at the very least a full price purchase has been guaranteed for release day. All games diminish in price* as time passes, some more quickly than others. Heck, some games hold on to their value long after their initial release while others see a price drop before the first month is over. By snagging a pre-order companies and retailers are able to tally the sale of the game at full price. This is the optimal situation for all involved.

*The obvious exception to this rule would be “Retro Games”, in which some games are priced ridiculously high if they are deemed worthy by the market. See: Demon’s Crest

Why We Love Them

These guns are skinned with a Gearbox theme! Nice!

Because we do! We get sweet loot that we can show off to others to show how dedicated we are to the game because we committed early! I’m a bigger fan than you are! A lot of it comes down to posturing and proving to ourselves that we are huge fans of (insert game) that we didn’t even wait for it to go on sale before we paid full price for it.

Quite honestly, the majority of these pre-order bonuses are pretty awesome! To the developer’s credit, the exclusive gear always looks amazing and truly captures the spirit of the game. It always has an added level of “flash” that sets it apart from it’s comparable counterpart.

Bonus Gear Should Fizzle Once the Player Learns the Game

Why on Earth would I want my bonus gear to “fizzle” once I got solid footing in the game?Because it maintains balance within the game. For example: Final Fantasy XV’s Masamune!

It’s huge! It’s Awesome! It has higher stats than anything available at the start of the game!

“…at the start of the game”

Yes, this two-handed blade of Final Fantasy legend and lore is dominant in the beginning of the game. However, get a few story missions in and it becomes on par with other blades you’re finding. A few more missions and the only reason you are still using it is because either you forgot to equip your new blade or you are holding on to the nostalgia. By mid game, the only reasons you could still be using it are either you don’t know how to equip new weapons or you are trying some skill challenge presented by your streaming community. It really is not anything special beyond it’s aesthetics and fan service.

But, you got to enjoy it’s presence for that time, and it was great.

The same thing can be found in other games, such as bonus resources in Mass Effect Andromeda which were rendered negligible before the first act was completed. Thief gave you a bonus mission which was comparatively short considering the other missions in the game. All of these were great for the time being, but ultimately did not enhance the overall experience significantly.

But You Threw Down the Cash Early For the Bonus Gear! Why Would You Want To Give Up That Advantage?

That is because I do not want them to throw off the experience of the game for those who were not able to purchase the game early at full price. I would honestly be unhappy if a pre-order bonus was over-powered and dominant. If the gear that I received in the beginning of the game was that powerful, I wouldn’t bother experimenting with any other combinations. Even if that gear was not made available until later, I would know that as soon as I obtained it, I wouldn’t bother searching for new stuff. With that, the game experience would instantly be flattened and I would lose out on what the developers may have intended me to do.

This would be doubly true if it were in a game with some kind of PvP aspect. To have some players exercising absolute destruction over their competition simply because they put up the cash before others? Terrible. I have enough trouble in PvP with the standard issued weaponry. If someone else had an advantage which would no longer be attainable after launch it would drive me away from either that aspect of the game or that game in its entirety. The meta would take over, and the only people left playing would be those with the bonus, thus nullifying it’s advantage, and ultimately killing any diversity in the game. Quite the slippery slope, indeed!

In my experience, the only time a pre-order bonus had any lasting impact on a game was Fallout: New Vegas’ Weathered 10mm Pistol:

The main reason for this is mainly because of my play style that heavily favored a 10mm Pistol in general. Despite the arch type’s lack of stopping power, I liked the light weight of the gun, it’s quick rate of fire, and abundance of available ammo. Still, this is an exception to the trend and it wasn’t a game breaking advantage. I mean, come on. It was a marginally stronger pistol variant in a game of automatic shotguns, claymore swords made from car bumpers, and mini-nuke launchers. I had options that I actively chose not to take.

But What If the Game Sucks?

There’s only been one time where I have truly felt burned by a pre-order, and that was with Lollypop Chainsaw. The pre-order bonus that I fell for was that I was promised that the ain character would get an Ash Williams skin as a cosmetic option. Turn out, the ditzy cheerleader only wore Ash’s signature clothes: Dirty and torn blue dress shirt and brown pants. It was incredibly disappointing, and the game was….well, it’s one of the extremely few games that I have ever traded back in before actually completing it. It is a stain on my achievement lists that will never wash clean.

Final Thoughts

While I understand that it is all part of the hype machine, it gets tiring to hear about pre-order bonuses and how amazing they are going to be. I know that whatever bonus content we receive it will be quickly be outdated and useless by the time I truly get my bearings in the game and begin to understand how the equipment and skill balancing works. They will, however, provide an nice little boost at the game’s start to help me brute force my way through the tutorial and introductory missions. No need to swing more than once with a bent dagger that I looted off a sleeping guard’s belt to get the idea of killing the obligatory rats and imps.

Give me an actual blade and get me out of this sewer.