Gamers have been pretty vocal in the past about their feelings towards bonus content for people who pre-order games. Those against it often peg bonuses as leaving those who don’t pre-order with an incomplete game, or giving an unfair advantage to those who do pre-order.
Luckily, the recently released Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and the upcoming Civilization VI and Gears of War 4 are all trying, in different ways, to make players who don’t pre-order feel like they’re not being left behind.
With Mankind Divided, developer Square Enix made part of their pre-order bonus a set of one-time use consumable items. These can only be used once by the player; not once per character or playthrough, once per player. This led to some initial outrage, as Square Enix failed to be clear about this until the game released, but stepping back and looking at a one-time use bonus, it’s pretty ingenious.
These one-time use bonuses can give a player a bit of a bonus at the start of a playthrough, but it ensures consecutive playthroughs will be completed using the same resources available to everyone else. More importantly, a single-use item is less aggravating to those who didn’t pre-order. Knowing those who pre-ordered only have an advantage for a short time instead of a permanent boost or even extra content makes the bonus much more palatable. Heck, most of those who pre-ordered probably already used their bonus by the time most non-pre-orderers started playing!
Deus Ex isn’t perfect however, as the one-time use items are only a part of the package of bonuses players who pre-ordered received. Players also received a sample of the game’s soundtrack, digital books and, most notable for this article, a reusable weapons pack and an extra in-game mission. I can get behind songs and books as pre-order bonuses since nobody is missing out on content in a game they paid for, but the reusable weapons fly directly in the face of the smartly implemented non-reusable bonuses. Worst of all is the exclusive mission, which gives pre-orderers access to in-game content those who waited are likely to never experience.
Civilization VI will also be putting a limit on their pre-order bonus, the Aztec Civilization Pack. This bonus gives pre-orderers access to an entire civilization those who don’t pre-order can’t play… but only for 90 days. After 90 days, the pack will be freely available to everyone with the game.
I’d argue this is an even more fair pre-order bonus than Deus Ex’s. Unless developer 2K Games makes the Aztecs overpowered and unbalanced, which I don’t think anyone sane expects them to do, this bonus gives no advantage to those who pre-ordered. Sure, they’ll be able to practice playing as a different civilization three months before everyone else, but with Civilization, even the nuances of each faction can be learned simply by watching others play or reading online guides. I’m willing to bet the bonus won’t even be noticed by most people who don’t pre-order the game, especially after the content becomes available to everyone.
Finally there’s Gears of War 4, for which the bonus for those who pre-order is a number of character and weapon skins. Skins, for those of you who don’t know, are simply re-textured in-game objects. Gears of War has included custom weapon skins in many of its games, starting with the gold sawed-off shotgun in the original, which was awarded to those who beat the game on its highest difficulty. While these skins may look cool and help those who pre-order stand out on the battlefield, at the end of the day they give no advantage to those who pre-order. While I would prefer there to be a way for those who didn’t pre-order to unlock the skins, the bonus content has an insignificant impact on the game so I give Gears 4 a thumbs up as well.
Game publishers need to build hype for their games, and they’ve realized pre-order bonuses are an excellent way to do that. This system isn’t going to change, no matter how vocal a small segment of the gaming populace gets. So instead of trying to get rid of all bonus content, gamers should instead focus their attention on encouraging content that’s fair to those who don’t pre-order, but fun for those who do. Timed exclusive content and limited-use items are great ways to do so, but I’m sure publishers can come up with plenty of other creative ways as well. It’s just a matter of them actually doing so, instead of relying on the old and easy methods that have been in use for far too long.