Pre-Orders and Unfair Advantages: Dangerous Precedents Unfolding


By: Stephen Crane


On the surface, the pre-order system at many brick and mortar game stores can seem like a win for all involved. Gamers get a slip that guarantees them the game some time in the future. Brick and mortar stores receive a little immediate revenue for quick investment and can get a good idea of about how many games they need. Publishers and developers get to know about how well their advertisements worked, about how popular the game is going to be and also get a little bit of revenue as well. (Photo: Courtesy Flickr user pr1001)

It's a pretty good system. In order to encourage more gamers to pre-order because most games don't suffer from shortages, limited edition pre-order bonuses were included. For The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker gamers were handed a game disc that had all of the previous Legend of Zelda games on it including the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Master Quest bonus feature which made the game that much harder.

Just this weekend the internet fell into an uproar as complaints about Electronic Arts and Dice started pouring in. It seems some had caught the news about Battlefield 3's pre-order exclusive DLC which is going to include the Physical Warfare Pack. The guns, ammo, gear and maps will not be included in the game except for the pre-order DLC and many feel this gives those who pre-order the game an unfair advantage over those who are content with digitally downloading it through services like Steam.

Naturally, a Reddit boycotting campaign has started spurned on by similar events form the past. Many involved in the campaign feel like the game (which is technically still considered pre-alpha) is being butchered unless you shell out extra cash. The sentiment is that day-one DLC pulls features from the completed product and repackages them to make a larger profit. Really, though, the largest complaint is about the weapons. To an extent some people would grumble if it was just the classic maps from Battlefield 2, but with exclusive weapons being offered the first day many feel cheated and forced into pre-ordering from a brick-and-mortar store.

EA’s Battlefield blog posted a FAQ today in hopes of battling the bad PR against them. To begin with there was some talk that this was a promotion just in the UK, but the blog denied that and says it will be a worldwide promotion. They also state "The three exclusive items in the Physical Warfare Pack were specifically chosen not to be overpowered or imbalance or break the game in any way" which almost seems to go against a description of an item from the original announcement which calls the flash suppressor "the essential weapon mod for teamplay Recons at the front" (emphasis added by the editor).  

While the blog takes the stance that this pre-order bonus is designed for "rewarding our core fanbase with special offers," it certainly seems to be raising the hackles of just that fanbase. It also brings up a few other concerns for this type of pre-order exclusive. For the generally non-competitive game, Batman: Arkham City different retailers are offering difference exclusive pre-order features. Best Buy is making Robin a playable character for challenge maps, Amazon is offering a Batman comic, and GameStop is offering an exclusive challenge map. In order to get the full experience a gamer is going to have to pre-order from all of these shops and combine the DLC or be content with just one of these features. They can also wait for the DLC to become available for purchase, but many would prefer to not wait.

With a highly competitive game like Battlefield 3, denying some players certain weapons, ammo and gear can feel crippling. Many are also concerned that more items will become pre-order exclusives offered only in certain stores for future games. What if Best Buy offers you an LMG while GameStop offers a special sniper rifle? Many designers will create a feature or a weapon in a game and not think it will imbalance anything. Does anyone remember the akimbo 1887 model shotguns in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? Those were pretty imbalanced not necessarily by design but because the players found inventive ways to use them. When you provide exclusive equipment to only certain types of players that can lead to similar issues of unintended imbalances no matter how much developers swear to the contrary.

All in all, it really comes down to us gamers speaking with our wallets. If you want the features it may be worth the pre-order. If you disagree with the practice, revoke your pre-order and actively join the boycott. History has both been in favor of a boycott as shown with Battlefield: Bad Company, but it also failed when it came to demanding dedicated servers for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I am interested to see how this is going to play out.

About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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