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DO NOT WANT: Digital Swag

Posted by nfinit on January 22, 2010

Remember when you used to actually get stuff for your pre-order?

Okay, sure, it was terrible stuff, like a sub-Fruit of the Loom-quality T that turned everything in your wash the same color as the shirt itself, or a 20-page soft-cover “art book” with paper stock on par with Game Informer magazine, or a messenger bag of such appalling quality that you could leave it behind on the N-W from Queens to Brooklyn and find it waiting for you the next day, but at least you got some tangible, physical object in return for lending GameStop fifty US dollars interest-free.  Nowadays we get digital pre-order swag– Weapons or armor or levels often unique to the location at which you registered your pre-order.

Not only are these awful in that we’re basically receiving nothing at all in return for our pre-order dollars– thus exchanging physical t-shirts for virtual t-shirts– they’re also awful in that it’s since become impossible to buy the full version of many games without registering a pre-order at a specific retailer.  Batman: Arkham Asylum was probably the worst offender in recent memory, having featured exclusive challenge maps for pre-orders placed at GameStop, shutting you out of content if you chose to wait until release to buy Arkham Asylum– Basically placing an entire swath of game hostage, forcing gamers to choose between waiting for a review score or playing the entire game.  Luckily Arkham Asylum is a fine gaming experience, but it’s not exactly the sort of thing that engenders good will.

Of course, publishers being the utter bastards that they are have started offering dueling exclusive pre-order content for specific retailers.  Activision’s upcoming Blur, for instance, offers a multiplayer mode exclusive for pre-orders placed at GameStop; whereas Best Buy gets an exclusive car.  Meaning it’s not only impossible to own the full version of a game if you don’t pre-order, you’re screwed over unless you’re willing to pay for multiple versions of the same game.

(While we’re on this subject, you notice how nicely GameStop comes out in all these pre-order bonuses?  Exclusive maps for Arkham, exclusive player modes in Blur, quest lines in Red Dead Redemption and early access to the Squad Rush mode on Bad Company 2?  Publishers push developers to make exclusive content for GameStop despite these same developers bellyaching that GameStop’s used game sales are cutting the collective purse strings of the gaming industry.  IT’s hard to take this complaint seriously when these publishers are all too willing to create incentives to get people into GameStop– and why aren’t the publishers asking for a cut of this pre-order money to begin with?)

Then there’s the particular institution of in-game pre-order swag, whether it be in the form of weapons or armor or power-ups.  These items are often in no way balanced for the game they’re introduced into, as a result you wind up receiving bonus items that actively make the game less enjoyable.  Take for instance the game-breaking Blood Armor pre-order bonus for Dragon Age– a particularly insidious form of unbalanced armor that actually acts as a virus that further infects your Mass Effect 2 save:

So publishers, developers, retailers– heed our plea.  Give us back our artbooks.  Yeah, they’re less lucrative than lines of code, but no one likes the practice of pre-ordering anyway, and holding content hostage isn’t an acceptable answer.  If you insist on doing this, at least make the content available for download after the game’s release.  After all, right now you’re writing code that’s not making money for anyone the very moment the ship date breaks.

(as an aside, when culling pictures for this update I realized that the art of the physical pre-order bonus is alive and well for Japanese games and the entire digital pre-order bonus tred may be localized to Western-developed games.  Take for instance the fantastic art cards collection available for pre-orders of Muramasa for the Wii:

Or this fantastic array of useless crap Atlus put together for Gamespot’s Game of the Year 2009, Demon’s Souls:

Or this artbook/slipcover set for the European version of Bayonetta, those fucking amazing bastards:


One Response to “DO NOT WANT: Digital Swag”

  1. yakety sakul said

    Slip covers are an abomination

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