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Incentive Content: Pre-Order DLC Making the Game Experience Exclusive Again

by Shaggy

Back in the early days of buying video games, one of the methods to ensure you’d be getting your copy of the newest and greatest titles on launch day was to place a pre-order at your local store.

Pre-ordering proved to be such an effective means of guaranteeing a game for a consumer and a sale for the retailer, that competition for pre-orders began amongst retailers, using “gifts” as incentives.

Some chains offered in-store product such as a strategy guide for the game, while others offered more specialty items from the game publisher such as posters, t-shirts, lunch boxes, bobble heads, and even limited edition “cells” of the game’s characters.

These were all effective in there own way as it got to the point where a gamer would pre-order from the location that offered the most intriguing incentive. But NONE of these pre-order items had any effect on the actual game being bought.

Until now.

We are in the age of Incentive Game Content. A time in which ‘when’ and ‘where’ we buy our games actually affects the gaming experience.

It started off innocently enough, pre-ordering Little Big Planet from various locations would get you a code to download a costume pack based on Heavenly Sword or God of War. Gamers could play as Sgt. Johnson in the Halo 3: ODST Firefight mode if they pre-ordered from EB and Gamestop locations.

And as nice as these bonuses were, they didn’t make or break the game experience as the exclusive content was cosmetic and had no effect on the player’s states or abilities.

Then came the baseball bat.

A whole campaign for Left 4 Dead 2 made a big deal about pre-ordering the game in order to get the baseball bat as an exclusive item. The baseball bat was NOT a cosmetic skin replacing any of the other weapons; it was a fully realized independent melee weapon, as much as the axe, katana and chainsaw, all of which directly effect game play. This being the case, you, the gamer were missing out on part of the full game experience for not pre-ordering.

Now it may be a little too dramatic to say that even though gamers paid full price, they didn’t get the full package, just for missing out on one item. For all we know, Valve may make the baseball bat downloadable later on, or included with a future map pack.

But this is only the beginnings of Incentive Game Content, just think of what else could be withheld from consumers and saved as an incentive to help increase pre-orders:

- character abilities
- entire levels
- alternate endings
- gameplay modes;

All of these elements, which have traditionally been included in the full game for everyone to enjoy would now make great incentive content to be pre-ordered. Some of them already have.

In the case of Army of 2: The 40th Day, EA put up the Extraction game mode for a one month ransom, in that gamers would only get to play the mode right from the release date if they pre-ordered from participating retailers. All those who hadn’t would have to wait a month for no real reason.

Now let’s step back a second. WHY is it necessary to withhold a games four player “Horde/Firefight” style mode from the masses of gamers? Shouldn’t EA want people to start playing it right away to build a strong online community? Wouldn’t it also lead to greater audience interest in a 3rd installment?

The idea of content being withheld from the masses to create pre-order incentive rings similar to the scare that cropped up in the early days of Xbox Live DLC, which the Oblivion horse armor stirred up. Essentially, people believed the added armor to be content that should have been available in the full game, but was instead held off for later purchase.

Admittedly, this DLC model is a great way for a finished product to gain more revenue after initial sales, but it’s a shame that the model has reversed order and now intentionally removes elements from a full game experience even before the game is released.

So what’s next for Incentive Game Content? Well, if you want your character to have the exclusive ability of “jumping”, you’ll have to pre-order at Gamestop, but if you prefer “running”, pre-order at Best Buy. For those of you who didn’t pre-order, no worries, just wait a month and the game’s “fun mode” will become available to all.

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