The Problem With Pre-Order Incentives

I’ve written in the past about pre-ordering games – what I look for when I actually go about doing it, specifically about limited editions. While my thoughts haven’t really changed a whole lot – I still like having that guarantee that the game is already paid for and taken care of and will be mine on day one; I have seen a few pre-order incentives that really made me scratch my head. These days those pre-order incentives are really what drive them now more than the convenience factor thanks to downloadable titles. So publishers have to come up with incentives that players will actually want to have in order to drive the pre-orders up, and help ensure a solid early portion of the lifespan.

Halo Master Chief Collection

I should mention now that I’m really approaching this more from looking at the multiplayer side of things. For single player games, or the campaigns in games with both aspects, pre-order bonuses really don’t make a huge difference. Even things like the Bandana Skull in Halo: The Master Chief Collection – which was a pre-order bonus from GameStop – and grants unlimited ammo and grenades, since it’s a singleplayer experience, it’s only impacting your experience. If you would like to play with that bonus, go for it. It’s totally different from if that same Skull applied to multiplayer – especially in a competitive game like Halo. Generally, the bonuses for games with strong multiplayer – Call of Duty comes to mind – are only cosmetic changes. Weapon skins or player skins that show off your dedication to the series are cool, and don’t actually impact the gameplay.

Evolve Cover

Which brings me to what was the genesis of this post. I mentioned yesterday about Evolve‘s pre-order bonuses being early access to the third and final set of characters. In theory that’s not the worst thing possible – until you realize that each individual character within a class has slightly different gear. For example, the Medic class – Val, the initial Medic has a healing beam that requires you to keep line of sight; while Caira, the third Medic, has a grenade launcher that fires healing grenades. There’s a huge difference in tactics between the two weapons’ usages. With Val, you need to be near your teammates at all times, in order to heal them. Caira can move around a bit more freely, thanks to the grenades – as long as the explosion hits your teammates, they’re healed. It gives you more tactical choices, which impacts gameplay.

Mortal Kombat X

The other pretty grievous offender is April’s Mortal Kombat X. They announced the pre-order bonus back in the fall, and I put down my thoughts right away on Twitter. Pre-ordering MKX will give players access to Goro – whether that’s exclusive access or early access I’m not totally sure about though. Either way that’s a pretty major issue. Goro is a boss character – always has been in the series. Within fighting games, boss characters are almost always pretty over powered, whether it’s their attack power, or their move set. M. Bison is pretty infamous in the Street Fighter world for his A.I. back in Street Fighter II, where his skill would increase dramatically in the second round, especially if he had lost the first round. Goro was more of a power difference – he hit super hard, and didn’t really flinch, which made combos difficult against him. Assuming that they are rebalancing him for Mortal Kombat X doesn’t really make me feel a whole lot better though. He’s still bound to have some of his iconic moves – his throw in particular is a pretty iconic move, and used to hit super hard.

Now in and of itself, these bonuses aren’t the worst ones ever. What makes them an issue to me is that they both have easily apparent impact on the multiplayer side of their respective games. Within Evolve, those final tier characters could totally make early games play very different – especially against players without those same characters. With Mortal Kombat X, it could just be that Goro still has too much boss character power in him, even as a playable character – which in a competitive arena like fighting games, is definitely not good. Whether this ends up being a major deal really remains to be seen – Evolve still is about a month away, and Mortal Kombat X is set for an April release. But I don’t really like seeing games put in actual gameplay elements for pre-order bonuses in the multiplayer side.