You might think it's cool that you can dress Lara Croft and her next game's three co-stars as if they were actually starring in a Hitman game. You might think it's cool that you can dress them up as if they were in a Deus Ex game. Well, bad news.
On December 9, the day that the four-player co-op game Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris comes out for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, you won't be able to.
You would be able to put Lara's crew in the Hitman gear if you'd pre-ordered the PC version of the game on Steam. You would be able to put Lara's crew in some Deus Ex threads only if you'd pre-ordered from Amazon.
And if for some insane reason you thought that both of these sets of outfits were cool, you'd have to have not just bought the game twice but pre-ordered the game twice.
Here is another example of why so many of us on the Kotaku team are contemptuous of the concept of pre-ordering games and look at the incentives publishers dangle in front of potential pre-orderers with derision.
For a moment, let's laugh at the nonsense of asking gamers to pre-order the Steam version of a game — that is, a downloadable copy of a game that is not at all bound by the laws of scarcity. We are not talking about pre-ordering an object that for some reason a game store might not have in ample stock on the day of said object's official release. We are talking about pre-ordering ones and zeroes, like paying early for tomorrow's oxygen.
A publisher that couples a pre-order with cool extra game content is perhaps rewarding its most excited fans with add-ons that the fans would otherwise have to pay for as downloadable content. But pre-order bonuses are generally not sold a la carte on the day of a game's launch. They were the reward for the pre-orderers. Everyone else has to wait. That's an annoying enough division between Day 1 consumers and people who pre-ordered, who I'll just call the Day -10 consumers. At least the Day -10 gamer can say they put in some extra effort to get their cool bonus. That's not enough for game publishers, though, since the last couple of years have seen the rise of the retailer-specific pre-order bonus: one for GameStop, one for Amazon, one for Best Buy, probably one for Cracker Barrel, too. Who does the split of pre-order incentives serve? Answer: not the Day 1 gamer and not even the Day -10 gamer, who gets to enjoy their own version of incentive deprivation.
There are three retailer-specific pre-order offers for the new Lara Croft, by the way. From the press release announcing them:
- Assassinate Your Enemies with the Hitman Pack, available on Steam and from participating digital retailers. Pre-order to receive the exclusive Hitman themed skins including the iconic Silverballers and The Agent ring, which gives your character increased weapon damage and more powerful bombs.
- Pick up the Ultimate Augmentation with the Deus Ex Pack, only available on Amazon.com. Pre-order to receive the exclusive Deus Ex themed skins, including Adam Jensen's signature combat rifle and the Augment ring, which reduces the cost of treasure chests by 10%.
- Become a Legend with the Lara Croft Legend Pack, only available at GameStop. Pre-order to receive the nostalgic Tomb Raider® Legend skins including a golden pistol and The Legend ring, which gives your character health regeneration powers and a more powerful torch.
I checked with Lara Croft publisher Square Enix about this. I warned them that I'm not a fan of splitting pre-order incentives across multiple retailers. And I wanted to be sure, just in case I was missing something, whether any players of their new Lara Croft game would be able to use the Hitman and Deus Ex costumes without pre-ordering two copies of the game. I was right, a rep from their PR team told me, the costumes are retailer-specific at launch. They will "eventually be available for purchase post-launch."
How does a company justify splitting up what it's made so that no one gamer who wants to pay for the game can have everything on day one? The official line is this: "We wanted to provide a fun way for players to customise their Temple of Osiris experience by blending the worlds of Lara Croft and some fan-favourite Square Enix characters. These pre-order exclusive skins do not change the amount of gameplay offered in Temple of Osiris, and we hope the Lara Croft and Square Enix communities enjoy this level of customisation that is being offered."
Maybe I'm just being a grump here. Maybe I don't get what's fun for consumers and what's not. Maybe I'm still reeling from publisher Sega's not-so-fun decision to round up the cast of the original Alien movie for some missions in the new Alien game and then only offer those missions, initially, only to people who pre-ordered. Maybe I'm caring too much about a little bit of dress-up for Lara Croft when, let's face it, what matters is whether the game is fun, and thank god no publisher has made a game's fun-factor a Wal-Mart pre-order exclusive.
The old retort to people who complain about the game industry's love of pushing pre-orders is to tell people to vote with their wallet. Don't do it. Don't pre-order if you want to teach them a lesson. Sad news: that doesn't really work here. It is, after all, only possible to refrain from doing the possible.
The opponents of pre-ordering will continue to not pre-order. The opponents of retailer-specific pre-orders? Well, I guess they will just avoid pre-ordering two or three copies of a game from three different shops, though I bet they already exercise that kind of magnificent self-restraint. Few sane people would pre-order a game from more than one store. Few people can therefore vote with their wallet to push against such offers. Instead, we can all just stew and hiss. Or laugh. We can do that, too. This is absurd.