Preorder Bonuses and First-time Buyer Incentives

Not that long ago, you could preorder a videogame and get a groovy action figure or other collectible item to go along with your purchase. Nowadays, if you’re into that sort of thing, those items are only available in bundled super-special editions that usually cost twice as much as the regular game, and come with all sorts of nonsense that you’ll look at once and throw out or recycle. (Or, in the case of ‘Dead Space 2’, you’ll spend a little extra and only get a tiny plastic replica plasma cutter. D’oh!) Now, some games even withhold playable content if you buy a used copy or don’t buy from the right retailer. When does this cycle end?

At some point, retailers decided that giving you a gift card or credit towards something in their store would suffice. I’ll admit that I always look around to see which store will give me the greatest reward if I go to a midnight release or order online. has been pretty consistent about giving a $20 credit towards a future videogame purchase.

Slightly overlapping these gift cards and credits are the in-game goodies that the game makers throw in. You’ll get a fancy helmet or golden gun that you can use in multiplayer battles. This isn’t too different than what happened when those folks who bought the first Xbox 360s were allowed to play in ‘Halo 2’ matches as Elites. Consequently, these dorks were singled out and hunted down. In my experience, the same pretty much goes for the guy with the flaming helmet or golden shotgun.

Since GameStop makes a gazillion dollars a month reselling used videogames at exorbitant prices, the game-making studios want to incentivize you to buy the games new. That’s totally understandable, but the way some distributors go about this is a heated conversation of late.

EA has the “EA Sports Online Pass,” which is essentially a one-time code you get with a new purchase that allows access to online modes and content that’s otherwise unavailable. If you buy the game used, you will have to buy a code for $10.

Id Software creative director Tim Willits recently told Eurogamer about the company’s first-time buyer incentive. The upcoming game ‘Rage’ will actually have content for the story/campaign mode that’s missing unless you have that all-important code. However, Willits says that this content isn’t critical to enjoy the game. Of course, this beckons the question of what the extra content is actually worth in the first place, and whether it’s really an incentive. What is your total enjoyment of the game worth? Can you get by without it?

I understand that some gamers have tight budgets, and that studios are getting shafted by used game sales, but who is this aimed at? Is it just for the folks who want to play the game pretty much right away but don’t want to spend the $60? If you’re willing to wait a week until a used copy of ‘Madden 12’ is available for $52 at GameStop, wouldn’t it make more sense to wait a month or two when Amazon drops the price for a new copy including the code to $40?

To sum up, these new bonus deals don’t make me want to preorder. As for first-time buyer incentives, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a used game. I like to have the instruction manual, and know that the disc will play right when I get it home. More often than not, I can get older games still-new for a decent price anyway. Someone must be spending big dollars on used games, but I’d rather support good game makers than GameStop.

I’ll probably wait on ‘Rage’ when it first comes out, but I think Id Software’s approach is basically the same as EA’s. I’m all for the studios getting their due, but coupled with the ‘Call of Duty’ stuff and the first-time buyer incentives, I have a bad feeling this could go wrong quickly. Only time will tell whether consumers will embrace these incentive options with their wallets.


  1. I tend to buy most of my video games used. I’m not a “hardcore” gamer, and often wait until as much as a year or two afterwards to buy a game, hearing more by word of mouth than the hype/advertisements that video game companies churn out. It’s lead me to great games like “Fallout 3” and “Lego Star Wars”. I also used to buy used cds (before the “Download/iTunes Age”) and always got great bargains on classics from Led Zeppelin, U2, or the Rolling Stones.

    I’ve never agree with the argument that used video game (and cd/DVD) sales are a BAD thing. First: it’s MY property once I buy it, just like a house or car or jewelry, and I naturally retain the right to re-sell it. Secondly: if you sell me a product that I truly wish to keep (a great game or great album), I’ll keep it and cherish it forever. (How many of us have bought a cd we thought was gonna be great and listened to it once or twice, then never used it again?) Third: space in the household is often at a premium. Formats come and go. Can I afford to hold on to all my old Playstation 2 games or my VHS tapes? Why not sell the old ones that someone else might enjoy and pick up something new?

    Great article, though. Retailer premiums definitely run the gamut from the spectacular to the crap-tacular. It’s great to see some companies really try to deliver a quality product. Sometimes I wish Hollywood would follow their lead.

    • Wayne Rowe

      Thanks for the compliment Chad, I’m glad you dug the post! Great point on the “MY property” thing. What other industry has made so much noise about reselling a product that you bought and no longer have a use for? I guess, in the future, when we need to pay Toyota a $1000 to turn the air conditioning on in our pre-owned Camry we can thank the video game industry for paving the way. 🙂

      • That’s funny Wayne, but also *kinds* true…. think about car commercials: The Lexus 2011, starting at $29,995 (and then they whisper or show in fine print) “nicely equipped” or “as shown” at $36,595. Something like that. So, I guess it DOES exist in the car industry too, it’s just not quite downloadable…..

        But, yeah, to take the point further, will we ever hear Rolex complaining about people reselling their watches? Nope. On the contrary, they BRAG about having the highest $$ resale value (I love watches and watch collecting).

  2. Honestly as a gamer my whole life, its literally become a slap in the face that they are doing this crap now, if I want to sell my game I should be able to do so, but limiting content when you are buying something 2nd hand is bullshit IMO.

    People shouldnt be penalized because they waited and wanted to pay less way later after the game has been out for a while, what the industry doesnt realize is that $60 is a lot, some games are totally worth that and offer crazy amounts of gameplay for the money, others that are a typical 8 hour or less game and thats it, simply isnt worth the price tag.

    Of course everyone places different values on different games, but in general a game like Call of Duty which offers a lot of online play and a really really short campaign, might totally be worth the money to some but not to others, paying an extra $45 for map packs however, well another debate can ensue over that I’m sure.

    Why the game industry has gotten so greedy over used games is beyond me, there is nothing else out there that penalizes you for reselling something or buying something used, besides the quality of certain things depending on what you are buying used, like a car for example, no one cares and isnt trying to get extra money. Could you imagine if say, Ford, decided to charge people to resell their car and to charge a fee to the people who is buying that used car? People simply wouldnt sell the car and I think the gaming industry is trying to make this happen, how much money could they really be losing to used titles? I mean its not like the person selling the game to Gamestop has the game to play anymore

    It definitely pisses me off and it looks like nothing can be done to change it, cause if its a top quality AAA title, people are going to buy it no matter what, so I dont think there is any way to really stick it to the companies no matter what you try and do, I’m pretty sure the whole gaming community has been against this (and high priced DLC) but too many people still buy that DLC and give millions more dollars to these greedy companies and obviously the companies dont pay any attention to how pissed off people have been about this happening.

    It also doesnt help that Gamestop hasnt really lowered the prices enough on used games that require a $10 online pass, those games literally cost $3 less than buying it new (if you dont use their discount card), so whats the point?

    Sorry for the long winded reply here, but I’m a passionate gamer and feel this is complete crap and a bad idea thats only going to get worse for gaming fans

    • Wayne Rowe

      Thanks for the note Chaz! I wish studios would do more “incentivizing” then “penalizing”. I have a bad feeling you’re right about this being a bad idea that’s only going to get worse. Fingers crossed!

  3. agentalbert

    The existence of a secondary market for games is one of the reason people are willing to spend $50 or $60 for a new game. Buying used may not directly support the game creators, but it does indirectly support their price structure. They can dream all they want about capturing that lost revenue, but if there is no way for someone to get something back on his $50-$60 game when they are done or jus decide they don’t like it, sales will suffer.

    • Hence why Steam is so successful, they price PC games so great with awesome sales all the time that its simply worth paying for and you dont worry about having to get rid of it, I love my library and digital collection on Steam, if they went only digital and got rid of used games all together and priced things properly, I wouldnt have any problem with worrying about reselling it, but they simply wont do that, games cost more new digitally on Xbox Live (retail games that is) than they do in the stores new half the time, which makes no sense, why should Call of Duty cost the same price to get the game without the case, manual and real disc? Digital should automatically be less, same goes for Ebooks but thats another topic 😉

  4. I buy a new game once a year or so and the rest are all used. I have enough games to keep me busy that I can wait for an overpriced $60 game to show up used at my local Gamestop or online.
    My biggest reason for doing so? Being able to return a game after trying it if it turns out to be a stinker (Gamestop’s 7 day return option) or being able to resell it after finishing it and using that money to buy another new game.
    If it weren’t for these options I simply would not buy games that often and just wait for them to come down to the $20 range.

  5. Jane Morgan

    These incentives, I think, are mostly a reward for loyalty.

    The gamers who buy new, in the first three months, are subsidizing the development costs. They deserve a bonus prize. Everyone who buys used, or outside the launch window, is a parasite.

    Development costs for AAA games have been outpacing the growth of the customer base for decades. We have now reached the choking point.

    Unless publishers can find a way to increase launch profits, the future of AAA games will be crippled. Graphics will become stagnant. Single-player campaigns will keep getting shorter. Multi-player games will have smaller communities. Less-selling genres will wither. New IPs will appear even less frequently.

    These incentives might be distasteful to parasites, but they represent the best ideas by the key investors of the game industry. Hopefully, these early experiments will lead to better awareness of, and an actual solution to, the core problem.

    Imagine what the current state of the movie industry would be like, if Hollywood had never greenlit any film with a budget over $30 Million.

    • The state of Hollywood movies would improve dramatically if the studios would make more low-to-mid budget movies and allow the filmmakers some creative freedom. The prevalance of these mega-budget tentpoles that have been watered down so much to appeal to even the lowest of the lowest common denominator are killing the industry and the artform.

      • Jane Morgan

        These mega-budget tentpoles are subsidizing the risk to make low-to-mid budget movies.

        ‘District 9’ would not exist without ‘The Lord Of The Rings.’

        ‘Transformers 3’ is going to fund three years worth of future potential.

        And creative freedom doesn’t always lead to better product, i.e. ‘True Blood.’

        • Mega-budget tentpoles only serve to subsidize further sequels and franchise pictures. A Disney executive has outright announced that the studio will no longer make any live action movies except tentpoles and ‘tweener comedies. Those are literally all the studio thinks are worth investing in. Soon, there will be nothing else in American cinemas.

          • Jane Morgan

            Most of the films you love, Mr. Zyber, wouldn’t exist without the tentpole effect.

            Tentpoles help put actors on the map. An empowered actor can help get risky scripts out of development hell. i.e. Leonardo DiCaprio.

            Tentpoles help put directors on the map, to an even greater effect. Peter Jackson. Christopher Nolan. James Cameron. etc…

            Tentpoles hold up the entire tent, under which we are all entertained.

  6. First and foremost, I am a hardcore video game player. I spend most of my free time playing games. I want the developer/publisher to get the money for their hard work. I want to support them so they can continue providing me with the best gaming experience possible. I don’t buy used games. I use to, but when I started hearing the “Gamestop debate”, (Gamestop profiting from the developers work) I stopped buying used. It may not be exactly like piracy, but it does share a similar connection. Someone else making money for your hard work. If we all bought used games, the developers would lose profit and shut down. No more games to play. Some people of course have the opinion, “I don’t care about them, I just want to pay as little as I can for a game, and whoever profits is no concern of mine.” And those are the same people that are causing the now rising concern, paying more for “extra” content that should have been in the game in the first place. Also, I will never (again) pay more for a SPECIAL SUPER ULTRA LIMITED COLLECTOR’S EDITION to any game simply because your gun is pink with green stripes and sounds like a giraffe farting when it fires and I get a little statue of some character who can’t talk back to me when I’m feeling down and a map to the island when there is already a map of the island in the friggin game. (sorry about that). I won’t buy a game from Gamestop just because you get a different outfit with a pre-order, or Amazon because you get a different colored knife. If it is not something that directly impacts the gameplay, (makes the game more fun) then I could care less. But I do think people who buy used games should have to pay more for a pass to play online. If you’re not supporting the people who made the game possible, then you should be FORCED to support them if you want to play online. It’s only fair, and if you were in their shoes, you would absolutely feel the same way. Most of these things that are happening are ways for the develo-publisher to make more money for the same amount of content, to counteract the falling profits of the used game market. Sure, the video game industry made more money last year than Hollywood. But included in that, is the used game market that did not go back to the people that put that awesome game in your hands.

  7. Chico

    First of all, I am disappointed that games aren’t coming with “swag” anymore. It was fun to go to a midnight launch of a game and get, for free, a t-shirt or hat or keychain that would otherwise cost you $10-20. It felt like we were being told “you’re the early adopter and we appreciate you, so here’s a little token of esteem”.

    In-game “bonus” content just isn’t the same thing. Items that add nothing to the gameplay aren’t worth, well, anything. Because of pre-ordering Left 4 Dead 2 through GameStop, I got a code for the baseball bat, an additional melee weapon that otherwise would not be in the game. It was cool to have for the “finish the game with melee kills only” achievement, but really, I could have done that without the bat. Flaming helmets or specially-colored weapons do nothing but draw attention to you – why would I pay to have a target on my back?

    I buy used games at least as much as I buy new games. Why? Because what everyone seems to gloss over is that places like GameStop are PAWN SHOPS. For all the complaining I hear about how much it hurts developers, I never hear anyone bitch about how pawn shops are hurting any other industry. The only difference is that GameStop is a specialty store. Blockbuster & Hollywood Video were selling used games long before anyone else; and most of theirs were “pre-played” from their own rental racks (talk about screwing the developers!).

    Anyway, for me, without the “swag”, I’m just not inclined to go rushing out for a game launch anymore. In-game goodies that are inconsequential are simply not worth the time or effort above simply going to Wal-Mart or ordering on Amazon when there’s an initial price-break.