I hate pre-order bonuses.
We complained about games releasing buggy and broken last year, moaning about the plethora of half-baked, pitiful excuses and the all-too-visible corporate policy of certain companies that was haemorrhaging into their titles. But we were all to blame, all of us complicit in the burgeoning, ubiquitous pre-order culture that allows companies to make budget projections far in advance, and then screw over whoever and whatever they need to in order to hit their projected deadlines.
Pre-order bonuses, of course, have been the sweetener, the bait for the early adopter. Invest early you blind fool, companies have said, and get free DLC, get free customisation items, enjoy these perks that you can't get anywhere else. It has been galling and miserable to watch, and it has been depressingly effective. We wondered aloud just how much more will be snipped off of games to allow for this duplicitous process, how many more features fenced off and restricted to those willing to stump up cash early and pay to play something they've no idea is any good or not.
Enter Evolve, a game clearly desperate for attention.
You have to feel sorry in a way for Turtle Rock. They game they built fell off of the map last year and missed its planned release date. The Big Alpha was a big mess, with dubious netcode issues, and plentiful worries about balancing and longevity. Where's the rest of the game, people asked, and rightly so. Then they realised that they hadn't actually shown people why on Earth this thing deserved it's full price, and finally unleashed a barrage of information explaining how there were more characters, more monsters, more modes, and more reasons to play... hopefully.
Here's the thing, though. To use those new characters and the Wraith without grinding, you'll have to pre-purchase the game. Not pre-order... pre-purchase.
Here's Turtle Rock with a helpful explanation:
The Evolve Xbox One Open Beta begins next Thursday, January 15th. That much we've already covered. Now, would you like to play as Wraith and the latest four Hunters – Parnell, Abe, Caira, and Cabot – during the beta?
If you pre-purchase Evolve on Xbox One before or during the Xbox One Open Beta, you get exclusive instant access to Wraith, Parnell, Abe, Caira, and Cabot during the entire beta. Better yet, pre-purchasing on Xbox One guarantees that these characters are instantly unlocked when you pick up the final game which launches on February 10th. We'll share more news on when you can begin pre-purchasing Evolve very soon
We have no idea on the balancing of the game so it's impossible to tell what level of grind will be required to unlock these characters normally. We have no idea if Evolve, a game dependent on a reliable online infrastructure, will actually work properly straight out of the gates. We have no idea how progression and balancing will be affected as a result of this move.
But the one thing we do know, is that existing content is being restricted to those willing to blindly stump up the cash in advance. That's the rub -- this isn't a pre-order bonus, this is designed to get you to hand over cash now. Buy the full price game on Xbox One now, get a whole bunch of advanced access. It's utterly shameless, and outrageously desperate, and it's deeply, deeply worrying if this is an indication of things to come.
This is exactly what we feared: a future where pre-order bonuses give you more complete access to games others are still paying full price for, or allowing players to jump into a more complete experience ahead of time. It's rewarding blind stupidity, and it's a deeply anti-consumer move, leveraging F2P monetisation tactics into fully priced games. As we stated when Ubisoft attempted this last year, we're really not fans of that.
It's not a huge leap from here to having massive chunks of a game restricted to only those who pre-purchase a title weeks or months in advance. That's a future you're fuelling if you participate in this initiative -- sheep paying in advance for their own slaughter. What we saw last year was just a sliver of the contempt that corporate money men have for the gaming audience, and companies do this because they can. As long as they can sucker in some eager fans to guarantee a big launch or, better yet, grab their money beforehand, the game itself can be as buggy and as broken as anything. Now, I'm not saying that Evolve will definitely be a disappointing experience, although precedent for online-dependent titles is not exactly in Evolve's favour. Rather that anything with the word "pre" in it is deliberately designed to work in the favour of ruthlessly monetising you, the consumer, in as early a fashion as is possible.
Collector's Editions where you get lovingly crafted, tangible bonuses of real value have always been excellent, and pre-ordering to get things like a game's soundtrack or digital art books is a tradeoff that I'm okay with because it rewards blind loyalty with something that has no bearing on others or the game itself. But this digital swindle isn't about choice or reward. The only reason you're getting more out of this shambolic deal is because others have been cheated to get less. In a very real sense, this pre-purchase is entirely relative -- you're not getting more, you're paying for others to get less.
The notion of not negotiating with terrorists, of not feeding trolls, of not engaging with bullies etc. is a simple one -- it's all about de-escalation. You don't give them a reason to do whatever it is that they're doing again. And while I'd hasten to point out that I in no way think of games publishers as agents of terror, the point remains that consumers have few ways to make a stand against companies holding them to ransom. Voting with one's wallet sounds clichéd, but it works. Don't encourage this anti-consumer behaviour. Don't pre-purchase Evolve. In fact, I'd hasten to advise that you don't pre-purchase anything if you can help it.
If there's ever a truly, objectively compelling reason to pre-purchase something rather than simply downloading it at launch, something has gone horribly wrong and we're staring down the arse-end of days. Until that time comes, isn't it better to just wait?