The yearly glut of big Fall releases is nearly over, and this one was murder, with a staggering number of both stellar and lower tier, but still highly anticipated, games. Any gamer on earth that didn’t buy a game between September and now is still waiting for their title of choice; I know two people who bought games and don’t even have a console to play them on. THAT’S how big this season was.
One thing that particularly caught my attention this year were the preorder bonuses. These have been around for years but they’ve really stepped up the quality lately (ex. The Borderlands bonus download two years ago was just bad but every one I’ve seen this year has been pretty awesome in one way or another.) Most stores welcome preorders as it’s a guaranteed sale for them, but no one that I know of does them like GameStop and it’s siblings. Some places will occasionally offer you a bonus like store credit, a multiplayer add-on, etc, if that. But I’ve noticed that even those places have been offering more lately, whereas in previous years if there was anything to be had from anyone other than GameStop I was oblivious to it. More retailers offered a store credit this year for preorders (Amazon gave a $25 credit for one game) and a few even had competing bonus offers (Batman skins in Arkham City at GameStop, Robin skins from Best Buy,) which I don’t know has been done before, and which has certainly never been covered in magazines before (Game Pro actually had an article comparing the offers from different outlets.) The only reason I can think of for that is falling sales. I believe GameStop has more or less always boasted the most sales per game (makes sense, seeing as that’s kind of their whole catalog) and with the economy being what it is places like Amazon, Best Buy, and Wal Mart are looking to snatch a little bit more revenue.
There’s a snafu there though: customers are significantly more broke than the companies, so the bonuses have to be worth our time. I’m personally of the mindset that unless there’s a time limit on something I need or my anticipation is high enough (a rare occurrence these days) I’ll wait. Recent example: Uncharted 3 is, without question, a must-have. But even if my PS3 was working right now I would still wait for a price drop or used copy. Blasphemy, I know, but I simply don’t have the money to get everything I want and U3 wasn’t offering any extras I care about. The poster was kind of cool, but I would never use any of the download bonuses (the Creepy Crawler thing just sounds cheap to me,) and the special edition was all collectible stuff I won’t use, so I’m personally not about to drop an extra $40 on that. Skyrim is even worse: an extra $90(!) gets you some neat looking things but not a lick of in-game content. I understand the need for sales, and part of me feels guilty for depriving these publishers and developers I love of revenue but it needs to be worth my extra money, and if I CAN wait I will.
I don’t claim to have my finger on the pulse of the industry but to me this is obviously just a way to drive sales. It always has been. But with falling sales (due to falling money. Thanks a lot, government) the companies need to boost their own revenue any way they can. It’s no secret that used copies are the bane 0f any industry since only the retailer gets that money. Preorders are a clever way of guaranteeing those sales since stores can’t duplicate them. There is another way of offering new products to customers that has been growing in use and, impressively, in quality of execution: digital distribution. No store on earth can offer you a used downloaded game, and few if any hackers can host a pirated game the way they can with music and movies. And it’s only going to get more prevalent. I personally don’t like the idea of an all digital market and I hope that in one way or another physical media is here to stay. But as profits shrink and digital storage grows in size and efficiency it seems somewhat forgone. It makes me sad but I’ll hold out hope. In the meantime though I’ll keep buying used until every distributor makes a new game worth the full amount.