Today marks the return of the Thursday Top 5 List, and this week I want to talk about pre-order incentives. There are many reasons to pre-order a video game, but not all of them are equally valid. As a matter of fact, a lot of them are either functionally useless or counterproductive. This isn’t to say that all of them are bad features, but they shouldn’t be on your list of major reasons to purchase the product.
Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times.
5. Beta Access
Not to be confused with early access, beta access is a poor spending choice simply due to the nature of MMO betas: Glorified trial versions of mostly complete software. With the exception of games like Firefall, where systems can radically change based on customer feedback, the beta period is mostly a stress test for server infrastructure. So why would you pay for it? To uncover bugs that, if the past few game launches have anything to say about it, are reported endlessly and never fixed by the developer? Say a bug that existed in a game that allows players to exploit an auction house to duplicate diamonds from some astral dimension.
Paying for beta access is a bit like running for Congress. I’m sure there are people who do so to actually make a difference, add their input, and ultimately make a better world for others to live and play in. Otherwise you’re there to scope out the territory and gain an advantage over your “competition.” You find the best real estate with the best experience to level the fastest and obtain the best drops quickly, and if you really dive down the morality pit, find an unknown bug that is difficult to stumble upon and save it for your own use. So beta access is pointless for most of the right reasons, and useful for all of the wrong reasons.
4. Invisible Cosmetics
Pre-order gear is a matter of heavy debate among gamers. What kind of gear can you give out, can the gear have stats, how much effort should be put into the design, should it be obtainable by other players, etc. Some developers go to the extreme to please both sides and end up pleasing neither, with statless gear that isn’t even technically cosmetic. We’re talking gear that doesn’t even alter the appearance of your character.
This comes mostly in the form of jewelry. The idea is exceptionally funny when you factor it into games where your character is so tiny that you can barely see their regular clothing, let alone a ring, a bracelet, a necklace, etc. What says rewarding loyalty better than a useless cosmetic item that neither your nor your fellow players can see? Nothing.
3. Awesome Starter Gear
Anyone who plays MMOs knows how gear progression works. At the start of the game, you go through armor like a teenage girl and with a lot less discrimination. As you level up, however, the rate at which your find better gear decreases and you spend a lot more time with the equipment you are wearing rather than what you find in the field. At this point, you might look back and think “too bad I couldn’t keep that cool pre-order armor.”
This is especially disappointing when a developer clearly goes out of their way to design some great looking armor when you consider that the average new player will wear it for about ten minutes before coming across something bigger and better, if not as fancy looking. Eventually the clothing will be sold to a vendor, trashed, or sentenced to an eternity in the player’s bank vault, never to be seen again. The exception to this rule, of course, is a game that allows for separate cosmetic override slots. Some do, but not all.
2. Early Access
Early access would be a great reason to pre-order in a perfect world where launches are smooth and servers are stable from Day -7. Unfortunately, this is reality, where MMO launches are stricken by server outages, large quantities of lag, queue lines just to get in the door, extended maintenance periods, databases going down, long download times, systems becoming corrupted, key generators going insane, and generally the downfall of humanity.
Opting to play an MMO on launch day is a bit like saying “I want my first experience with this game to be frustrating, and what I really want is to spend most of my time downloading emergency patches and waiting for the server to come back up. If you could throw in broken quests, queues, and bugs that might wipe my character/inventory, that would be great.”
Considering that analogy, early access takes all of those problems and turns them up to eleven. So why do we continue buying MMOs for early access? Judging by how forums tend to fill up on launch day with posts along the lines of “I have never seen another MMO launch go as badly,” I have a theory that these events actually exist in the Twilight Zone, after which only the developers and a select few in the community have any memory of what happened. I suppose rose tinted glasses or selective memory could be the answer, but they aren’t as fun.
1. Name Reservations
I ranked this number one because it is one of the most common on this list and one of the most presumptive. Think about it: If you pre-order an MMO for the sake of reserving your name or your guild’s name, you are assuming that the MMO will never merge its servers, because doing so will render your purchase useless. Let’s say two people purchase an MMO on the same day and name their character Omali. Two years down the line, their servers are merged into one another, and someone has to give way.
Some MMOs will decide who keeps the name based on creation date and recent activity, while others will simply knock them both out and whoever logs in first gets the name. Whatever path they decide, someone is going to lose what they paid for. Name reservation really only works if it prevents any player from using your name on any server, ever, including you. Allow you or someone to make a character with the same name on a different server and you run into problems if the servers merge, making the purchase pointless. Restrict anyone from using the name and you run the risk years later of the creativity well drying out and players needing to resort to calling themselves xXx_EpixPwn_L3gOrlaz582_xXx just to find a name that hasn’t been taken yet, and boy does that do wonders for everyone’s level of immersion into your world. Implement a unique handle system like Perfect World Entertainment does and you fix the duplicate problem but can no longer advertise name reservation as a benefit of pre-ordering.
I know some of you are thinking that nobody pre-orders a game with the primary, or at least major, objective being to reserve their game, but they do. One of the most common complaints I see on forums whenever a game merges servers are people complaining that they pre-ordered for nothing. Forget the head start, exclusive benefits in the form of digital or physical items, and any play time taken along the way, I have actually seen people declare years of gaming in a particular title as meaningless because somewhere down the road they were forced to make a slight alteration to their handle.
You have no idea the rabbit hole you step into when you mention server mergers. Which is why I don’t anymore, mostly. And it is absolutely advertised on quite a few MMOs as worthy of being placed on a bulleted list next to the digital items and head start.