A New Pre-Order Scheme

Originally published on Trevor Trove on August 31, 2015

TL;DR(ant) – Today brought us the latest in the ever-increasing number of shady pre-order schemes.

The Basics

The “Augment Your Pre-order” campaign for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided markets itself “in the spirit of player choice” when, in reality, it is just a thinly veiled pyramid scheme. For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, here’s the gist:

  •  Pre-order bonuses are divided into 5 tiers.
    • Tier 1 = 3 different item packs
    • Tier 2 = Digital artbook or digital original soundtrack sampler
    • Tier 3 = Exclusive in-game mission
    • Tier 4 = Digital comic book or novella
    • Tier 5 = Game released 4 days early
  • The more pre-orders there are for the game, the more tiers are unlocked. Tier 1 is unlocked from the start. Every other tier gets unlocked in increments of 25% of some arbitrary, unknown pre-order goal.
  • Every pre-order is entitled to select one item from each unlocked tier.

So the marketing team has essentially presented a situation where people who are excited enough to pre-order Deus Ex (or who have already pre-ordered) are incentivized to get their friends to pre-order the game so they can get more bonuses and even possibly the game early. So let’s look at this in pieces…

“Early” Release Date

The reward for Tier 5 is for the game to be released four days early. What this effectively means is the SquareEnix is prepared to launch the game on Friday, February 19, 2016, but they’re saying the game will launch on Tuesday, February 23, 2016. So SquareEnix is willing the keep the game held back from the market for those four days for the ploy of using its supporters for extra word of mouth. I don’t for one second foresee this happening so this is pretty purely for the psychological impact of announcing the game will launch four days early, when that is almost certainly already the plan.

“Player Choice”

As I mentioned, marketing around this campaign is being billed around “the spirit of player choice.” However, really rewarding the player would look more like this: “Thank you for pre-ordering Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. As a token of our appreciation, here is all of this other content that we’re already making that we want you to have,” CD Projekt Red-style.  As it stands, players “get” to pick an item from each of up to three tiers. Picking one of the item packs means they’re missing out on the other two. Picking the digital art book means they’re missing out on the soundtrack sampler and vice versa. Picking up the comic book means they’re missing out on the novella. They’re making all of this stuff anyway. Why not just include it with the game? Even locking it all behind a more expensive “collector’s edition” is more upstanding than the current plan.

Oh wait! That’s also what they’re doing! The Collector’s Edition comes with all of the “Augment Your Pre-Order” options and more (steelbook case, Adam Jensen figuring, 48-page physical artbook).

Still crappy, but SquareEnix is certainly entitled to charge for that content if people are willing to buy it. But this “Augment Your Pre-Order” method is just another variation on the “segmenting the DLC/content” that usually has content parsed out to various retailers. Real “player choice” would be to give the player access to all of the content (like the Collector’s Edition) and let them choose which of it they actually want to use or experience.

The Kickstarter Effect

Now admittedly, I’m not a Deus Ex fan so why should I care, right? Because if this kind of thing is viewed as a success, other publishers may try it on games that I actually do want to buy. The precedent for consumer’s willingness to accept this behavior has already been set by various crowdfunding sources. For example, I gave to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter last year and got to select various rewards like bookmarks, coffee mugs, tote bags, etc.

Eidos Montreal and SquareEnix, however, are not trying to crowdfund this game. SquareEnix has already invested the money and, barring some catastrophe, Eidos Montreal was always going to fulfill their end of that deal by finishing the game. These pre-order rewards are not about getting the game funded in the way that Kickstarter rewards are but that’s exactly how they are being presented. “Help us get to the halfway point of our campaign and ‘backers’ get a bonus mission.” The game is launching February 19/23, regardless of how this campaign does and that bonus mission will be created regardless of how this campaign does. The “success” of this campaign will simply determine whether or not that mission is free for pre-orders or if they’ll have to get it as over-priced DLC (and any price is over-priced if they’re willing to give it away with some arbitrary sales goal).

Deus Ex: Market Divided

So how will the market respond? I already had one friend on Twitter say they were going to cancel their existing pre-order to show that they don’t support this strategy. But he is an informed buyer in the gaming marketplace. How many people will pre-order the game anyway because they don’t know (or care) about how this affects the larger industry?

I’m certainly of the mindset that by leaving the goals as percentages, SquareEnix can just announce whenever they’d like that they’ve reached a goal. Because I’ve worked with Sales and Marketing teams that have used that exact same tactic in theatre. “Tickets are available at a discount while supplies last.” Now, if it were tied to a specific number of pre-orders, then the Board of Directors and other shareholders become very interested in that number and how the campaign is faring. But ambiguous percentage goals means that the goal can change to inflate the percentage so that a new press release can go out announcing another tier has been unlocked.

But I’ve ranted long enough. What do you think? Will you be pre-ordering the game? Let me know in the comments below.

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