From the moment I joined MMGN, it's been no secret that I just don't know what the point of DLC is anymore when most of it is some form of on-disc DLC under the guise of additional content, usually with a ridiculously deceptive minuscule file size. It seemed like after the Capcom fiasco with Street Fighter X Tekken earlier this year that the whole on-disc DLC thing had died down, at least for a while. To my surprise, Capcom did eventually release some welcome news that they were re-evaluating their on-disc DLC practices after the protests against their work on SF X Tekken.
But when I saw the recent pre-order content announced for the upcoming Halo 4, I was reminded that the on-disc DLC dilemma isn't going to end for the long term. Another tactic that publishers and marketers are so adamant to employ and normalise is the promotion and use of digital "pre-order DLC bonuses", which entice us gamers to pre-order a game at certain retailers to secure content such as an "exclusive" armour skin, "alternate" mission or "legendary" weapon.
Digital pre-order bonuses are all fine and dandy theoretically, because they reward early fans and encourage launch sales. But with it I've found, comes two problems; when those pre-order bonuses are just unlock keys for content pulled from the disc, and when the pre-order DLC content is not anything meaningful at all and either sold later on for a unfair price, or kept exclusive, forcing people who really want the content anyway to pay a inflated price for it from a private seller. In all logic, everyone should already have direct access to most of these bonuses anyway because, proven time and time again, they're usually on the very same game disc we just bought or will pay for.
Digital pre-order bonuses have been out for a while, of course. When talking specifically about the Xbox 360's history, it was a practice trialed with many of Microsoft's earlier exclusives, such as Gears of War 2 and Fable II with the Gold Hammerburst and Flashback Map Pack, and the Master Chief Medieval armour, respectively. These are digital bonuses made for the fans, and I acknowledge that in most cases it's not all negative, because I understand companies need extra incentives for gamers to buy their game new and on launch rather than used.
But back in 2008, we didn't pay extra down the track for either pre-order DLC; they came with the Limited Editions that we were encouraged to pre-order, and that were already paid for and wanted, or they came with a free upgrade pre-order. Both game's bonuses eventually became available on the Xbox Marketplace, too. We didn't have to worthy about never getting it or paying ridiculous amounts on eBay for it if we missed out on the pre-order. It was perfect because the incentive was for the true fans who wanted the game day one and would want those in-game bonuses right away, but for those who would buy it down the track, they had to option to wait and ability to buy it later, or not.
Fast track to 2012, where on-disc DLC and DLC with-held for pre-orders is normalised. In order to have access to every single weapon, armour skin, mission and so on available for us to use and play (which we should already have because in almost all cases they bonuses are unlock keys for content on-disc), we need to somehow secure all pre-order bonuses, often which are spread out across different retailers, some "exclusive" to one or another, and we often have to fork out a lot more to get them. Sometimes the only way we can get the pre-order DLC is by buying them for inflated prices on eBay and private sellers, or waiting for them to be released as DLC.
Going back to Gears of War 2's Flashback Map Pack DLC, that was a pre-order bonus worth buying the game on launch for as an excited Gears fan, and worth being an exclusive pre-order bonus. Why? Because it was actually a substantial extra for the Gears 1 fans, made, with effort, for the fans, not just some lazy unlock key for content made inaccessible for pre-order purposes. It was also one of the only DLC examples I can think of which worked, as when it was released on the marketplace later, because it was substantial, the fans who missed out getting it with the pre-order wouldn't feel bad purchasing it later down the track. These days I think even if the pre-order DLC becomes available on the Marketplace later, it's just as much as a rip-off as buying it from a over-priced sale on eBay, because the content is almost always just an unlock key for something you should already have had access to on-disc. Gears of War 3's character skins, which are much less significant then the Flashback Map Pack and pulled from the game-disc, prove that.
In my shame, I have fallen for the collection of these disappointing pre-order bonuses. When Gears of War 3 came out in September last year, I found myself obsessing over obtaining all the character skin cards that came with pre-ordering the game at different retailers, desperately trying to find sellers on eBay when I soon realised I was paying ridiculous amounts for the ones I didn't have, upwards of $20, for a "rare" digital item.
Why did I have to miss out on some for others? I'm a fan of Gears but not a fan of EB Games, so why did I have to miss out on the EB Games pre-order bonus because I preferred to pre-order at JB? Why do I have to care anyway, isn't this stuff already on the freaking disc I just bought?
Even though Epic eventually released some of these "bonuses" as DLC on the Marketplace, accessible for everyone due to immense fan pressure, and many people might not care about weapon skins or character skins in the long run, it still confuses me as to why us gamers who want to have all these extras, have to pay extra to get them all when they were just pulled from the disc and promoted as an exclusive bonus on the same level of quality and fan-service as the Flashback Map Pack, which the character and weapon skins certainly are not.
Halo 4 is the most recent culprit of the pre-order DLC practice, having its wave of pre-order DLC announced a few days ago. It may have me excited for the future of the franchise, but it certainly has me disappointed in Microsoft for their heavy marketing of the pre-order DLC planned for the game's release. Several armour, weapon and helmet codes have been planned to be spread out "exclusively" across more than five American retailers and online stores. Why can't we just unlock them all in the game? Why do I have to get annoyed about missing out on this bonus from EB when I want to pre-order from JB? Why not just scrap digital-related DLC bonuses and focus back on giving quality pre-order incentives such as an upgrade to a steel book edition and game artwork? Or a comic or tie-in novel? Something that is actually a substantial bonus incentive for the fans rather than something taken away from the game's code for pre-ordering purposes?
These two games are probably just minuscule examples in all honesty, as I'm probably in the minority of those who care deeply about armour upgrades. But there are games where entire missions and actual NPC companions, such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mass Effect 3, are being cut off from the game disc and being shamefully used as a pre-order bonus. It's not really a bonus when it was originally made for the game and the bonus is just a code to unlock it on the disc, and it's just becoming plain greedy rather than a smart business tactic. Bioware did release From Ashes on PSN and XBL quickly, but again I say: why do we have to pay for an unlock key? Deus Ex: HR and a lot of other games also still withhold these "bonuses" from their fans, and many are then just forced to miss out or have to buy codes for the content they technically already own when they bought the game disc, for ridiculous prices from private sellers. It's just a mess of a system and in all honesty, as much as I'm against on-disc DLC being used like this, I don't know what a fair and justified alternative could be.
All I do know is missing out on digital content designed for the game and having to either pay unfair amounts for it later on, or worry about collecting them all is just frustrating and wrong. I understand many companies need extra incentive for gamers to pre-order and buy their products against buying them used, pirating or buying digital-only, but the normalisation of this digital pre-order bonuses practice is getting a bit absurd for true fans like me who just want to have access to everything a game has to offer, however and whenever I feel like buying or playing it.
By Nathan Misa - Bio