Pre-order bonuses used to be exactly that: pre-order bonuses. Retailers would compete over little knick-knacks such as t-shirts, keyrings, and action figures in order to secure your business, and you’d shop at the store that was giving away the specific goodie that you wanted. It was a largely harmless practice, with the inconsequential fluff rewarding those savvy enough to look around – without punishing those without the willpower or means to do so. However, this practice has gotten increasingly sinister over the past five or so years, with multiple permutations of virtually every PlayStation 4 product to pick from. So, is it time that we put our foot down?

We’re not especially against the premise of pre-order bonuses in their modern guise – after all, an additional in-game costume is just as insignificant as a real world top, but it has the added benefit of not requiring storage space. We can even deal with additional missions or playable characters; while these may appear more substantial on the surface, they typically amount to shoddy asides that you don’t really need to see. Alas, we’re rapidly reaching a point where there are not simply one or two bonuses to unlock, but a whole suite of them – and generally, they’re all available at different outlets, at different times, on different platforms. It’s about as anti-consumer as you can get.

Take upcoming sci-fi shooter Destiny, for example. Sony has partnered heavily with developer Bungie on the adventure, announcing that those that purchase the game on the PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 3 will unlock access to a couple of extra missions, maps, and weapons. From a business perspective, it’s proving a smart decision – sales are trending strongly on the Japanese giant’s formats – but it doesn’t necessarily seem fair that those paying the exact same amount on a competitor’s console should lose access to the content. Worse still, recent reports have confirmed that the add-ons are only exclusive until next year, when they’ll become available to everyone.

And, of course, Microsoft is not exempt from this practice either. It announced during its E3 press conference last month that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s map packs will debut exclusively on the Xbox One and Xbox 360, meaning that – assuming that past trends remain consistent – everyone else will have to wait a month to access the game’s add-ons. Strip away the corporate incentives, and this essentially amounts to one manufacturer paying a publisher to prevent content from appearing on a competing platform for a predetermined period of time. We can’t blame Activision for taking the cash, but it doesn’t seem right that we’re being treated this way.

And let’s be honest here, the likes of Ubisoft and Electronic Arts aren’t entirely innocent in all of this. Watch Dogs was perhaps the most extraordinary example of what’s currently wrong with pre-order DLC, with forum posters having to produce a walkthrough in order to keep track of all of the different options available. According to the frankly embarrassing buyer’s guide, consumers could select from a whopping ten different versions of the sandbox shooter, each including different pieces of in-game and real world paraphernalia. Indeed, you’d literally need to buy the game dozens of times over, in multiple permutations, across several different regions to get it all.

Of course, we shouldn’t necessarily expect to get every piece of content just because it’s being made – the industry is changing, and heading down a much more service orientated path. However, we often find ourselves scratching our heads over what’s available where – and we cover this industry for a living on a daily basis. With so many different options on offer, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for average consumers to know what’s up for grabs – it’s no longer about picking either a poster or an art book. And that inevitably leads to widespread confusion, which is exactly what has happened with The Creative Assembly’s otherwise intriguing horror title Alien: Isolation recently.

Only yesterday, publisher SEGA announced that by pre-ordering the game you’ll be able to play as the Sigourney Weaver-portrayed sci-fi icon Ellen Ripley, and you will – but there’s a catch. In the UK at least, it seems that unless you purchase the title from GAME, you’ll be stuck with the ‘Nostromo Edition’, which includes less content than the ‘Ripley Edition’. Indeed, the latter will only be available from the abovementioned UK-based store – where it carries a premium fee. This isn’t the first example of a retailer exclusive either, and it probably won’t be the last, with US giant GameStop recently hinting that it intends to get more involved with developers at a creative level in order to secure better bonuses.

The simple solution would be to try not to care, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to be blasé about such shady practices. We could certainly accept these initiatives when publishers were handing out small tokens to those engaged enough to register their interest in a game early, but there are so many options these days, that it’s hard not to feel like you’re missing out. Between platform exclusives, retailer exclusives, regional exclusives, and more, it’s almost impossible to know where to spend your money anymore. And while it may not be the best cause of action where great games are concerned, perhaps we should start keeping our cash in our wallets a little longer until organisations realise that current trends simply aren’t acceptable as they are.

What are your thoughts on pre-order bonuses these days? Do you find yourself shopping around in order to get the additional content that you want, or are you finding it difficult to care? Do you ever feel like you’re missing out? Take your pick in the comments section below.

Are you finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with pre-order bonuses? (62 votes)

Yes, there are simply way too many these days


Hmm, not sure I really care to be honest


No, I tend to be well informed on these things


Please login to vote in this poll.