GameStop's Brilliant New Idea: Require Preorders To Unlock Game Content

One of the great universal truths of modern gaming is that preorders suck. The term refers to the practice of ordering a title at some point before it actually ships in order to get access to a variety of minor outfit tweaks, a few starting weapons, or a few boosts to early gameplay. Today, some publishers take this practice to truly ridiculous levels; the recent game Watch Dogs has no fewer than nine preorder options, and none of them include every single perk or capability. GameStop, perhaps sensing that there's pressure building against the model, wants to turn the dial up to 11 -- and create preorder-locked, GameStop-specific content. 

According to financial analyst Colin Sebastian, "[GameStop] indicates that software publishers are more enthusiastic about partnering with it. For example, by offering exclusive content on each major game release and longer term, future models may include GameStop offering exclusive gameplay." VentureBeat reports that GameStop is specifically looking to design unique scenarios in which its own customers would be rewarded specific content.

Here's the problem we have with that. First, as this chart shows, the game industry absolutely can't be counted on not to destroy its own great ideas. If you want every bit of Watch Dogs, you'll be ponying up for four different versions of the game.

Original image from Kotaku

The problem with GameStop partnering with a developer to create their own content is that we're left with two inevitable options: Either the content will be terrible (badly acted / animated, or full of cheap advertising) and will therefore fail to boost sales -- or it'll be good, spur sales, and drive more retail chains towards the same model. Season Passes and preorder bonuses are bad enough -- imagine a Mass Effect or Dragon Age where entire chunks of content are sealed behind closed doors. Want to recruit more races to fight the Reapers in ME3? You'll have to buy it from Walmart. If you want a new character for the Normandy team or the option to earn some upgrades, on the other hand, you'll need to buy the game from Best Buy.

That's obviously where this road leads -- and unlike clothing or weapon skins, locking off content changes the actual game. Publishers could theoretically address the problem by making these locks time-limited or offering the content in late-year "Gold" Editions, but the more likely scenario is that the content packs simply get ripped, hacked, and uploaded to torrent sites. After all the fury over in-game DLC, you'd think the publishing industry would have learned that gamers really, really don't like seeing content they feel they paid for segmented off from the rest of the game on launch day.

GameStop is enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment. The company has captured a greater share of the Xbox One and PS4 market than it held at this point in the console cycle last time around and it's clearly looking to increase the attractiveness of its own business. That's fine, as far as it goes -- but this kind of arbitrary lopping off of content to boost sales at particular shops simply isn't going to sit well with most gamers.