It's not exactly a new thing but 2014 has become a year synonymous for pre-order and exclusive content. The amount given away with specific versions of games from specific stores wasn't just bordering on ridiculous, it had erupted into a bizarre state of affairs, culminating in such insanity as Watch Dogs' 9 different versions.
Obviously developers want to entice as many gamers as possible to put money down on a game before it comes out, and pre-order bonuses only sweeten the deal for those who want the games they’re excited for as soon as possible anyway. It still comes down to paying full price for something before you know what it is, though. Not only can the games themselves disappoint, but the ‘bonuses’ have been known to stretch the definition. Is extra in-game content better, or physical merchandise? How annoying is it when that one bonus you really want is only available on a different platform?
Many pre-order bonuses eventually end up becoming available for anybody who owns the game, but not all. Also, many games eventually re-release as a ‘complete edition’ which offers all content so far produced for a lower price - the downside of course is you have to wait a few more months on top of the months or years you've waited since the game was announced. On the other hand, some bonuses really take the Mickey. What is the appeal of gold skins for players and/or weapons? Is it really worth the extra money just so that other players online know which version of the game you bought? And what was the use of that Day One achievement on the Xbox One? Let alone the very fetching dismembered chest you could snatch up alongside Dead Island: Riptide.
Saints Row IV took it upon itself to take ridiculous pre-order bonuses down a peg with the Super Dangerous Wad Wad Edition which famously cost $1 million and included suitably elaborate bonuses, but the package was estimated to be worth about $400,000 less than the asking price, which is a heck of a profit margin. No wonder it went unsold.
Pre-orders can add a lot to the experience of games we love, but they can also rinse us of our hard earned cash for underwhelming tat and games with no guarantee of quality. Should games arrive in just one format and have to be good to make their money rather than hoodwinking impatient people into splashing out on gimmicks? Or are pre-orders just a great way to make sure you can play that game you want as soon as possible and pick up a few choice special extras while you're at it?