Pre-order DLC gets quite a bad rap since it doles out different parts of the game exclusively to select groups of people depending on which retail outlet they purchase it from. Games like Assassin’s Creed Syndicate are the worst offenders by providing specific missions exclusively to customers buying from certain outlets. By buying the game at Amazon you miss out on Gamestop’s exclusive content, unless you are willing to wait and pay–then it will be available to you. The core issue is that it is impossible to have the  entire version of the game without waiting and purchasing the DLC or buying every version available.

Pre-Order DLC exists for two main reasons, the first is an effort to help “steady” sales for the company who created it.  Pre-orders can, for the most part, be viewed as guaranteed income. This is important because if you know you have a big paycheck coming in, you can spend your money differently and more effectively, which is important for a large company. The second reason such DLC exists is to appease retailers, granting them something exclusive to offer to customers who may choose to buy from them rather than their competitors.

The problem with this whole setup is that it is designed with the companies and retailers in mind first, and the customers last.  As a consumer, no matter what, you will always be missing out on something, and if you want it, you will need to pony up later. However, it seems we may be entering a new age of thinking when it comes to how game companies think of their customers and profit structures.

Shift in Thinking

We have recently been talking a lot on this show about how companies such as CD Projekt Red (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt) have continued their success by providing small bits of content for free after release rather than making these tidbits of DLC a pre-order incentive or post release purchase. For most companies, these items given away would be considered the same quality as pre-order DLC, a mission or two and perhaps some extra armor, being slapped with a $2.99 price tag. CD Projket Red have instead generated considerable goodwill (instead of short-term profits), resulting in additional sales of their main product, the game. Even Capcom recognized this with their latest investor announcement concerning Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate sales stating,

Proactive promotional efforts and free add-on contents generate ongoing buzz, leading to steady global sales growth.

pointing to steadier, ongoing sales of their main products.  This represent a very different way of thinking in respect to other big game companies, from trying to reap small bursts of incremental profit in the form of exclusive pre-order DLC and post-order add-ons, to one that is focused on the main product, and expanding on it (without monetizing each incremental expansion) to continue sales of that same product by maintaining (or even increasing) its market value.

In the end you want consumers to not just purchase your product, but to become invested in your product, which will lead to future profits.  This is an effective business model that focuses on keeping customers happy, rather than finding new sources of income.  Instead of focusing on generating additional income through pre-order exclusives and post-release supplements and add-ons, why not use these content packages to promote consumer investment ? One well-known franchise is already doing this in a great way.

Halo is Doing it

Microsoft and 343 have already taken to this hybrid solution with REQ packs. Currently, any purchase made towards any Halo 5 related item results in a REQ pack. Buying the Halo 5 art book? REQ Pack! Any of the new novels? REQ Pack! Action figure? REQ Pack! Everytime you drink the Halo Kool-aid you get rewarded in the game they all relate back to, with a REQ pack! Instead of banking on pre-orders, Microsoft is looking to incentivise consumers into becoming invested in its universe and products with REQ packs.

The goal of pre-order DLC is to secure sales early and at full price.  Thinking of this as the only way you can make the most money is short-sighted. As a company you have plenty of other products available that can be used to leverage additional profits by linking back to your game. Lets use Assassin’s Creed as an example:

Under the current model

  • Pre-Order DLC includes missions and skins
  • Pre-Order DLC changes dependent on place of pre-order
  • Pre-Order DLC is seen negatively by consumers
  • Causes companies to focus more heavily on early sales rather than continued ones
  • The game is treated as a separate entity apart from the merchandise related to it.

Under the proposed model

  • What was previously Pre-Order DLC is now attached to additional merchandise (Books etc)
  • Rewards consumers who become invested in the product with small (free) content
  • Perception by other consumers shifts to a reward
  • Reward no longer decreases with time
  • Profits are gained through mainline products, which maintain or increase their value in the marketplace
  • DLC can still be sold separately if the company wishes

A positive spin

Now you have taken a situation that people dislike, and spun it into something that people enjoy. You are now rewarding fans for being invested, and rewarding those wish to invest more into your game without making it feel like they cannot have the whole experience (which improves over time). The end result of all of this is simply a positive spin on a poor situation. Really, nothing has changed in this scenario except where the DLC can be found. The DLC still gets made, the DLC is still out there, but people are less angry because they are now small rewards for dedicated fans, rather than all fans feeling like they’re getting an incomplete experience that they have to continually pay for in hopes of achieving (one day) the total package.