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The Devil's Advocate: The Enticement

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on March 08, 2013

From last week’s Devil’s Advocate on beta testing behavior, a number of you felt beta tests were less about the testing and more about the advertisement factor for a game.  Taking your realizations into account, I wanted to discuss one of the other trends that have come about in the gaming sector as a whole: the development of ways to entice players to pre-purchase a game.

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What’re you buyin’?

The merchant from Resident Evil 4 tended to ask this question of me, and one time I muttered during a play session, “Whatever I damn well please.” The problem with my statement is that it’s the merchant who knows what he’s offering, so he’s most likely tailored his offers to make you want to spend something, with minimal issue on his end. It’s smart business, but if you don’t know what you’re getting, it’s still a little frustrating to think about.

In the MMO sphere, the enticement is noticeable, but sometimes obscured because we don’t know how some of the systems work.

For instance, Defiance (a game without a known subscription matrix) has a pre-purchase system in place on Steam. Most of the information offered makes me want to buy Defiance because I feel like I’m getting a ton of goodies for my money, and the more people buy into the game through Steam, the more goodies I get.

I don’t have much of a clue as to whether there is any real tangible benefit to pre-purchasing as opposed to waiting for April to roll around and get into the game that way. At the same time, however, I’m still compelled to consider purchasing it so as to not feel left out.

Part of the Problem

I think I am part of the problem. When you love something like gaming a little too much, sometimes you think, “Getting this now won’t be so bad in the long run.” However, with games you’ve never really experienced, there’s this undercurrent in my mind in which I think I gambled money on the future prospects of a game based on a lack of information.

As discussed in an earlier Devil’s Advocate, games makers use certain psychological hooks to get us to spend money, and psychological hooks are also in play to entice us to pre-purchase a game.

I’d go into a rant on how companies exist to make money, but shouldn’t do it through deceptive practices, but really, one aspect of that issue is that I (and many other well-meaning gamers), are contributing to an economy of pre-purchasing because we, perhaps, like getting drawn into the lure of the game.

That’s really got to stop, before my virtual wallet screams in agony.

Speaking of my Wallet

Just to show you how bad I am at keeping a straight face when put up against a pre-order or faced with an impulse, you should know that I’ve backed four games on Kickstarter in the past 6 weeks and pre-purchased BioShock Infinite just to get two extra games on Green Man Gaming.

If you’re wondering why, my immediate answer would have been, “The rewards look good, and I trust the developers behind those projects.”

Really though... I could have just said “Freebies,” and my mind would have been read.

Of course, not everyone can pre-order or support a ton of games, and my situation as a writer about games warrants some awareness through exposure to games. Still, the argument here is whether or not the enticements are increasingly becoming part of the metagame to support game development, and I think that is so.

What’re you sellin’?

One of the reasons I support crowdfunding initiatives is the openness of the people involved to note what issues they might face in development.

I would really like game developers who have pre-purchase initiatives to be more upfront about what my rewards mean from a gameplay standpoint, so I have a better understanding of what I’m getting into if I choose to purchase something.

Sure, that won’t stop impulse buying, but at least I can’t complain that I didn’t read the fine print before completing a sale.  That’s really it, isn’t it? Buyer beware. If only we were all so fortunate to heed those two words more often.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and The Secret World columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.


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The Devil's Advocate is an opportunity for the oft-shunned and little discussed “Other Side of the Story” to be heard, promoting open discussion on a heavily contested subject.
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