Locked Content: The Wrong Approach to a Pre-Order Bonus

These are days when I wish everyone followed the Google-popularized mantra of “Don’t Be Evil.”

The concept of the pre-order bonus is not a new one: buy the game early, get a little something extra for being so darn sure of your purchase. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp, and despite the after-the-fact howling of the terminally wronged, it makes sense from a business standpoint to throw in an incentive to get people to buy a given product at a specific place. Time was, you’d pre-order a game, or a CD, or a DVD, and maybe you’d get a poster, maybe you’d get an action figure, maybe you’d even get a little bonus CD with some exclusive (or, at least, timed exclusive tracks). The huge fans pre-order it to make sure they get the prize; everyone else just gets the product when and where they feel like it.

This has recently become something of a phenomenon in gaming arenas — Atlus has the pre-order business down to a science, what with soundtracks, plushies, posters, and all manner of other bonuses awaiting the Atlus Faithful, and the just-announced Guitar Hero: Smash Hits pre-order bonus extravaganza features everything from drumsticks to discounts, depending on where you order it from.

If we’re bored, we could also start an argument over whether
Wolverine is racist or not.

Giving X-Men Origins: Wolverine a spin on the trusty old 360 this week marked the first time I ever felt like I missed out because I avoided the big pre-order bonus. With little to do in a hotel room in DC, I plowed through the relatively short, surprisingly painless game, racking up the normal assortment of achievements and unlockables. One of the more appealing unlockables to be found was the ability to unlock new costumes via a two-step process: traverse the game’s world, picking up not-all-that-carefully hidden “action figures” along the way, and once you pick up two of these action figures, you are given the option at the main menu of fighting the version of Wolverine that the action figures depicted for the prize of that wolverine’s costume. There are four slots on the main menu marked “LOCKED”, each of which opens up when you collect the two appropriate figures.

Or so I thought.

Having played the entirety of the game, picking up a number of these hidden items along the way, I was surprised to see that the fourth slot on the bonus screen continued to be marked “LOCKED” — it’s at this point, usually, that a trip to GameFAQs at least assuages my curiosity, if not solves the mystery of the most difficult of unlockable items. And yet, when a little research finally revealed the identity of this final item, satisfaction wasn’t the emotion I was feeling.

Actually, it was a little more like anger.

Remember this? No? Me either!

As you’ve probably guessed (or already know) by this point, that fourth “LOCKED” item is the GameStop Pre-Order Bonus Item, namely a set of arenas (basically debug test arenas, here branded with the Weapon X name for effect) in which you can set up just about any fight between your favorite version of Wolvie and any of the baddies in the game.

Sit and think about it for a minute, it’s not much of a prize — there’s an entire game world to explore every nook and cranny of, and plenty of opportunities to kill all manner of enemies in a multitude of surprisingly bloody ways. Still, for a completist, that “LOCKED” is like torture every time the bonus menu opens up. I am, by nature, a completist. I actually considered buying a redemption code on eBay just for the sake of knowing I unlocked all of the bonus items before I forced myself back to my senses through a palm to the face. Isn’t there a code of ethics for this sort of thing? Isn’t there a law against making it explicit to your fanbase that you bought, esentially, an incomplete product?

Here it is. $5 on eBay.

I’m all for DLC, and I’ll admit, I cringe when people start bitching about features that “should come standard” being offered as DLC. Still, less than an argument against DLC, this is more a plea to the developers: please, please, try your best to make us feel like the game we bought is a full, complete product; forcing us to secondhand outlets — you can’t even get this download code legally — for only the experience of unlocking all of what the game itself calls “locked” — not “additional”, not “downloadable”, but “locked” — is a lousy way to thank the people playing your game. Don’t make it “locked.” Make it feel like it never existed in the first place.