Shaun Prescott, Australia Editor
Is tired of being sold pre-order packages just to avoid missing out on virtual goods he has no idea if he wants yet.
Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor
Wishes we lived in a perfect world where Evolve shipped with mod tools, but is a sad, sad realist.
In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Shaun and Tyler debate whether or not Evolve’s pre-order and season pass bonuses are excessive.
Shaun Prescott: YES. It pressures customers into buying into an unknown quantity.
Imagine this: you wake up on the morning a videogame is released, you pay the asking price for said videogame, download it, boot it up, and happily play the videogame. You are not anxious that you did not buy the Premium Deluxe Super Bundle Pack or the Gargantuan Mega Bonus Everything Pack, because the game is just the game. Seems like fun, doesn’t it?
Evolve isn’t the first title to muddy the waters with confusing pre-order incentives (hello, Ubisoft), but there seems to be a lot more at stake. This is a new series and it will live or die based on the strength of its online community. Additionally, dangling a full playable monster as a pre-order incentive seems cynical at a time when most blockbuster video games barely work at launch.
Tyler Wilde: NO. It’s on par with what we expect from a big publisher, and not that bad.
I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but I think it’s a fair argument that, realistically, we’re just not going to get a single package and years of free updates from 2K. Here’s a subsidiary of a big public company spending loads of money on a very expensive-looking risk from Turtle Rock, and we have to ask why it’s pushing a $100 special edition? I mean, consider the graphics alone: Evolve is gorgeous. Except for a few anomalies, we’re not going to get accomplishments like that without a big publisher and big marketing push.
SP: Just because it’s common practice doesn’t mean it’s good practice, and doesn’t mean we should tolerate it. I understand the publisher’s imperative to make money. Take-Two is a publicly listed company and it has stakeholders to please, but pressuring us to purchase before we even know whether the final product is worth our money–and making the incentive something quite critical to the core game–does not a goodwill effort make. The fact that Turtle Rock try to spin this as a “thank you” is pretty funny, actually. I suppose it is a ‘bonus’ to pre-order customers, but it’s also a ‘cool thing you’re not getting’ for people who buy the regular product. As a business 2K has a responsibility to its investors, but without its customers, it has no investors to report to. Please customers with an exceptional game and people will buy your game and respect your company.
TW: Goodwill doesn’t keep people employed. I don’t have any inside knowledge about Turtle Rock’s situation, but hypothetically, if I were in their shoes, I’d be on board with 2K’s plan. A season pass means I get to stay in business making Evolve-related stuff for a quantifiable amount of time, and that’s attractive in an industry that just loves to layoff 100 people after every release. I hate that about the industry, and selling giant season pass packages certainly isn’t the best solution, but I hope it keeps Turtle Rock going—maybe with one team plugging away at Evolve DLC, while another can start working on a new game.
SP: You’re absolutely right that post-launch layoffs are horrible, but the fact of the matter is: this is a premium retail game. Take Left 4 Dead for instance: that was a game released with no confusing post-launch transactions and people still play it. As you mention, Turtle Rock isn’t the decision maker here, but they are a fine and convenient example of a studio that can release a hugely profitable game without the nonsense.
TW: Yeah, but that was with Valve. I mean, they own the thing that distributes PC games to everyone. I just don’t think companies like 2K, which make big investments in the hope of big returns, can afford to sell a game like Evolve for $50 with no pre-orders and hope for the best. This is an asymmetrical shooter unrelated to any established series, which makes it a big risk. Pushing for pre-orders is just risk management. I never recommend pre-ordering, because launches of multiplayer games tend to go poorly, but if we have to wade through some annoying marketing tactics to get games that aren’t rehashes or remakes, I can deal with it.
SP: That may be true, and that kind of risk management is understandable (if ugly) when it comes to, say, the new Assassin’s Creed. But Evolve will rely on the community it establishes. If 2K pisses off the community then it calls the game’s whole existence into question. Look at how difficult it is to get a game in Titanfall nowadays thanks to an onslaught of paid-for map packs. While Turtle Rock has promised it will release maps free to avoid this fate, a full-priced multiplayer-focused game needs to offer a level playing field. It needs to be fair. It needs the appearance of being fair. It is a bad thing for some players to have things that others can’t (unless they pay for it months down the track).
TW: Turtle Rock has said that none of the DLC stuff will segment the playerbase. Like you say, all of the maps will be free. If someone has an extra monster, you can still play against it—you just won't be able to play as that monster. That's not really unfair, because it’s not monster vs. monster. It’s just another interesting enemy I can play against even if I don't pay for the privilege to play as it.
SP: Yes, but it still creates an environment where a competitive game is operating based on how players have spent their money. This isn’t just a matter of offering choices, as Phil Robb said last month. It’s segmenting haves from the have nots. I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out when I fight the Behemoth. I don’t want to think the player with access to the Behemoth is gaining a competitive advantage while I wait to pay for it. Am I being entitled? Probably, but I’m also probably going to spend a lot of money on this game when it releases.
TW: You know, I think there are reasonable arguments on both sides, but it's tough for me to continue arguing that this pre-order stuff doesn’t lower my opinion of Evolve at all. Dammit Shaun, you win, because, yeah, it definitely does. I can understand why these pre-order bonus packages happen, and I think Turtle Rock has been really open about how this is not going to segment players, but that isn't the only problem. Pre-orders in general are the problem. Consumers shouldn’t be pressured into throwing money at something before it’s released just to get DLC they can’t possibly know yet if they want. Buying games shouldn’t feel like gambling—though to be fair, that's not just Evolve, that's most big publisher releases. But you win—next time you be devil's advocate, OK?