Special Editions, Special Limitations?

In the world of videogames, special editions and pre-order bonuses are nothing new – and as the day one sales figures for traditional boxed products have started to dwindle in recent years, these incentives have ramped up significantly.

I’m not talking physical collectors sets or fancy boxes and statues here; Nearly every big release nowadays will come with some sort of digital perk for early adopters or those with an extra fiver to throw around.

Fancy a few extra tracks for your racing game? A new rifle or multiplayer map for your FPS of choice? Or even new characters for that Action RPG? They’re all available – but only if you shop in the right place.

You see, a new breed of special edition has popped up – the retail specific edition, with content exclusive to one particular store or chain.

Troubled high-street retailer GAME has been particularly aggressive with this, carrying a perk for every notable AAA title over the last 12 months or so. Of course, it’s not only GAME; Even the supermarket giants of Asda and Sainsbury’s have all offered different packages for your Pound. The majority of these additions are in the form of codes for DLC, which, although clearly complete and ready for download, remains hidden, and is exclusively available to gamers with these unique codes, only available from the ‘right’ retailer.

So, what’re you and I to do if we want to experience this wealth of content, the full game, as it were, from day one?

I find it hard to believe that anyone, in all honestly, can expect the average consumer to be willing, or financially able, to shell out for two, sometimes three physical versions of the game, and therefore, my options appear to be twofold. Do I settle for an indefinite wait – usually for the exclusivity deal to expire, after which the content might appear at a premium price on the XBL/PSN stores – or, more likely, just forget about these parts of the game, and miss them out of my experience altogether?

I won’t pretend to hold any sort of specialist knowledge, but speaking purely from personal experience, I can see how these deals favour the retailer and their relationship with the publisher over the consumer. Even the game’s development team seem to get a raw deal, working tirelessly to create content which a majority of consumers may well never see.

Walking into a shopping centre and picking up a new release is a conflicting, crowded and often confusing marketplace.

Looking forward, I can’t see much changing in the way of the aforementioned, mostly unimportant, DLC codes and the like, yet I question what would happen if the exclusives on offer affected the game at a more grassroots level?

Much discussion has been had in the past about single use “online pass” codes being used to lock out characters and entire chapters of gameplay to those buying pre-owned – but what if buying your pristine, cellophane wrapped, game at launch from Toys R Us rather than Tesco meant the same thing? Would you be happy if your game had, for want of a better phrase, missing content, all based upon your shopping habits? Even as timed exclusives this would surely segregate the player base massively, and in the entertainment industry, shared experience and word-of-mouth marketing are massively important.

In game achievements and trophies could be another victim – perhaps not as important to the core gameplay dynamic, but many gamers, myself included, would argue these to be a vital mark of ‘completion’ for any big budget release.

Unfortunately, with ‘next-gen’ rapidly approaching, and retailers struggling to ensure footfall, I can’t help but feel these exclusivity deals may well become ever more audacious. An interesting, and potentially disconcerting, juxtaposition for the gamer who wants it all.

Character skins are neither here-nor-there, and offering digital content for free as part of a special edition bundle is nothing more than a treat for any particular shop’s loyal customers, however, when the core gameplay is under the knife, there’s a precedent I don’t wish to see followed.

In an industry which is arguably struggling to stay atop the larger profit margins afforded by smaller budget and mobile releases, AAA titles cannot, in my opinion, allow for ‘exclusives’ to create a two-tier system.

Different content in the box is absolutely grand, so long as all the alternatives are still made available – to those who want them – soon after release, if not immediately.

Special Editions, Special Limitations?

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