A New Trend in Pre-order Incentives

EA has been an interesting case when it comes to game marketing over the past year or so. Both of the BioWare games, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2, completed under EA ownership, have come with the incentive to buy the game new with day one DLC in the case of DA and the ‘Cerberus Network’ updates in the case of ME2. EA has also been doing something similar with its numerous sports properties with its one-time activation code to use online multi-player features. These experiments have clearly been about mitigated used game sales, but what about pre-order strategy?
Publishers love pre-orders. It helps set printing levels, because it gives a pretty good sense of how popular a game will be. The last thing a publisher wants is a game that’s popular but runs out of copies on the shelves. That’s money left on the table that may not be willing to be wait for stock to return.

Launching a new I.P. can be particularly challenging for a publisher unsure how much adoption they are going to see at retail, which makes marketing a pre-order important. Enter Bulletstorm, known for its outspoken development partnership of People Can Fly and Epic Games, but which is being published by EA. The game has seen its share of the usual marketing, and the demo – while rather slickly produced – is no surprise for such an interesting twist on a conventional genre. It’s also been supported by the hilarious mock game Duty Calls, which pokes fun at the existing sales juggernaut of the FPS genre.

This has put the game in the minds of many gamers, but how does EA incentivize that all-so important pre-order? The ‘Epic Edition’ of the game contains, according to Amazon the “Deadly Peace Maker Carbine, additional boots and armor, 25,000 experience points, and visual upgrades for the iconic leash.” Considering that the Peace Maker was the default weapon in the demo, this is a strong incentive, and ‘free’ experience points are always a plus. With that said, what does a ‘release day minus one’ pre-order really do to improve EA’s guidance?

Not a whole lot.

Enter yet another experiment in pre-order marketing – and this one will potentially have some staying power. One of the many hats I wear right now involves the compilation of a custom sales tracking chart for Huliq News, and I saw a rather incredible phenomenon recently with another of EA’s games.

One of the most anticipated games for many people, perhaps the most for myself, is Dragon Age 2. This is going to be a big game. The previous game sold upwards of 3.5 million units according to the most recent data I saw (from mid-2010). The extra exposure of being a sequel and the numerous design changes will likely see that increase handsomely. At the same time, despite being a now-established I.P. it is a big design shift, and EA has invested a lot of money into BioWare – so earlier guidance was apparently important.

Instead of offering pre-order bonuses up until ‘release day minus one’, EA experimented with a pre-order bonus that had a sharp cutoff date (and a rather early one to boot). Orders that came in before January 11th saw a free upgrade to the ‘Signature Edition’ of the game, filled with $20 worth of added digital content, and this incentive was enough to see a very large percentage of all pre-orders come in before that date. All three versions of the game were among the top 20 video game items ordered in the week leading up to January 11th, with the Xbox 360 version appearing number 4.

Pre-orders did not come to a complete stop after January 11th, but they have dropped off considerably. In fact, in the month since then, pre-orders have not come anywhere close to that level despite a much-nearer release date. The company is likely waiting to evaluate the effect of the pre-order incentive on total sales of the title post-launch before making any deeper conclusions about the effectiveness of this strategy, but getting a large percentage of your pre-orders established two months before release makes the guidance offered by those numbers a lot more helpful.

Expect to see this trend continue.