Update: Hooray for internet complaining! SEGA has announced that they will be giving everyone a chance to get this DLC (likely for a price) eventually. Here's the statement they released:
While this is, indeed, good news, it still leaves the average consumer to decide whether banking on an un-released game for free DLC is worth it or if it's safer to wait until the game (and this DLC) is proven to be a worthwhile investment. Original story follows.
You may have heard that, after the disaster that was Alien: Colonial Marines, a new Alien game is in production, called Alien: Isolation. It's garnered a lot of very positive buzz during the course of its development, promising to offer players a chance to live out the type of survival horror that Ridley Scott so excellently portrayed in his 1979 masterpiece, Alien. The developers are smartly targeting the nostalgia for the original film, so it's great news to hear that there will be some bonus content featuring the cast of the USS Nostromo directly from the film. It's much worse news to hear how they're doing it.
Today, via the PlayStation Blog, the developers announced bonus content that will allow you to play as "Ellen Ripley and the original crew of the USS Nostromo." Of course, for fans of the movie, this sounds amazing. Having this as bonus content means the game proper can still have a fresh and original story, but players can still scratch that itch of living out a scene from the movie with these iconic characters.
The catch, though, is that this content is, at least for now, only available by pre-ordering the game's "Nostromo Edition," (i.e. the version of the game that will probably cost somewhere between $20 and $100 more than the regular version).
This is a real bummer.
In recent years, pre-order bonuses have become an increasingly large push, starting with GameStop, but spreading to other retailers, like Best Buy, Amazon, and more. What it means is that the developer makes deals with specific stores for extra content or tchotchkes that can only be obtained by pre-ordering the game.
Pre-ordering, of course, used to make a lot more sense when physical copies of big games were more limited and major releases could end up being hard to find for a few weeks. As gaming has matured as an industry, though, publishers are able to more accurately forecast demand for games, so it's far less common these days for games to actually run out, even without a pre-order. Moreover, the advent of digital distribution has made the concept of supply limitations essentially obsolete. And, yet, the pre-order bonus seemingly continues to grow in popularity.
Other gaming sites have covered this trend more thoroughly than I will here (check Kotaku and Rock Paper Shotgun, to name a few), but this Alien news just really bothers me. When the pre-order bonus is a physical item, I'm a little less annoyed. Take, for instance, the Wind Waker HD special edition that came with a figurine of villain Ganondorf.
While this wasn't, exactly, a bonus for pre-ordering the game, the supplies were genuinely limited and the only way to get it was via pre-ordering (I'm actually still kicking myself for missing out on this one). It's a really cool figurine, it's something you can keep and display, and they only made so many of these. It feels special and unique--unlikely to ever be produced again.
With the Aliens bonus content, though, we see yet another "digital content" bonus. Earlier this year, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes released with console-specific pre-order bonus DLC; a few months later, they released the previously-exclusive content to all platforms. What was the point in doing this other than to infuriate the fans? Did they really think that a meager bit of DLC would make someone buy two consoles and and two copies of the game? No, it just helped the marketing department tick some boxes on a checklist.
What's worse about digital bonuses is that they don't feel rare or special, although publishers try to make you feel like they are. The PlayStation Blog post for this announcement even includes the ridiculous claim, "this is an unbelievably rare gathering of the Nostromo crew, reunited once more with the Nostromo Edition." No, it's not rare. It's digital code that could be made available to all fans of the series, not just those who want to let GameStop earn interest on their cash during the months leading up to the game's release.
To be clear, I am not advocating for this extra content to be free; by all means, charge for it if it was created with budget and scope beyond the original game. Just don't hide it behind a pre-order when it deserves to stand on its own.