Skip to main content

Charging players to access a game early is a dirty tactic

Gamers and the gaming industry are in a perpetual battle. The industry wants to make as much money off of players as it can, and players want as much high-quality content for as little money as possible. Every now and then, a publisher will test out some new way to make money, perhaps with DLC, paid cosmetics, or dreaded loot boxes. Generally, those moves are met with outrage — but not always.

One monetization attempt that we have been quick to slap down is anything that is seen as “pay-to-win.” Players can deal with paid cosmetics and DLC content, but the second there’s a whiff in the air that a game is selling some sort of advantage — it’s blood in the water. That’s why I find it so strange that a trend is coming back and, for whatever reason, it isn’t being lambasted as it was in the past. That would be requiring players to pay for early access to games.

Lame marketing ploy

Adam Jensen with his armblade out.

Paying to get a game early is not a new trick for the gaming industry. I clearly remember the lead-up to Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the entire debacle surrounding its pre-order structure. This scheme, called “Augment your pre-order,” had multiple tiers of rewards that unlocked as more people pre-ordered the game, with the final level being the game releasing four days early.

After a major outcry from, well, everyone, the stunt was shut down after just about a month. Aside from the “I never asked for this” memes, the biggest complaint was the early access being restricted to only those who pre-ordered — and only if enough people pre-ordered at that. Whether other companies took note of this massive marketing failure, or I’m giving the community too much credit, we haven’t had to deal with this marketing ploy for the last few years.

Same story, different ending

Forza Horizon 5 cars racing on dirt road.

Two massive games just hit with an arguably worse form of this early access tactic: Forza Horizon 5 and Battlefield 2042. Let’s start with Forza. This is a Microsoft first-party game, meaning it would be free on Game Pass the day it comes out. However, there were also two ways to get the game four days early (sound familiar?). The first is to pre-order the Premium Edition, which costs $100, and the second is to pre-order the $50 Premium Add-Ons Bundle DLC. Hardly anyone batted an eye at these offerings. Perhaps it was because the game was also “free” with Game Pass, or because the game itself turned out great, but the public reaction was much more positive than what we saw with Deus Ex.

Now that the game is actually out, Microsoft is celebrating how many players the game has attracted. According to in-game metrics, around 800,000 people played the game in its early access period, meaning they spent either $50 or $100 for the privilege. That rubs me the wrong way. Forza Horizon 5 has a big multiplayer component, so isn’t it unfair to anyone not willing to shell out that extra cash to have to compete on “day one” against someone who already spent 20 hours learning the game?

Battlefield 2042 offers a much more obvious example. The game officially launched on November 19, but those with an EA Play Membership or Game Pass got a 10-hour trial as early as the 12th. Anyone with EA Play Pro or those who pre-ordered either the Gold or Ultimate Edition flat-out got the game on the 12thg. That’s a full week early for a multiplayer shooter! That means that some players got an entire week to not only learn the game, but level up and unlock new weapons and tools.

If that wasn’t shady enough, there’s also the fact that Battlefield 2042‘s other beta period didn’t exactly instill much confidence in anyone who tried it out. The game was criticized for how many bugs and technical issues it still had to work out. The incentive to pre-order an expensive special edition to play the game early feels like an attempt to lock down people’s money before they find out whether or not the game is good. You can bet plenty of people who gave EA their money to get the game early would have thought twice and waited for the game to get fixed if they had been able to see reviews and impressions.

A character in Starfield.

This strategy of paid early access is most egregious for multiplayer games, but single-player games aren’t safe either. In fact, we have already seen it happen with the likes of Persona 5 Strikers. While it’s technically a spinoff, it’s a sequel to Persona 5, which is a very story-focused game. If you were worried about spoilers leaking, you were kind of forced to pay for early access, which doesn’t benefit anyone but the publisher. You can pay and risk spending a lot of money for a game sight unseen that may not be so great, or wait and either be at a competitive disadvantage, risk the game getting spoiled, or both.

Is this something we’re just OK with? Because now’s the time to speak out if that’s not the case. If this becomes normal now, there’s no going back.

Editors' Recommendations

Jesse Lennox
Jesse Lennox loves writing, games, and complaining about not having time to write and play games. He knows the names of more…
The Plyy is a fully customizable accessible gaming controller for everyone
plyy accessible gaming controller 20190906 134121

Plyy accessible gaming controller, with the mat and paddles on the left and the sticky buttons on the right Digital Trends

There are many people who want to play console games but can't due to problems using traditional controllers. The Xbox Adaptive Controller helps to address this issue by offering customization options to cater to a wide range of requirements, which is key to enabling accessibility. Now, small German brand Plyon has used similar principles to create a prototype of a fully customizable gaming controller, which earned a nomination for the UX Design Awards. At IFA 2019, Digital Trends spoke with Plyon's head of design, Alexander Römmelt, about how gaming controllers can be redesigned to allow more people to play and to benefit everyone.

Read more
Dreams goes into early access April 16. Here’s how to get in
dreams preview playstation experience 15057

Media Molecule's Dreams is shaping up to be one of the most exciting video games released in years, giving players the chance to build their own games using only a DualShock 4 controller and their imagination. If you're interested in playing the game ahead of its full release, the Dreams early access period begins April 16. Here's how you can get into it.

Unlike in the beta periods for Dreams, the game's early access version will not be free. It'll cost you $30 to play, and you must live in either the United States and Canada. Because of the regional restrictions, the game will be available in English and French at launch, but it's possible that more languages will be added before its full release. The early access version also won't feature PlayStation VR functionality, which is still planned for the future.

Read more
Consoling players: The Xbox Game Pass program is coming to PC
nine games coming to xbox game pass in july

Xbox Game Pass Walkthrough

Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass subscription program is a great way for those purchasing an Xbox One late in the generation to build up their library of games in a hurry, as it gives its members unlimited access to a growing vault of first-party and third-party titles. It's currently only available on Xbox One, but according to CEO Satya Nadella, that's going to change.

Read more