The Right Way to Lie to Gamers

Publishers habitually pull the wool over customers' eyes in marketing their games, but they can only do it with our cooperation.


As I was writing up a story on Prototype 2's Blackwatch Collectors Edition last week, it struck me what an awful package Activision had put together "for the fans." The $80 premium bundle includes the game (along with the Radnet downloadable content all preorders will receive), a soundtrack CD, an art book, a digital comic, the first paid DLC pack (when it's released), and a 20-percent-off voucher for the Prototype Merchandise Store.

So for an extra $20 beyond the standard price of the game, the fans Activision touts so highly will receive a CD and book of the sort Atlus often gives away for free with its games, a comic book that serves as little more than a commercial for the game they've already purchased, access to a DLC pack that won't come until a month later (keeping them from feeding their copy into the used game mill), and a coupon that will let them spend even more money on Prototype-branded stuff. It's like "for the fans" has an unspoken "Because we can gouge them for more money" right after it.

No Caption Provided
Don't the fans deserve something a little more inspired than an art book and soundtrack CD?

Given the steaming piles of publisher propaganda I sift through on a daily basis, it took me a little time to figure out why this PR in particular irked me so much. Eventually, I found an explanation already exists in a concept commonly used when talking about games.

"Suspension of disbelief" is an important concept for many games. It's what makes them work, even if they don't always make sense. As an audience, there are things we must ignore in order to get wrapped up in some game experiences.

We must accept that Mario has multiple lives and can fall into a pit of lava only to magically reappear a few feet away in perfect health. That Greg Jennings can outrun an entire team of NFL players for 99 yards on a broken leg. That the jovial Nathan Drake has killed more people than your average epidemic. That a phoenix down will resurrect anybody in any situation, so long as you didn't die in a CG-rendered cutscene. That the characters in Heavy Rain are intelligent enough to not only blink but also breathe and feed themselves. All of these things are clearly absurd, but if we can somehow ignore them while we play, there is enjoyment to be found in all of those games.

Interestingly, this doesn't stop when we put the controller down. Our willing suspension of disbelief is essential not just for interacting with the games themselves, but also for the industry's marketing and hype cycle.

In order to get excited about games, we need to believe the publishers when they tell us this year's lineup is their best ever. That Mass Effect's multiplayer mode and transition from role-playing game to shooter happened for creative reasons instead of financial ones. That Dead Rising 2: Off the Record was a clever recontextualization and not a quick-and-dirty double dip. That there's a good reason to bring back X-COM and Syndicate as first-person shooters. That Madden 12 fixes everything that was wrong with Madden 11 and is itself perfect (at least until Madden 13 comes out to fix all that's broken in Madden 12).

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This is a little heavy on examples pulled from EA games, but at least their games have been good enough to support our suspension of disbelief.

Notice how there's no shortage of people out there who consider those games I just mentioned among the best in their genre (Syndicate and X-COM aside, because the masses haven't played them yet). There's a social contract, a gentlemen's agreement between gamers and publishers, that states roughly that the better we feel your games are, the more we'll suspend disbelief and preorder collector's bundles and talk about the game on message boards, Facebook, Twitter, and so forth.

As gamers, we've proven more than willing to hold up our end of the bargain. We get cautiously optimistic whenever Sega says it's taking Sonic back to his roots. We get excited for Capcom's latest fighting game, even though it will likely feel stripped down at launch and rendered obsolete by a super-duper version with a few more characters within a year's time. We buy systems at launch, fully knowing that often means hardware failures, pitiful software lineups, and an inevitable redesign or price drop once the kinks have been worked out. We preorder games that are being shipped by the millions on the off chance that somehow they well sell out (or to avoid a bizarre guilt trip from a GameStop employee).

Clearly, we're pretty good at suspending disbelief. The publishers generally do a pretty good job holding up their end of the bargain as well. We rarely see a terrible game hyped to high heaven these days (see: Daikatana, Atari 2600 Pac-Man), and publisher hype is usually restrained to sentiments that it's possible some sane person somewhere would hold.

But in the case of Prototype 2, Activision crossed the line (subjective though it may be). The publisher is saying the Blackwatch edition of the game was made "for the fans," and while fans may enjoy what comes in the package, it's difficult to think the package is ultimately worth the extra money being charged. It's still more galling when you notice the publisher pads out the list of advertised goodies with the DLC all Prototype 2 preorders receive and a coupon with the only purpose of giving fans incentive to spend still more money on the game.

The curious thing about this social contract is that I take offense to it being breached. I apparently don't mind being lied to, so long as it's done "the right way." When publishers push the marketing hype beyond the realm of the plausible, I get riled up because they aren't treating me with the basic respect to which a customer is entitled. So go ahead and keep lying to us, publishers. But at least have the decency to pretend that there would be consequences if we caught you doing it.

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Avatar image for 345tom

See here in England we don't pay for preorders, at least I never have. I have put a deposit down, but not paid.

Avatar image for ZOD777

I think the last game I pre-ordered was Dragon Age Origins. I hate greedy publishers.

Avatar image for CarlaBeat11

This is all so true...

Avatar image for Ironfist66

what makes a bad collector's edition then because this sounds pretty good

Avatar image for DemonsWrath11

I have to say there is a point about this though its better applied to other games. This game's collector edition is only $80 which isn't bad for a collector's when they usually cost $100+. The voucher you would probably use to buy something around $20, or if you want the collector's edition but on't want to give them the extra cash you could always not use the voucher.

Avatar image for coop36

The purpose of any business is to make money. I understand that. But I also understand that customer loyalty is important.. would you rather sell a system and one game, or a system and multiple games over years (even decades) to a loyal customer? If you dont like it, dont buy it. Money talks. Ridiculous DLC and low ball preorders keep being made because people keep buying them.

Avatar image for ApocaLeepse

About 10 years ago publishers wouldn't have gotten away with things such as pre-order bonuses, day 1 DLC and extra content already on the disc but locked until the player purchases an "add-on" that unlocks it. If anyone wants my opinion, there are too many gullible idiots in the gaming community these days. Publishers will say "jump", these people will ask "how high?" Activision charges extra for copies of Call of Duty games in the UK, but only because they know that people will buy them anyway. Game content is held back for pre-order bonuses and early premium DLC releases, but only because everyone knows that people will get crazy for these sort of things. Pre-order bonuses especially. It seems to be human nature these days for people to want something that others may not have. Bottom line is that publishers are only getting away with these things because they will get what they want. For every person to say no to these sorts of marketing tactics, there are another 10 people lining up to squander their money away on them.

Avatar image for Arch-Stanton

"That there's a good reason to bring back X-COM and Syndicate as first-person shooters." The fans of X-com where really pissed of on the FPS remake by 2K Marin so 2K put it on hold and got Firaxis to make a TBS like the original. There's a sucker born every minute and a army of corprate suits to take his money.

Avatar image for Slim-Jim2011

The reason they lie to gamers is too make cash on a trashed game. Companies have done this for years now, look at Dead Island everyone was hyped up and when they game came out it was terrible and just about all the pre-ordered games were returned and the consumers got full refunds. I try to tell everyone look more into the game before it comes out or wait til the game comes out and check out what the consumer says about about the game before you get it or check out the demos if they release a demo before purchase. I can go on about this for a while but the comments only allow 1500 characters.

Avatar image for minivirus2

I'm rarely tempted to pre-order and if I do, it's usually a special edition that won't be available otherwise. That's very rare in unto itself, so I find myself questioning a lot of games moreso that I use to. Too damn many are poorly produced or offer little to nothing. I won't be pre-ordering ME3 - The demo was awful and I think they've raped the nostalgia of the first game I will be pre-ordering Borderlands 2 - Why? Respect. The first game was brilliant and offered a spin on your typical RPG/FPS shooter. Do I have to? No, but again I respect Gearbox... And I fully expect their own version of Duke Nukem for be leaps and bounds ahead of the ass-pot that was DNF they inherited.

Avatar image for prince__vlad

I never fell for their extra "crap" stuff. I first play their games and if they are made "by the book" or I like them, I buy them, in that order.. I 've been lied too many times to change that. The publishers are the real EVIL. There is where a bunch of suit never-worked-a-day-in-their-life people plot their filfthy schemes. They push dead times and force developers to realease half-done games, full of bugs, laying over us a fog layer of mocking and disrespect for the gamers comunity. They never care about YOU, they NEVER DID, they care about their MONEY and THEIR families only. YOU, and all the others are..EXPANDABLE. Just like that. Looking down , the only "free" market for this characters are the youngs, who don't have , yet, a valour scale sense..

Avatar image for djforlife84

I pre order games I know that I will play for a good while. Furthermore a lot of people on here keep saying pre ordering is useless.. I beg to differ. I dunno about the rest of you, but I live in Canada and when I pre order a game at my local gamestop, I save 10 dollars off the retail price.

Avatar image for Elann2008

@ Supertom221 Fanboyism of what? Rofl. Seriously? That's all you got? You sir, suck at arguments and debates. Come at me when you can support your comment with backbone. Prototype was a terrible game, overrated in hype and ratings across the board. A 2008 game shouldn't feel like it was made in the late 90's. All the late 90's, early 00' games crush it.

Avatar image for pooya_d

and when many people download their games for free they get very offended!!!! they sell their silly rip-off extra junk to people by force only cuz some1 likes a game and believe only pirates are doing illegal actions

Avatar image for Eruptflail

The trick is, never buy the extras, you can get them all on ebay for a few dollars in a month if you absolutely have to have them.

Avatar image for Omega_Zero69

Its the classic up-sell technique we all(well not everyone only a few) fall for i myself a couple of times but I'm gonna think twice before buying the game with "bonuses" or "extras"

Avatar image for superkleb

The moral of the story? Dont believe the hype. Sure, get a little excited about an upcoming game, follow its development, but dont go bat-sh*t crazy for it and then moan like a 3 year old when your expectations arent met. Wait until release, watch several reviews from past-trusted sources and THEN you can warrant your excitement.

Avatar image for Barighm

Let the buyer beware.

Avatar image for batthousai

@severe_009 they're already doing it. Not on consoles but check out those "Casual" games on IOS or Android. In the end one could cost ya more than a Premium Game....

Avatar image for taevion0

@Polybren i'm glad gamespot management still openly encourage critiques from insightful employees and writers (at the least, moderately) especially when it's within the same industry

Avatar image for WillyChong

The strange thing is, I got the Elite Pack of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 without the need of pre-order and gain full benefit of having new perks. And my friend who bought Battlefield 3 months after released still get the Back To Karkand Limited Edition package, as well as Physical War Pack! The thing about selling games overseas is that you still have to give lots of bonus content at the margin price just to make people pay attention to. Cause gaming fest rarely happens in Malaysia, the only only I actually got to pre-ordered is Starcraft II, which in Malaysia is one of the most sold games(even had its own game fest for promotion!!!), second will be Modern Warfare 3 for the Xbox360, and event that was not as big time as Starcraft II. Well Activision win-win anyway.......

Avatar image for severe_009

In the past... Let's give them a great game with loads of contents, bonuses and extras! Now... Let's give them a great game but take off the great contents, bonuses and extras then sell them

Avatar image for severe_009

Well that's business for you. I for really don't care for the people who spend unwisely for DLC and pre-order, but my ultimate concern is... With this trend, it affects the quality of game being developed and released. In the mind of developers/publisher, they make a complete game, but rip-off parts of it, and sell the ripped game as full then sell the other parts... This trend really bothers me... I wouldn't be surprised if in the near future they will sell the game parts by parts...

Avatar image for Armyboy5

Great Article.

Avatar image for valium88

lol I'm not even surprised anymore, not after the Mass effect 3 pre-order for day one DLC at Gamestop basically making you pay 10$ more for the full game. No surprise Activision responds in making their customers pay 20$ more. And yet they wanna stop pirating haha good luck Chuck.

Avatar image for RetryAgain

Man. There are so little developers I can be proud of now... Activision with this, Ubisoft with releasing the same game twice with a few things added at full price, and EA with... everything they do (like ruining DA2)

Avatar image for PinkFloyd2003

I remember in 2004 when a Halo 2 Limited Collector's Edition cost you only $5 more. That to me seems like the sweet spot. I really liked Prototype. I liked the means of travel and exploration and the overpowering combat was satisfying. That said I bought prototype when it was on sale for $20. The "bonuses" are the kind of thing that you'd look over once save for the soundtrack which I wouldn't buy unless I already liked the music in the game first . That really only leaves you with the DLC which will probably only cost $10 anyway. I've gotten game soundtracks free just for pre-ordering the regular game. If this was $65 I could see this being a good deal but no way is this worth $80.

Avatar image for 100proofsoco

in regards to the article above... tl;dr see CoD Elite

Avatar image for Corrupted_Wolf

@ cryingdevil63 What...? The article isn't talking about whether or not stating "for the fans" will affect people buying the bundles... it's talking about stating "for the fans" being offensive to consumers by blatantly exposing the lack of integrity between the relationship of the developers and the fans. Developers sells us these "great bundles" and the fans, although we know they are bit of a ripoff, buy it happily since it is the product we want. We are, essentially, biting the bullet. BUT by saying that these bundles are "for the fans" the developers are blatantly lying to us, not superficially but to the core of our relationship, AND challenging our intelligence. HENCE the article is titled: "The Right Way to Lie to Gamers" ...Get it now..?

Avatar image for nima_metal90

Great article, I hope developers read this2

Avatar image for Zloth2

Yeah, collectors editions are for chumps. So what else is new? People have been parting fools from their money for millenia now. At least they are better than the pre-order packages. Those amount to "here's what we'll give you if you buy the game sight unseen." I got suckered into one of those just a few months ago. The game still isn't even playable.

Avatar image for adrianpoffley

Kinda like when the creators of Red Orchestra 2 said the first installment used bots for singleplayer, but they'd be going a different direction for the second they didn't. They still used bots which made the ARMA AI look like tactical masters. And yeah, I know, "you shouldn't have bought it if you only wanted singleplayer". I wouldn't have bought it if the developers actually told the truth in their interviews. Now THAT'S a company that needs to be a little more honest.

Avatar image for AlphaWolF_J

Hands down one of the best game related article's ive ever read, and all the syndicate bs that their paid mouthpiece marketing man was vomiting up prior to launch was an excellent example of them trying to tell us that the sun rises @ night and the moon in the day, by trying to put all fears about what they were doing to a legend of a game was nothing but a cash drive from them and we had it wrong and it would be just like the original. And look what they delivered, exactly what all the fans feared they would a weak ass FPS thats only connection to the legendary tactical squad based game was the name its self . I hope it bombs,

Avatar image for CyberByte727

@Vlad_an_impaler I agree completely... with the amount of money that is thrown at marketing these days, I tend to ignore 90% of the hype until I can see it for myself, generally through a video review or friend.

Avatar image for Nic345

(or to avoid a bizarre guilt trip from a GameStop employee). Haha so true. Great article really makes one think if collectors edition are truly awesome or simply cash ins.

Avatar image for Pibet

Great article. I do see value in enjoying a game or a console for a period of time instead of waiting for it's more refined version and miss the fun. On the other hand pre-orders are pointless, you can rest assured that publishers that spend thousands of dollars promoting a game will not run out of it, not even for day 1. Special packs just seem like a bunch of expensive junk that will end up cluttering my apartment so I avoid them all together.

Avatar image for Vlad_an_impaler

I never buy anything, DLC/New Game/New Console/peripherals/New PC parts, or fact of matter used even, UNTIL I read reviews and devs forums. Been burned, done that. I won't give 2 cents for anything that's extra fluff.

Avatar image for Gryphes2k

people have no idea how hard to develop a game. they think it's easy as playing a game. but obviously developing a game take much longer than beat it as a player so I suggest you don't complain too much about the errors. just buy it and stfu until they fix those issues.

Avatar image for DeadMan1290

I never buy collector's edition or Limited Edition crap. It's worthless and it's always a silly little book and a CD with the same songs you hear throughout the game. So, I have never fallen for that trick. Developers can do what they want offer me whatever, I'm still not falling for the trick. I want the game and only the game not some stupid book or CD.

Avatar image for Inkonk

of course the companies lie and exagerate but the problem is that the poorly paid official critics are far too gung ho about poor /average games than they should be,for whatever reason.

Avatar image for cheatmaster3005

and that is why i dont buy that sh*t like that.

Avatar image for solidbond1

I agree with nyran125 and bronygamer , I’m tired of wasting money on DLC and especially after the whole Dead Space 2 thing where EA was trying to get you to pay for DLC that already came on the DVD that you bought. Also preorders are lame, case and point Batman Arkham City, all of these stores (gamestop, Best Buy, etc) were offering exclusive DLC from each store if you bought from them, only for that DLC to then be released later on for everyone to buy whats the point of exclusivity then, im just going to buy where ever I can buy it cheaper at that point. If you want me to buy from you put something worth keeping in the box, not some DLC, Skyrim box set was good, it had a huge dragon in it, who wouldn't want that? There should be a discount for DLC with games like MW3 if you have all the previous DLC from MW2. I don't want to pay \$100 total for a game after DLC, only to trade it in when nobody is playing it for \$5 bucks, or even better if we could have the DLC rights to trade in with the game so we get more money and somebody else can get them for cheaper when they buy a used copy.

Avatar image for amdreallyfast

Thanks for the article. I frequently temper my mind to avoid the hype of DLC in particular until it comes out and is reviewed. A number of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 DLC was quite over-hyped, in my opinion. That doesn't constitute "lying", but it does constitute excessive optimism.

Avatar image for jmace1

It seems odd that gamespot has an article that covers "gamer entitlement" followed by this article. I understand the aforementioned was particularly bad because it dealt with bullying. However, this really isn't that much different to me. I mean this article mainly covers what we gamers deserve/AKA are entitled to for our unwaivering devotion and countless dollars. The only unique varible between the two articles is "bullying". Hypocrisy on Gamespots part if you ask me.

Avatar image for nyran125

actually, i dont hold my end of the bargain pretty clear to the publishers. Ill buy you when your on sale 6 months later and the price is $20 and under on STEAM. Otherwise i dont buy you. Simple philosophy. Im really hesitant in bothering about the MW3 DLC also. I bought all the DLC for MW2, i should get a few DLC packs for MW3 for free....thats just how my mind works.

Avatar image for Kayweg

If millions of gamers could just snap out of their compulsiv pre-order madness, this article would be obsolete ! Not gonna happen of course.....

Avatar image for Meet391

Thanks Brendan, for bringing this topic into the light. I personally think spending extra money should make you feel special, as a fan of the game. A discount coupon? C'mon. We deserve more than that. Considering all the advertising you get when millions of fans around the world talk about your game on almost every front, you publishers should at least give us gamers a t-shirt,a mug, a life-size poster & an accessory to brag about (just random choices, we deserve more than these) .

Avatar image for bronygamer

i enjoy pre-order bonuses most of the time (actual physical stuff) i think a few special weapons is fine like in kingdoms of amalur but i dont think anyone should limit the content one PAYS for just so you'll pre -order at another outlet

Avatar image for Polybren

@taevion0 Neither, actually. This was something I wrote because it was something I wanted to say.

Avatar image for gix47

believe as a whole, publishers have forgotten what a preorder bonus is and what CE should be