In the digital age of gaming, where getting your games on physical discs is starting to become more of the exception than the norm, the concept of pre-ordering seems a bit strange. After all, there’s not much of a need to reserve (or more accurately, pre-purchase) your copy of a game if the retailer has an infinite number of copies that they can sell. Thus, to give people an incentive to pre-order and to make a little extra money, publishers have attached pre-order bonuses to games, usually amounting to nothing more than some in-game trinkets or a few real-life goodies. For example, if you pre-ordered Rise of the Tomb Raider, you received various weapon skins and outfits for Lara Croft to use in the game. While the practice is often looked down upon, it’s hardly as shady as some people may suggest since the dangers of pre-ordering really just boil down to whether or not the consumer is educated about the product.
With the recently revealed Shadow of the Tomb Raider, however, Square Enix has elected to do something interesting with their pre-order marketing campaign in that there is, for all intents and purposes, no pre-order details at all. You can certainly pre-order the game itself, but “all pre-order incentives and SKUs will be revealed on April 27.” In other words, you would effectively be buying a random bag of mysteries, and the major presumable reason why most people are confident that the pre-order will amount to nothing more than a scam is because it is backed by the name and reputation of Square Enix. If it was any other business, it would seem more than a bit fishy if a retailer was asking you to pay extra for a product that you only know the name of and couldn’t receive until months later, but in the gaming world, that’s only slightly more comforting than backing some crowdfunded game that promises more than is reasonably possible made by a small independent developer that you’ve never heard of.
Ultimately, Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s pre-order oddities may end up being no big deal, but it is a mildly troubling sign that publishers are fine with selling a name and nothing else. Worst comes to worst, some people will end up wasting money on a bad game, but an informed consumer is the best defense against exploitation. One can’t help but suspect that Square Enix is either hiding something that they know people will get upset about (i.e. a pre-order exclusive level, which would be a pretty big deal for a single-player game), or they really want to give people a pleasant surprise on April 27, though the former scenario would certainly warrant such secrecy. Based on Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics’ track record so far, it’s quite likely that Shadow of the Tomb Raider itself will be well-received, but it won’t be the first time that a publisher tried to pull off some pre-launch shenanigans a la Final Fantasy XV’s—another game published by Square Enix—smorgasbord of pre-order exclusives.