"Battlefield 3" had its first playable showing at E3 last week, and the lengthy line to get into the demo was an indication of fan and press interest. Unfortunately, fans far away from the E3 festivities were having a decidedly different reaction towards the game. Seems that a promotion to encourage pre-orders in the UK will give exclusive weapon and equipment access to those who put money down on the game before release. Known as the "Physical Warfare Pack," it includes an exclusive LMG, a flash suppressor attachment and flechette ammo. Seems that fans aren't too happy about in being forced to pre-order a game if they're looking to get access to the full equipment arsenal.
In a Q&A posted on the official "Battlefield 3" blog, an EA representative stated that "Owning these items will give you a more varied arsenal, but it will not give you a significant advantage on the battlefield."
Here's the issue: When it comes to multiplayer gaming, people want parity. They want to know that the player standing across from them has the exact same options and abilities as they do, and if they die at the hands of the other person, it's a consequence of their skill, not of their available equipment.
EA is saying that the items in the Physical Warfare Pack "were specifically chosen not to be overpowered or imbalance or break the game in any way," but access to a more varied arsenal is an advantage in and of itself. What if a player finds that the LMG in the Physical Warfare Pack is the only LMG that feels right to them? It may be balanced against the other LMGs, but that option for the perfect "feel" is something people without the pack can't experience.
Say what you will about Activision's DLC practices with "Call of Duty," but they've never offered up weapons and equipment as pre-order incentives because they knew it would give certain players an unfair advantage.
There's an extremely easy way to circumvent these issues in "Battlefield 3": offer DLC that doesn't affect gameplay. If EA wants to encourage people to pre-order the game, give those people weapon skins or a different uniform. Just stick with visual improvements that could never have an impact on your gameplay experience. That way, people who pre-order still get access to something special, but those who don't aren't wondering if that last kill was because they weren't willing to put down money before a game is released.
Here's the link to the boycott that has been started on Reddit. It's worth noting that EA attempted the same DLC practice with "Battlefield: Bad Company," but ended up pulling back after a boycott on SarcasticGamer.com complained about the balance issues associated with exclusive weapons and equipment in a multiplayer shooter.