Do you know what they really are? You could be forgiven for thinking that they are a way to reward their loyal fans. They are not. There are two types, first is the general pre-order bonus and the second is the retailer specific bonus, both have their motives and both are malevolent practices that are hurting the games you love.
Pre-order bonuses are a way to make sure people buy the game before reading any reviews. Publishers are well aware that a bad review can ruin their chances of getting the sales they want so they try an make sure they have already got their target day 1 sales before day 1 even arrives.
The fact that reviews are often delayed until the release of the game is further evidence of this, with journalists either not being given a review copy or there being an embargo as part of the terms. The publisher might even say it is to make sure that, with day one patches being commonplace, the reviewer plays the same version of the game that is released. Good excuse, but I suspect that is all it is.
Back to the bonuses, this is extra content that has taken time to develop that has not been put in the game, sometimes it is just the odd skin or a stupid TF2 hat, but on other occasions it has been a whole new mission or level. It is even worse when these bonuses are split over different retailers leaving you with no way to get all of the content even if you do pre-order. Well I say “no way”, inevitably moments after release if you head to your torrent site of choice you will be able to download a version of the game that contains all the content in one package so as with stupid restrictive DRM all pre-order bonuses are doing is making the pirate version of the game better than a genuine copy. While exclusive pre-order content is to make you buy before reviews, content split over different retailers is a way to artificially keep prices high. How you ask? Well, if every retailer had the same copy of the game the only way they could compete is on price, and you would probably get the game from Amazon as they tend to be more reasonable but with each retailer having a different game they can all keep it at £34.99 or $60 and the content is what will lure you in. Publishers really need to stop pandering to retailers on this as it hurts the games they are trying to sell rather than adding value to them.
As for the general pre-order bonuses, the only way to put an end to this practice is to refuse to pre-order, don’t be tempted by this rubbish, you will only be burned when it turns out the reason they wanted you to pre-order was because the game is a buggy mess that was about to get bad reviews. I know it is hard and I have fallen into the trap myself on far to many occasions, but enough is enough. No more! With digital distribution it is not like a game can run out of stock, and if you must get a hard copy or have a console then they print millions of them anyway.
So stop pre-ordering, wait for reviews, playing a game a few days late will not hurt you and it will stop you buying a buggy mess and as a result will force publishers to make sure they quality of their games are up to scratch before release.