Square Enix and IO Interactive are aiming to "set the bar" for pre-order incentives with Hitman: Absolution.
Retailers will begin taking pre-orders for Absolution on May 15. In return, customers will receive a download code for Sniper Challenge, a standalone experience purpose-built to fill the gap between the pre-order and release.
"We really believe we can take this brand into the top 5 [selling] games of the year," said Jon Brooke, brand director for IO Interactive, speaking to GamesIndustry International. "It's a big statement, and we realise that.
"Hitman: Absolution, although the fifth game in the series, is our first with that focus of taking it up a level. And we know to get into the top 5 you've got to do an awful lot: you need a great game, you need great marketing, you need full commitment, you need unique features."
Brooke considers Sniper Challenge to be one of Absolution's unique features. It is the result of an, "interesting conversation between the brand group, the marketing teams in different territories, and the dev team," and is based on a prototype created by one of the team at IO.
"We really believe we can take this brand into the top 5 selling games of the year. It's a big statement, and we realise that"
Players effectively control the scope of Agent 47's rifle as he observes a roof-top party from a nearby building. He has a target, and killing the target is relatively simple, but there are a number of ways to boost your score, from remaining undetected to environmental kills to fulfilling a range of sub-objectives.
The goal is to offer the consumer a "genuine reward" for placing their pre-order, and depart from the approach taken by the majority of AAA releases.
Pre-order incentives are now ubiquitous, but for the most part they are either relatively trivial - an extra gun, a suit of armour - or content that many gamers feel should be included with the price of the game. In addition, they are often confusing, with many major releases carrying a web of different incentives for different retailers, many of which are sold separately at launch.
Brooke believes that Sniper Challenge addresses these concerns: it is substantial, it is playable immediately, and Square Enix has no plans to release it at a later date.
"I know that sounds like a really simple philosophy, but when you look at the pre-order incentives in the market they don't always offer a real reward," Brooke says. "They don't give anything of huge value.
"We want to set the bar with this. We want people to see it as the best pre-order incentive in the business, and a really positive way to do a pre-order campaign"
"Obviously, I can't predict the consumer reaction to this; if it's going to be more confusing, if it's going to be seen as a watch-it moment. We can't really consider the issues with the industry at large when we come up with our plan. We really just think of what's positive. We want positive feeling among our customers."
As a standalone experience shipping ahead of the full game, Brooke believes that Sniper Challenge is a "greater undertaking" in terms of the resources than any other pre-order incentive. However, he insists that it wasn't created with a specific pre-order number target in mind. From the very beginning it was was motivated by adding value for the consumer, in the belief that success will "naturally come" as a result.
"If even one person pre-orders it, they'll play it, they'll review it, and if they really think it's great they'll rate it accordingly," Brooke adds. "We're not putting our customers in a situation where they're having to take a gamble.
"We want to set the bar with this. We want people to see it as the best pre-order incentive in the business, and a really positive way to do a pre-order campaign. Gamers will respond positively to that...and even the most cynical can read reviews and make their own mind up."