These days Season Passes are an essential part of the AAA-gaming scene. For better or worse, these digital passes have become a mainstay of gaming; delivering the promise of content-to-come for games that gamers want more of. Yet for all the promises made, the content pushed out and the reaction of fans – it’s hard to not feel that Season Passes have become something of a mystery box in gaming. With no quality control and no guarantees, the experience can very quickly leave gamers feeling ripped-off if the delivered experience fails to land. With developers expecting higher entry-fees, are Season Passes really working for gamers?
Season Passes are effectively an I.O.U from developers; the promise of future content if gamers shell out more money. It’s a nice way for publishers to guarantee maximum returns on a game and, in theory, is a good way for gamers to guarantee the flow of post-release content for a game they just want to experience more of. The sad reality however is that as publishers push the price of Season Passes up, the quality of the content within seems to going to down – creating an ever depreciating sense of value.
Perhaps most disturbing of all, a number of AAA-game developers have started treating the season pass as an attraction all to itself. Among the big releases at the backend of last year, EA very cheekily decided to stick its pre-order for the Star Wars Battlefront Season Pass up without actually revealing what was going to be in the package. When the game eventually arrived, the big promise was that the bare bones content that made up the games main experience would be padded out with extra content through the season pass – how is that acceptable? Even with DOOM this year, Bethesda was eager to get fans excited for the games Multiplayer Season Pass long before it showed off anything from the games single player – something that upon reflection looks very much like a desperate attempt to cash-in on the DOOM name. It’s frankly disgraceful
Worse still gamers have no recourse if the expressed promises don’t turn up in a timely manner. As those who invested in Batman Arkham Knight’s Season Pass discovered during 2015 – just because the developer makes vague promises at the outset doesn’t actually translate into anything tangible. Gamers expected to be able to play as Nightwing and Batgirl in the main city. They expected more challenges and locations that would pad out their involvement. But these didn’t turn up until long after the games release – by which time savvy gamers could snap up the season pass for a fraction of the price. Even then the level of content delivered was far below the expected threshold; disappointing expectant gamers all around as the “promise” made by Warner Bros months earlier devolved into a lacking experience. Could gamers get a refund for this? Of course they couldn’t. Warner Bro had already pocketed the money from eager fans and moved onto the next project. Gamers were left with DLC that neither satisfied nor provided a way for them to get their money back.
When gamers shell out £50/$60 for a videogame, they expect the experience to be a complete one yet even at launch, content is hidden behind the Season Pass as a desperate cash-grab. A way to entice the most loyal of gamers to pony up as early as possible for extra skins and content that should be in the base game. Can you imagine going to see a Marvel movie in the cinema, only to have to shell out for the after-credit scenes? That’s effectively what gamers are being asked to do every time they buy a Season Pass – being asked to pay out for something there’s no quality control or guarantee over.
The relationship between developers and gamers is much more intimate than that of any other medium; largely because gamers can actively influence the outcome of the game even when it’s being made. But publishers and developers seem to have developed a certain level of arrogance around Season Passes. There seems to be an expectation now that it’s OK to cut off content and hide it away in the Season Pass, an attempt to pad out the value of something that might otherwise disappoint. In particular when the Season Pass cuts launch content away – typically in the form of Skins or extra weapons – it feels almost like publishers are trying to cheapen the concept of Season Passes. Is this what it’s come too – free content being considered the exception of the $60 game rather than the norm?
In truth its not just publishers and developers who are to blame for this culture. Gamers need to stop jumping on board with Season Passes that don’t actually say what they’re going to be – shelling out upwards of $40 on top of the retail game price for what amounts to a promise. The likes of Fallout 4 and Star Wars Battlefront should be telling gamers what they’re paying for. It shouldn’t be a game of Russian Roulette, Perhaps most disturbing of all is when you hear about developers working on DLC over finishing the base-game. As though priority is being given to the extras rather than to the main course. It’s unacceptable.
Ultimately there needs to be a re-think of the Season Pass concept Both sides need to re-evaluate what it is they expect from the process and what ultimately justifies the whole experience. Sadly this won’t occur until gamers stop enabling the process. Developers and publishers deserve maximum return on their investment – but in return they should be held accountable when they don’t deliver the quality they market.