Imagine you and a few friends are heading out to grab some food for the night. You head into your restaurant of choice, take a seat and order your meals — but you don’t get to choose what you eat, you just pay the price and see what’s served up to you. You might love it, you might hate it, but either way, there’s nothing you can do to change it.
Crazy, isn’t it? Well, it’s the way season passes are starting to be approached by publishers and developers in the video game industry.
Season passes have been present in the video game industry for a few years now, bundling all of a game’s downloadable content together in a neat little package at a cheaper price. Typically, they offer a combination of DLC for the game in question at a much lower price than if the customer were to purchase it individually, which sounds great right?
Certainly, it’s a cheaper price on a bigger package, but the bundle you’re purchasing may not always be what you expect.
The problem with the season pass is that developers no longer have to encourage gamers to buy their product after it’s been created — they just have to get them to buy the season pass at launch by giving a few vague details about the content, before it’s even been produced — and that’s a problem, especially for those who care about the game and studio they are pitching their money towards.
Earlier this year, that was the case with Batman: Arkham Knight’s season pass, which was announced back in April. Priced at $40.00, Warner Brothers and Rocksteady promised that:
“This season pass for Batman: Arkham Knight delivers new content every month for 6 months, featuring new story missions, more supervillians invading Gotham City, new legendary Batmobilies, advanced challenged maps, alternative character skins, and new drivable race tracks.”
It’s an awfully vague description, especially considering that when gamers were picking up Batman: Arkham Knight, if they wanted what WB marketed as the ‘complete’ Batman experience, they had to cough up $100.00 on launch day.
That’s one hell of a gamble considering the lack of information on what was going to be included - one that didn’t seem to pay off for many fans loyal to the series who purchased the season pass:
As a gamer, it’s frustrating to see so many others stressed over supporting their favorite titles and franchises in the industry, especially considering that some of these games are phenomenal experiences that could have been carried into the DLC, as was the case with Batman: Arkham Knight. It’s a fantastic game that deserves all the praise it received, plagued by sub-par downloadable content which takes away from that same experience post-launch.
So how could this model for season passes and downloadable content be improved upon?
Well, many games have adopted to a standardized model for DLC included in their season pass, such as the Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty franchises — which include details about everything you’ll be receiving upfront for the pass you purchase. The nice thing about this practice is that you know what you’re receiving immediately, so that way if you’re interested in the game after playing for a few hours, you can invest your money in the season pass for future content. Granted, this doesn’t solve the issue of purchasing content that has yet to be developed in most cases, but it’s a step in the right direction towards transparency about the content you’re purchasing in the season pass.
In an ideal world, we’d have developers and publishers who just wouldn’t sell content until after it was completed like the good-ole days before the season pass. But it looks like a practice that’s here to stay, especially considering the popularity of the season pass with every video game release this fall: Call of Duty has one, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate has one, and so does Fallout 4 as well as Star Wars: Battlefront.
The key to improving season passes and the DLC that comes with them is mixing free and paid, as well as maintaining transparency about what you’re developing. Unfortunately, that’s something that very few developers seem to be practicing these days. As a matter of fact, the only developer who’s combined free DLC with the season pass lately has been CD Projekt Red, who offered 16 pieces of free DLC for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt leading up to the season pass including two expansions. This method was praised across the board, especially considering that each of the free DLCs included a small but valuable chunk of content for the player to experience in-game — just because CDPR cared about making additions to their product that players had invested in.
Honestly, it’s a practice that many other video games should start to follow - not only because it provides loyal fans with free DLC samples, but because it helps to inspire trust between the studio and those who are going to be purchasing their content. Forcing a season pass down someone’s throat right when they pick up the game isn’t the most savvy business practice, especially considering they’re already investing $60.00 into your product. Transparency is key, and it’s something that many in the industry need to work on.