Season Passes are a statement of intent from developers to gamers. They are a financial contract put in place to progress a game; continuing to produce content post launch.
However, things don’t always go to plan, and as a result of that important questions must be asked. Such as, are they really the most attractive and effective model to promote DLC purchases? Are gamers really getting value for money?
And perhaps the most important of them all, should they make it to next gen?
It’s almost commonplace for a game to be shipped along with a Season Pass in this day and age. Most major titles this year have been accompanied with one, such as Gears of War: Judgment, Bioshock Infinite, Defiance and Aliens: Colonial Marines. It shows developer confidence, unquestionably, but are they worthwhile?
Look at Aliens: Colonial Marines for instance. Ahead of launch, promotional images leaked that made gamers aware of Bug Hunt, a standalone, wave-based mode, that would be part of the pre-announced Season Pass. Sure enough, it followed the game almost a month after release, but was also sold seperately.
We all know the problems Aliens has faced since the beginning. While it shot to the top of the UK charts in its opening week, it soon plummeted into bargain bins across the planet just a few days later and now it seems that both gamers and the developers are trying to sweep it under the rug and forget it ever existed.
Meanwhile, Season Pass owners of Aliens: Colonial Marines (yes, I’m sure there are some!) have only received one piece of additional content since early March. Since then, development on the game has been exceptionally quiet. That doesn’t mean to say we won’t see anything else, but we’re a far cry away from receiving four pieces of DLC before Summer 2013 as was originally promised.
What happens if they never materialise? What happens to those who have purchased the Season Pass upfront and are left shortchanged having paid triple the price for one piece of DLC they could have purchased standalone? Will they get refunded?
Of course they won’t.
But if that was the case, they’d definitely have a cause for complaint and should challenge to get their money back.
And this is one major problem with Season Passes. They’re filled with big, bold intentions and they build up hype and momentum for a game prior to release, but when the smoke is cleared, the game is no longer in the limelight, and it fails to meet internal sales projections or gets critically panned, is it viable to continue development on that game? Will the honchos with their fingers on the purse-strings recognise an opportunity to put those resources to use elsewhere; ideally on a project that could offset these losses with revenue?
Then what happens to the promises you received at launch? Do you really think they’ll be followed through?
This is also a danger for games such as Bioshock Infinite. Yes, it’s a media darling and the apple of everyone’s eye right now, but development of additional content for the title is an absolute mystery. Sure, we’ve heard whispers and mumblings, but people are being asked to spend money on a complete unknown. We know nothing about Bioshock Infinite’s DLC. We have no concrete information at all, other than to expect it all by March 2014. By then, next-gen is expected to be in full-force. People will have switched systems and moved on, and with the increasing concern of lack of backwards compatibility and a complete wipe of previous purchases, what then?
Maybe some people prefer an utter unknown and see it as a mini-gamble. They like Infinite, therefore they’re bound to want to see more of the world. But the thing is, we’ve all experienced underwhelming DLC from our favourite games, and by the time a Season Pass has already been paid for, it’s too late to ask for money back. Season Passes can’t be traded in for reward points.
If people wait for the standalone release they can see reviews or hands-on impressions. If developers and publishers were honest, they’d tell you that’s where they make the most money, anyway. Sure, discounts are offered on Season Passes and people prefer that convenience, but many are just as happy to wait and hear about the latest content to see if it’s worth the investment.
It’s rare to find games like Borderlands 2, Assassin’s Creed 3 or Dishonored that are still producing additional content months after their original release. It’s also disappointing when big development studios indicate more content will be created for a beloved title, but then development just stops as we’ve seen with Skyrim.
But at least Irrational Games are not just rushing any old content out of the door and are taking a full year to give us Bioshock content. Some games quickly splurge their Season Pass promises out the door in the first few months and players are forced to wise up to its half-hearted, cutting-room floor feel after just the second content pack. When you pay to see more of a game, you expect to receive the same quality you’ve already associated with that game, not something completely underwhelming that spoils the overall experience. If Season Passes are to continue being a major part of the industry, developers and publishers need to be committed to doing a better job. No more of this 2000 Points for 4 Map Packs, half of which are carbon copies of one another. Gamers deserve better.
But will it just be more of the same? It’s hard to deny the convenience of a Season Pass, especially with Sony bigging up background downloads which will never intrude on your gametime on PS4. It’s fairly safe to assume that Microsoft will be on a similar line of thinking.
In that ideal world, if you bought a Season Pass on a next-gen system, you wouldn’t have to faff around making sure you’re in the right menu so you’re not purchasing the content twice. In that scenario, the content would download automatically when you boot up the system and while you’re playing the game, automatically install itself and become part of the experience as if it has always been there. Purchasing a Season Pass is almost like having an automatic renewal button activated and saves a player having to physically halt their gametime just to agree to a purchase. It also means content will be downloaded the moment it appears on the marketplace, and if your console is on stand-by, it will start downloading when you’re not even using the system.
Our next-gen future will be all about convenience and there’s no denying Season Passes do a good job with that, but do the risks outweigh the good?
What do you think? Should developers and publishers be considering an entirely new purchasing model, or do you feel Season Passes still have a place on future systems?