Gamers may remember 2012 for many things when the year is all said and done—the Mass Effect 3 controversy, the glut of quality independent titles, and the launch of the Wii U all spring to mind. From a business perspective, though, 2012 may end up best known as the year the Season Pass became the standard DLC model for most game companies. From Max Payne 3 to Borderlands 2, Assassin's Creed 3 to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, it seems like every major release these days is adapting to this latest industry trend.
For those of you a little fuzzy on what the Season Pass model is, allow me to explain. In essence, Season Passes let players pay for future DLC content before any of it is even released. In the words of Rockstar—the developer credited with popularizing the model—Season Passes are pitched as a "long-term, pre-paid, downloadable content plan." Since downloadable content itself has become a standard feature for most games over the past few years, it makes sense that the ways in which players can purchase that DLC have expanded. With the Season Pass, gamers particularly enthusiastic about an upcoming release can throw down a set fee upfront and automatically be given most, if not all, of that future content as soon as it is released, rather than buying each pack separately.
In the large majority of cases, the Season Pass gives these hungry consumers a discount on the content in question—at least if a given player was planning on buying all of the DLC anyway. Season Passes can run up to around $50, and since most games themselves still run you $60, it's not entirely rare these days to see consumers spend over $110 on a game that isn't even out yet. Factor in special and collector's editions on top of that, and the number only increases.
Now that so many companies have adopted Season Passes as their own, the natural question that arises is simple: is all that money worth it?
Well, yes and no. As usual with debates such as these, the answer really depends on who you're talking about. For the dedicated fan who has been eagerly anticipating a game for months, pulling the trigger on a Season Pass is probably a no-brainer. Such gamers, the kind who companies make collector's editions for in the first place, are usually the kind who will love a game no matter what any critic or other player would say otherwise. Buying a Season Pass right away shows a remarkable level of commitment to a given game, and since no one is forcing anybody to buy the Pass, I don't see the harm done toward those hardcore segments of certain games' fan bases. The amount of time they'll likely put into the game will probably match up with their financial commitment to it anyway.
For the rest of us, though, the Season Pass model gets a tad more irksome. Plenty of fans are still incensed at the idea of paid DLC in general, and while that may not always be the fairest judgment in some cases—production costs on blockbusters are skyrocketing, after all, and you can't always fault a business for doing what businesses do—it remains an argument with sizable traction behind it. $60 is not exactly chump change, so the thought of paying that much and still not getting every bit of content for your purchase sends many gamers into fits. Throwing a Season Pass into those fits, what with its promise of "discounted prices" and all, only solidifies paid DLC as something that's here to stay. Some changes don't always go over well.
But the biggest annoyance Season Passes bring to the table just may be its fundamental attitude. To be blunt, Season Passes are arrogant. They're almost too sure of how good they think their products will be. It's understandable for a publisher to hype up their product, sure, and money is always going to be the bottom line, but there's just a certain air around the very idea of a Season Pass that screams overconfidence. So much of this industry is volatile, so many games end up not being as good as they first seem, and some promised content doesn't even end up being released, so for a company to ask for almost the price of a full game before the content is even made can be a bit offputting.
Nevertheless, Season Passes appear to be here to stay. Let me be clear: They're not totally a bad thing. There's always going to be that niche, hardest-of-the-hardcore market that will gobble up anything their favorite game puts out, and the Season Pass will serve them just fine. For episodic content like Telltale's The Walking Dead games, which have gradually proven themselves as worthy of guaranteed money to many players, they even begin to seem practical.
For most gamers, though, the best response to the Season Pass is and will continue to be patience. If players can just withstand the initial hype train chugging behind each and every blockbuster title, they'll often find that the games, good as they may be, will always be waiting there to be played. Don't get me wrong, please go ahead and buy new games to your heart's content if you can afford it. But with the rise of Game of the Year editions for many of these same blockbusters, gamers can get content that costs $100 one year for $30 the next. Frequent online and retail discounts are all the rage these days too, so it's not like there's a shortage of good, non-bank breaking titles out there. It just takes a keen, observant, and patient eye to go find them.
Date: October 17, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*