The season pass has been a big part of the gaming industry for several years now. No longer do we have to wait until a game is out for DLC to be heavily advertised. We are often told that the complete edition of a game comes bundled with the season pass, giving players a wealth of extra content. Developers are more than happy to outline their plans for additional content before the release of a game and give us a chance to purchase absolutely all additional content in one package.
But why do studios release season passes? Game development isn’t getting any cheaper, costing millions of dollars. For a fraction of that price, they can create extra content. They can then sell this extra content for $15 or $20, bringing in a bit of extra revenue, especially for a well-received and financially successful game. Season passes and DLC are an extra source of income that keeps development gears turning, even if it sometimes isn’t received well by the consumer.
Some season passes can be a good deal, giving players a wealth of extra content for only a small bit of change. Mario Kart 8 gave players four extra grands prix, which included 12 new tracks, new characters, and a slew of new cars. Nintendo asked only $12 for all of the content, almost doubling the amount of tracks in the game. Often, though, season passes don’t match their price tag. The Watch Dogs 2 season pass, being the most recent case, included five extra pieces of content for a whopping $40.
Let’s take a look at exactly what the Watch Dogs season pass is offering players. According to the PlayStation blog, you’ll get access to five pieces of extra content. The initial three will offer new missions and a new difficulty for co-op, but appear to be non-essential additions. The new missions will add interesting wrinkles to gameplay and new ways to play with others. But all of this content is only going to add several hours of new gameplay, making the steep price tag hard to justify. The last two give players day one access to skins and outfits. Overall, none of it appears to be game changing, for the price of nearly an entire game. Players will likely be able to just pick up the main game and have plenty of content to dive into without spending the extra $40.
On the flip side, the season pass for Dark Souls III is priced at $25, and offers two new story levels for players to go through. The first piece of DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, let players explore the snowy Painted World, and completing it at the appropriate level will take around three to four hours. Not to mention, Ashes was meant to be the shorter of the two DLCs, meaning we can expect to sink even more time in the upcoming one.
It doesn’t matter if these pieces of content turn out to be absolutely incredible, asking almost as much as the game itself for DLC is unfair to the consumer. The price of the DLC is currently only given through the season pass. There is still no way to see how much you might have to spend if you just want one or two of these additions. If you want to put down the money right now to secure the DLC for its release, you need to pay the $40. This is often done because it is a cheaper price, and only showing it incentivizes the consumer to act preemptively.
But publishers continue to create them. It’s certainly a double-edged sword. People are bound to buy DLC for titles they like. If a game captivates a player and there is a promise of new content that improves on and expands the original game, putting down a few extra dollars is never out of the question. But problems arise when they bundle all the DLC into season passes, asking a blanket price for content you may not want, just to get a slight discount on content you do want access to.
I’ll admit it; I’ve purchased season passes before and never taken advantage of the content. It would be much better to simply buy the pieces of DLC that interest you and disregard the rest. But season passes are advertised above most other additional content, attempting to entice players into buying them. At that point, you’re just throwing your money away. There’s no point in fronting the money for a season pass unless you are absolutely certain that you want to put time into the content on offer.
It wouldn’t be so bad if this were a rare phenomenon, but many AAA titles think of some outlandish way to charge you an obscene amount of money and promise something it likely cannot deliver on. Just last year, Star Wars Battlefront asked players to put down $50 for a range of DLC that it wasn’t ready to announce. Players had to have faith in the studio that the rest of the maps and modes being developed for the game were as good as those shipped initially.
Another egregious example was Evolve, which offered a season pass for $25, but much of the content on offer wasn’t covered within the price of the season pass. All players got for purchasing it were a plethora of skins and several new characters and maps. It even went so far as to have a second season pass, offering more content and trying to bring in more money for a game that hadn’t exactly taken off. But the worst part was that it took advantage of expectations and then offered skins and weapons instead of extra content that truly changed the game’s landscape, as many players hoped the DLC would.
Putting down $60 on any product is a lot, and asking players to front another $30-$50 without even knowing what to expect is ludicrous. Season passes are notoriously vague about the exact content they include, so they ask the consumer to have a fair amount of faith in the product before leaping in blindly. A better practice is to wait until the DLC releases, see if it’s something you really want to spend time with, and then put down the money, even if it means paying an extra $1 in the long run. I realize that not everyone favors this approach, but it’s similar to how many consumers wait for reviews to determine if a game is worth purchasing. Even if it’s only $15, you are still giving your money to the publisher of the title, and you deserve to know what you are spending your money on.
The trend of selling season passes at exorbitant prices will likely continue, but consumers can vote with their wallets and decide whether or not they want this practice to continue. Publishers are charging us more and more for these bundles, and the only way to see them improved or disappear is to simply say no.