You shall not (season) pass!

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Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Andy: Last week we talked about a little bit about trends and how many things need to happen in order for it to be a trend. I’m not sure if what I want to talk about this week is a genuine trend, if it’s the start of a trend, if it’s just a couple of games on the outer-ends of a bell curve, or just what it is. What I can say though is it’s happened twice now, and to me that’s enough to at least warrant talking about. You’re probably wondering what the hell I’m on about (more so than usual) so let me explain.

A game releases, and as usual, there’s a lot of hype for it and during the launch you are also highly encouraged to buy the upcoming DLC for the game. It’s in the form of a season pass. You know those vague promises by the developers to make more awesome content. You have to trust them to provide value in that content and it’s a leap of faith because you really have no idea what that content will even be. Season passes have a range from $20USD to upwards of $50USD so they can be pretty expensive.

In the past couple of months a few games have announced that they are raising the price of their season pass after it has been announced (and sold to many gamers) because of the amount of content they are including in it. The first game that I know of that did it was Dying Light and just last week Fallout 4 followed their lead. In both cases the developer announced it and gave gamers a couple weeks to purchase the season pass at the lesser price before it went up. Before I get into a couple of the talking points on this one, I wanted to just get your overall opinion on it. Is this something you can see happening more often?

Nicholas: You know, I’ve not actually heard about this happening until now, but as I think about it, there’s an element of “yeah, that makes sense” surrounding it. If a developer announces a season pass and in it that either detail or don’t detail what the content will be, and then at some stage they reveal that what they’re planning to provide is either going to be a lot longer in length or variety than what was initially proposed, then it makes sense that the price might increase. Going purely off the idea that more resources are required therefore more costs, I can see why a developer might go down that route.

I think the most important thing in all this though is what Bethesda have done with the Fallout 4 season pass – that being that they gave gamers the chance to purchase the content at the reduced price. As long as gamers who already purchased the pass don’t need to pay more then I’m OK with it, but given them a grace period to take advantage of a cheaper package, that’s a really great initiative in my opinion.

As far as whether it will catch on, perhaps. I’ve really not heard enough (or any prior to this) chatter about it to really gauge, but I wouldn’t be surprised to be honest. How about you though, what are your thoughts on it all?

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Andy: Anyone that has read even a couple of these articles knows my love of Fallout. It is hands-down one of my most favourite franchises ever. Bethesda, in my opinion, has always put out top-notch DLC that I want to play and have enjoyed. With that said… there is a little piece of me that doesn’t feel right about how this is going on, both with Fallout 4 and Dying Light. How can this possibly be turned into a negative you may be asking. Let me try to explain.

A developer starts the hype machine for their newest game. They release a teaser video, screenshots and really start to get gamers excited for it. Then they usually release information about the different editions of the game (because no game can have just one edition anymore). Lastly, they announce the availability of the season pass (like somehow gamers don’t expect this to be a thing anymore). In the case of Fallout 4 the season pass was tagged at $29.99. Usually that’s the end of it, the game is released and everyone goes on about their business. Personally, I have stopped buying season passes until a) I know I really like the game and b) I know what the content in the pass is going to be. Yet, when a developer says on <insert date here> the price of the season pass will be going up to $49.99 because we are making so much content for it I’m essentially being forced to make a choice. Hold out to find out what all the content will be and pay an additional $20 for that peace of mind; or spend $29.99 and jump blindly off a cliff and hope what I find at the bottom is awesome and not long sharpened spikes that pierce my soul. OK, a little dramatic there but I really don’t like being forced to make a decision like that.

Granted, in the case of Fallout 4 they announced 3 DLC amounts to over $29.99 suggested retail price – but it still doesn’t feel right to force that choice like that. I, of course, and being completely hypocritical because the second I found out about the price increase I bought the season pass, and I felt dirty doing it. I felt like I was being held hostage all over $20. Here’s the thing though, if the wording from release day said something like, “For the first three months after release the Fallout 4 season pass will be on-sale for $29.99 to give you time to decide if you really like our game or not.” I don’t think I would have batted an eye as I bought it. Maybe it’s the vagueness of the release by them saying “We’re adding even more content to it so that’s why we had to raise the price.” Well, OK I get that – but tell me what that content is – or at least what I can expect from it.

So I have to ask, am I over reacting? Am I boiling it down to just a matter of semantics when instead I should just be happy I got it for the low price and anything else they release is a bonus for me?

Nicholas: I hate to say this, but I do think this is a situation when we’ve got mountains out of molehills. With the situation above, there are two things I think are important to consider before determining whether what Bethesda is doing here is fair or sneaky. For starters, we need to know what the time period is between when the initial game is released and when the season pass price increase is set to occur. With Fallout 4 I assume this has been a number of months given that it launched at the tail-end of 2015, so for me, that’s more than enough time for gamers to determine whether they want to take advantage of not just the DLC at a discounted price, but the DLC to begin with. A month apart is the minimum I’d think.

Secondly, we need to know what the initial DLC offering contained and then what the additional content responsible for the price increase contains. Given that I’m unaware of either (although from what you’ve said above we definitely don’t know the latter) I’m going to let you fill me and our readers in, but if gamers at least know what the initial offering is, then that to me is the bare minimum. That allows gamers to gauge whether the initial price is sufficient, and then they can either determine whether more content is worth $20 extra or not. That said, if gamers don’t know what the season pass was originally going to contain, and then they don’t know what the additional content is going to be, then I understand how it comes across to that forcing gamers to make a choice situation you mentioned above. Developers need to be fair in letting gamers know what the $50 or at least $30 means before they can just ask them to buy it before they jack the price up.

My next question to you is though – is it not at least a nice gesture that they are telling you about the price increase in advance, rather than never providing the $30 option and charging gamers the full $50 from the very beginning? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the biggest source of your contention here seems not to be the price, but the fact they’re bumping up the price and not announcing what the additional content is. Surely giving you the option to begin with says something, no?

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Andy: I know, I feel like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth. On one hand I don’t like the fact that they advertised one price and then two to three months later they raise it by $20. On the other hand I agree with you that, in both cases I referenced above, the developer gave fans enough of a warning before that price increase happened. I have thought a lot about this since I originally started this topic, and this past weekend I had a little bit of an epiphany. For me maybe it’s not so much the increased price, the announcement of when the increase would happen or any of those other tertiary  details. I think for me it centres on the perception of value.

We’ve been seeing the prices of these season passes trend up and up the past couple of years. One of the questions we hear fairly often when a season pass is announced along with its price point is “is it worth it?” It’s a truly ambiguous question because what is worth it for some may not be worth it for others. Look at the season pass for Batman Arkham Knight. While some think it was worth it, there is no way I would have ever felt I got my money’s worth from that. Star Wars Battlefront also caused some waves when it announced it would be $49.99. Droves of people were screaming about it being too expensive. When I saw the price of the Fallout 4 season pass as $29.99 I thought; “Yeah that makes sense and Bethesda makes good content.” I figured it would be close to a buy three get the fourth free type of thing at that price.  Now they’ve changed it up and increased it by $20 and we are back to the perceived value. If I thought it was worth it at the $30 price, is it now worth it for $20 more?

Heck, I remember playing Call of Duty several years ago when the price of map packs went up $5 per pack. The amount of gamer hate was amazing. So many people screaming “I’ll never buy them at that price. I’m done with Call of Duty!” Then a week later you see your entire friends list playing the new maps. Season passes and individual DLC for games are being churned out in record number now. I honestly can’t think of a game I have played recently that didn’t have DLC available for it. Just looking at my game shelf I think every game has DLC available. I’m not sure I’ve bought all of it, but it’s there. It’s another revenue generator for developers.

I think developers are playing a dangerous game with season passes. I get why they are there, I get the need for them – what I don’t understand is the shroud of secrecy that surrounds the contents of these passes. With a game like Call of Duty we know exactly what we’re going to get. Yet for the majority of games we hear something like “There are four planned content releases” and they leave it at that. They leave it for gamers to guess if it’s worth it or not. So, maybe that’s a better question to ask you. Is this more a question about perceived value and should developers be more open to just what those DLC will entail?

Nicholas: It’s very convenient that you steered the discussion to these two points, because it was what I was going to ask you next. You know, when you started to express your disliking for the price increase, one of the things which came to mind was, “it’s because it costs $50 now.” Don’t let that seem like I’m trying to diminish your viewpoint either too, because it’s a valid reason to be disgruntled. You raise a really valid point with the fact that there are a number of season passes which are creeping up in price over the past year or two, and for me, this is the greatest reason to be concerned.

Yes, you’re completely right in saying that the value of a season pass is down to the type of gamer and even the individual, but even then, it’s $50 – and that’s not a menial price to attach to DLC. The jump by $20 isn’t as much of an issue than the fact it’s creeping on now being half the price of the base game itself, and doesn’t that just seem, wrong? I was listening to a recent episode of the Friendly Fire Show, and when I heard the guys discuss the Battlefront season pass it had me in disbelief almost. It’s just ridiculous how EA could have promoted such a season pass with so much in the dark about what it offers, for the price that they did. I’ve not bought season passes in the past because I felt they were too expensive and it was too much of a lucky dip, but at $50 a pop, yeah, I’m even less likely to even consider forking over the cash.

So onto the next part of your question, yes, at that price developers need to be open about what gamers are going to expect. I understand that someone can argue that a developer doesn’t have to tell gamers that is in their base game, so they’re under no obligation to do the same with their DLC offerings, but the fact is, with a game itself you know what you’re getting. You know what the game modes are, whether it’s online only or single-player, so you’re not going in blind. Simply stating  “there will be four lots of content” isn’t enough to warrant such an outlay of cash. So yes, to answer your question, developers definitely need to tell us more about what their plans are so we can judge that price and value for ourselves.

As I swing things back to you I wanted to ask you – what actually prompts you to download a season pass (if at all)? I already mentioned above that I’ve never purchased one, and when I think about it, it’s because by the time I’ve finished the base game I’m ready to move on. I’m essentially at the point where I want something new, so playing more content is like being asked to eat more food after you’re stuffed on that previous plate full. Are you the same, or am I just one of those weird examples? Furthermore, what does a season pass need to contain to be ‘worth it’, and is there a price threshold you’re not willing to pass?

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Andy: Well, first things first. Yes, I think you’re one of the weird ones, but that’s a whole other article. In regards to your first question; what prompts me to get a season pass, the easy answer is, it depends. There are a number of factors that play into my decision to get a season pass, and individual DLC as well. Most we have talked about, but number one is the price. In the US new games are $60 retail so asking me to pay $50 for a season pass and essentially doubling the price of the game – yeah, probably not. Secondly, the amount and variety of the promised content. Lastly, how much I enjoy the base game. The last part is the part that I really don’t understand about the practice of some gamers. On release day they pick up the game and the season pass before ever playing the game. I mean, you don’t save any money by getting the season pass the day the game releases and the content for the season pass won’t be available the day the game releases so there’s no point in getting it right away. Look at the Assassin’s Creed: Unity season pass that was scrapped all together and those who bought it were given a free game from a small selection.

Now, let’s say I like the base game. The next question I have to ask myself is; “Is this something I see myself playing – even off and on for the next six to nine months?” If the answer is no, then no season pass. If the answer is yes, then I’ll consider the season pass and go back to the value/content part of my thought process. There are probably only a handful of games I enjoy enough to take the leap of faith and snag DLC before I really knew what was in it. Those are usually the really big games like Skyrim or Fallout that I know I will sink hours and hours of gameplay into. So my perceived value for those DLC relative to how long I’ll play them makes sense for me. Whereas a game like Batman Akrham Knight, where when I finished the campaign of it, I knew that there was little to no chance I’d want any part of DLC for that game.

The last thing you touched on is where I am getting burned out from all these season pass/DLC options, and that’s the price. I am more apt to take a flyer on a cheap piece of DLC than I am to drop $30, $40 or even $50 on an entire slate of DLC. More so now than ever because it seems, just like with their retail counterparts, that they seem to go on sale quicker and quicker. The last year I have gotten more and more picky about which games I buy on release day and I’ve been doing the same thing with DLC as well. There’s no reason to spend $60 on a game and $50 on a season pass when in three months I can get the game for $40 and the DLC for $30, or wait even longer for a bigger savings. An added benefit of that practice is by waiting you’re assured the bugs (or most of them) are ironed out – or you know the game isn’t the best and pass on it all together.

As we reach the close of another award-winning article do you think we have reached a point, or will soon reach a point, where more and more gamers will sit back and say enough is enough? That all this DLC, microtransactions and the prices of those things need to be scaled back for the health of the industry? Personally, the amount of DLC has me playing fewer and fewer games. I’m no longer willing to take a chance on many games because I don’t want to be saddled with having an experience unless I pay for the other half of the game. Maybe my frustration with raising the price of a season pass speaks more to a larger reason than to the focus of my frustration at the start of this article?

Nicholas: If I really think about it, the answer to your question is “no”, and that’s based off one main reason. That being, it hasn’t happened enough time that gamers as a whole are speaking about it and revolting against it. Yes, there was pushback against the Arkham Knight season pass, but it seemed to die down. Yes, there was chatter against the Battlefront season pass, but it subsided and people still paid for it. The point where gamers put their foot down and say that they won’t tolerate it anymore is still a long way off I think, and until I see these kind of conversations happening more often on Twitter, in articles or in podcasts, I think we’re just seeing the start of the wave, rather than the crash.

Like we’ve said in the past though, the only way we can shape movements like these is speaking with our wallets, so if gamers are truly getting tired of paying higher prices for DLC then they need to stop supporting the developers that do it. As a matter of fact, given that you were one of the people who bought Fallout 4’s season pass rather than avoiding it altogether, I’m considering you personally responsible for this entire situation. Yes, that’s how I’ll think I’ll end it this week. *smiles*

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.