Opinion: Finding the True Value of Season Passes

Many Season Passes offer unknown contents. Nate Hohl digs in to find the true sense of a value behind them. 

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If any term is fast becoming cringe worthy these days, it should be “season pass.” Providing players with a discounted access to future DLC isn’t exactly new, but for many publishers, there’s still a lot of trial and error. While the rumors of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s upcoming Zombies mode being locked behind the game’s $50 season pass ended up being false, I think Activision’s handling of the situation highlights a greater problem with how publishers utilize season passes. Publishers need to stop keeping the contents of their season passes a secret, especially when there are hefty price tags attached to them.

I myself have purchased season passes a handful of times. Two of those occasions left me feeling more than just a little dissatisfied, and they both taught me to be wary about the nature of how season passes are marketed. The first time was the season pass for Assassin’s Creed III. While the two multiplayer packs included in the pass did do a decent job of augmenting the already robust online multiplayer portion of the game, the Tyranny of King Washington story expansion was a disaster.

Ubisoft decided to split the expansion into three episodes and have them count as three of the five pieces of content included in the pass (neither of these facts were disclosed during the pass’s pre-release marketing). Even worse, roughly four months passed before the first episode was even released and there was another month in between the releases of the first and second episodes and the second and third episodes. While Tyranny did contain some cool new story and gameplay elements, having to pay an extra $30 for an experience, then waiting over six months for it to play out for was definitely not ideal.

The second time wasn’t quite so disastrous but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. Like many other Batman fans, I got swept up in all the pre-release hype for Batman: Arkham Origins and when I went to pick up my copy, I decided to go ahead and spring for the season pass as well. However, problems began to arise after the pass’s two separate DLC costume packs started coming out.

Whether intentionally or not, Warner Bros. had failed to mention that certain costumes included in the two packs (which could also be purchased separately) could also be earned in-game for free. What this meant was that Warner Bros. was essentially promising five different costumes for a set price but only actually giving players three or four since, by the time the costume packs were released, many players already had some of the costumes included in both packs. The strong showings of the pass’s other two offerings, the Initiation challenge maps and Cold, Cold Heart story expansion, fortunately ended Arkham Origins’ otherwise mediocre legacy on a high note but I doubt many season pass buyers ever completely shook the feeling that they had been slightly ripped-off. I know I didn’t.

So where exactly did Ubisoft and Warner Bros. go wrong? The answer is simple: neither developer made the effort to properly communicate with fans about what exactly was being offered in their respective games’ season pass. If Ubisoft had been more upfront about the Tyranny of King Washington expansion’s format and release schedule back when it was first announced, I doubt I would have ended up feeling quite so burned since I would have known for sure exactly what I was paying for and when to expect it. If Warner Bros. had bothered to disclose that certain costumes in Arkham Origins were obtainable both through in-game means and through DLC, it could have rebuilt some of the trust it had lost with fans instead of simply driving the wedge in deeper.

Fortunately, at least in Ubisoft’s case, past mistakes have led to promising subsequent attempts. Not only does the Assassin’s Creed Unity season pass contain a varied wealth of non-fragmented content, which includes both multiplayer and single-player additions, an entire story expansion, and a separate bonus game. But Ubisoft was upfront about the exact nature of the content well before the game’s launch. Bethesda’s recent survival/horror title The Evil Within also took this approach, detailing exactly what players would be getting with the game’s season pass and the format in which it would be released. Variety in a season pass’s content offerings is important, but proper communication on the publisher’s part is even more important.

Of course, the circumstances behind Advanced Warfare’s Zombie mode present an interesting situation. Since developer Sledgehammer Games didn’t even begin working on the game’s Zombies mode until after it had wrapped production on the main game, saying that Activision purposefully withheld information would be a little unfair. However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that there are still many other elements about Advanced Warfare’s season pass which still remain a mystery. I don’t imagine it would be too much to ask of Activision to give players at least a marginally better sense of what exactly they’re getting through the pass, especially considering its rather large asking price.

There’s nothing wrong with teasing fans with a little mystery but in Advanced Warfare’s case, the ratio of mystery vs. solid facts isn’t really doing Activision any favors, especially given how the whole zombie mode situation played out. When it comes to spending more money on a game I bought, I’d rather know for sure what my money is going towards instead of facing the risk of tossing even more money away on content that doesn’t justify the asking price.

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  • reply
    November 14, 2014 2:00 PM

    Nathaniel Hohl posted a new article, Opinion: Finding the True Value of Season Passes

    • reply
      November 14, 2014 2:05 PM

      I haven't found value in a single one of those. It's just giving the publisher free money.

      I like the PC/Steam style of waiting for that stuff to all go on sale at once and then picking it up for $10. I understand the desire to support developers' efforts, but not at the price of buying content unaware of its actual quality or impact on the story. BioShock Infinite had both the good and bad. Multiplayer mode (ick) first, then two good quality SP DLCs.

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        November 14, 2014 2:49 PM

        I have found value in the BL2 season pass I bought, it was the gift that kept giving...and giving... It was like a nympho at a truckers convention.

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          November 14, 2014 2:54 PM

          I missed that one. I'm one of those freaks of natures who didn't enjoy Borderlands games.

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            November 14, 2014 3:51 PM

            Modes???

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            November 14, 2014 4:30 PM

            I didn't enjoy them turning the lies about the first game into marketing for the second. Also Retail Box Day One $49.95 Purchasers got FUCKED.

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              November 14, 2014 8:43 PM

              pretty much all day 1 game purchasers are getting fucked, not conceptually.

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      November 14, 2014 2:18 PM

      I liken season passes to gambling: there is a chance I'll get something that interests me but it's far from guaranteed. And, anecdotally speaking, by the time all the DLC is released, odds are I've already finished the game and moved on. I don't see the value in them. Like Loiosh said, it's just giving the publisher free money.

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      November 14, 2014 2:25 PM

      I will again point to Aliens: Colonial Marines having a Season Pass. I'm sorry, but I'm still on some old "How do we know the game is worthy of 1 DLC, much less 3-5, before the game has even come out?"

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        November 14, 2014 3:28 PM

        Short answer: imagine taking $90 out of your wallet and burning it. Would you still feel okay? No? Then don't preorder ANY game, EVER.

        Long answer: A lot of games are developed with a loaded marketing plan. Aliens: Colonial Marines had a REALLY loaded marketing plan, complete with a "custom-tailored-for-E3" demo, as well as Sega announcing the game back in 2007, allegedly before any work at all was started. For a 360 / PS3 / PC game in the early- to mid-2010's, having a DLC season pass is one of those "par for the course" things to announce. Except now, perhaps it shouldn't be. Publishers shouldn't be chasing the fad of a "DLC season pass" because of the challenges faced when the content can't be developed on time. Developers need to have an idea of what related things they can use for extra content, in a way that doesn't patronize players.

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          November 14, 2014 4:28 PM

          I don't think you have been following the saga of "Axeman808's war against Pre-Orders and Season Pass DLC".
          I've been against DLC since Horse Armor. I want Expansion Packs back. A proven game that fans want more of should have an Expansion Pack.
          I haven't bought Dark Souls 2 DLC because the Season Pass hasn't gone on sale yet. DARK SOULS 2. I LOVE DARK SOULS 2. I will give them $15 for what I consider an Expansion Pack, not $25. Yes, I *am* withholding it from myself out of principle. No, they won't even notice.

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      November 14, 2014 2:27 PM

      Haven't bothered with a season pass yet. Usually just wait for GOTY Editions to come out that collects everything or most of it.

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      November 14, 2014 2:54 PM

      IIRC the only one worth anything was when you could get BF4 + the full pass for like $40 last xmas

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      November 14, 2014 3:12 PM

      Potential answer: wait until the season pass goes on a Steam sale for $5 a half-year after the game's release. http://www.shacknews.com/chatty?id=31295634#item_31295634

      I agree that the contents of season passes should be disclosed well ahead of the game's release, and I think that this should be enforced by an organization with teeth, such as the Federal Trade Commission, or the ESRB. Even better idea: the ESRB should refuse classification for a game until all DLC is itemized. The ONLY leeway given should be if the actual assets of the DLC isn't completed yet, AND is something that will release at least 1 month (or maybe 2 months) after the retail ship date.

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        November 14, 2014 8:56 PM

        i disagree, i don't like it when dlc is announced before or at the game's release. its feels like its content that's intentionally left out or the game hasn't been completed.

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          November 14, 2014 9:14 PM

          Content is cut from games all the time in development. It used to either never get released or re-purposed into expansion packs. Now it's released as DLC. It's a distinction without a difference in my view.

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            November 14, 2014 9:46 PM

            but to announce it before or at the games release seems more like the cut was intentional for a cash grab.

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      November 14, 2014 3:19 PM

      [deleted]

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      November 14, 2014 8:39 PM

      wait for steam sales and they buy everything discounted.

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      November 14, 2014 9:09 PM

      If I love a game, I will buy a season pass for it. Recently, I've bought the Dark Souls II, Arma 3, and Battlefield 4 season passes. I'm happy with all of those purchases, even if the content included isn't as ambitious as it could be. I've put hundreds of hours into those three games, so I'll pay a lot for more content.

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      November 15, 2014 9:34 AM

      I've never purchased a season pass. Since the practice of staggering content of games became the norm, I have also stopped buying games at release. I now wait till all the dlc is released, pick and choose what I want and I play the FULL game as it was meant to be played. Bonus win is I usually get everything at reduced price thanks to sales.

      I'd love to support the devs more, but waiting a full year for a game to be complete is not my idea of a good investment. Rob me of content at time of release, I'll rob you of what I would have contributed if I paid full price. Quit short changing your customers and I'll pay full price!

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      November 15, 2014 12:40 PM

      Never purchased one and sure as hell never will. Total rip-off.

    • reply
      November 15, 2014 3:33 PM

      There's a Season Pass available for Sunset Overdrive, but no detailed information has been released regarding what the eventual DLC will contain. From what I've been able to dig up online, it sounds like even the developers don't know yet, and there's no release date either. Totally stupid cash-grab.

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      November 17, 2014 5:48 AM

      The author of this article had some great season passes.
      I got burned horribly.
      I bought Origins for WiiU. You all know how that panned out. NO DLC what so ever. No chance of getting it period.
      I bought the Season Pass for Max Payne. LOLOLOLOLOL. Ok. Next!
      In other words I've stopped with season passes, until I know everything there is to know about the pass. I've been looking for info on The Evil Within pass, I haven't found any, but the author says it been out there. I'm going to check again.
      I have the game and I like it very much.
      I also didn't know jack about Alien Isolation pass. But I've see some maps and whatnot, so it seems to be good. Not sure.
      Oh and Watch Dogs season pass was pure shit.

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