In case you haven't noticed, video games are no longer released, purchased, played and put on the shelf. With rising costs, game developers and publishers have looked for ways to bring in more revenue after a game's release, while also keeping their game in the headlines for longer.
The solution they appeared to have settled on is the season pass. For one price, a player can get access to all the additional content that comes out for a game post-release, oftentimes including new missions, multiplayer maps, skins and more. No matter what kind of game it is, nearly every major AAA game released this year will have one. From Batman: Arkham Knight to Star Wars Battlefront, season passes are here to stay. In their current form, they are a major problem.
The fact that they exist is not the issue. Oftentimes, they provide meaningful extra content that fans who absolutely loved the core game will want to pick up. Sure, they can be expensive at times, but so are the games themselves. Video games are not a cheap hobby, but fans who enjoy what a developer is doing don't appear to have a problem paying more money for more content. Developers wouldn't spend time making extra DLC and season passes if players didn't buy them, and by all accounts, it looks like players most definitely do buy them. Players want more content for their favorite games.
The problem arises when we don't know what that content is. Far from an occasional occurrence, not detailing all that is included in a game's season pass until weeks or even days before the content goes live is a trend that is more the rule than the exception.
We've seen this scenario rear its ugly head multiple times this year, most notably with the announcement of the Batman: Arkham Knight season pass earlier this year. For $40, Warner Bros. declared, Batman fans could secure access to all the great content coming in the months after the June release of the finale to Rocksteady's Arkham trilogy. Preorder now, the publisher and retailers exclaimed. However, even as Warner Bros. and retailers pushed for fans to preorder the season pass, we still didn't know all that would be included in it.
Fans caused an uproar, and rightfully so. Why should anybody spend $40 on something they know nothing about? Eventually, Warner Bros. detailed some of what would be in the season pass, but not all. Fast-forward to today, almost four months after Arkham Knight's release, and Warner Bros. is finally detailing everything that will come in the game's so far disappointing season pass.
Four months ... it took them four months, four whole months after the vast majority of Batman: Arkham Knight players already shelled out $40 on promises of more great Batman to come. It took Warner Bros. that long to give concrete details on everything that would be part of the season pass.
It's absurd. It's outrageous. It's insulting. It's also anti-consumer. The recently-announced Star Wars Battlefront season pass is no different. For $50, EA proudly declares, you can get access to four expansions for its upcoming shooter as they release. Yet, details on the season pass are laughably scarce, only going so far as to say that the expansions will include new locations. No timeline has been given for when the expansions will release. No list of new maps or planets players will be able to explore has been provided ... nothing. However, you should preorder now!
Nevermind that the full games for these season passes aren't even out yet and that their ultimate quality remains unknown. Publishers and retailers want your money as soon as possible and could care less about taking if before a game's release. That these season passes are announced months before a game's release is nothing new at this point. It's accepted practice, but why announce a season pass at all if the only details you can provide about it boil down to simply "more content?"
It likely stems from the fact that the content of the season passes are not set in stone. Game development can often be hectic, with ideas and features for products changing all the time. Developers likely don't know what will make it into the game's season pass, and thus, full details on what a season pass will provide can't be disclosed at the time of their announcement.
However, if that's the case, do us all a favor and just wait. Please, EA. Please, Warner Bros. Just wait. Wait to sell your season pass until you can provide concrete details on what it will include. You can go ahead and announce it. We realize you want to create buzz and hype. Go ahead, announce the season pass for your latest game. However, don't let customers buy something they know nothing about. Don't put the season pass up for preorder until more details are available.
It's the right thing to do ... not that it matters. Video games are a business, and that means these companies want your money as soon as possible. They know that buzz for a game is largest at the time of its release. They want season passes to be on sale around the launch of the game so that they can get the maximum number of players to buy it, regardless of whether or not anybody, even the developers, know what will come included with it.
At this point, buying a game's season pass isn't so different from backing a game project on Kickstarter. Either way, you are essentially buying a promise, a promise that the developers will deliver what you've signed up for. The sad truth is that Kickstarter is much more open and transparent. Kickstarter projects lay out exactly what their goals are, what they shoot to deliver and how they plan to make it happen. If a Kickstarter project fails to deliver on its promises or attempts to steal people's money, the developers can be held responsible. Backers can demand a refund. Legal action can be taken. There are fail safes in place.
If you are buying a season pass, however, all you can do is wait and hope for the best. Knowing a developer's pedigree is the only piece of information most gamers have when deciding on whether or not to purchase a season pass, because literally almost no other information is available. If a season pass fails to deliver or turns out to be disappointing, players can't demand a refund. You're stuck with $40 worth of extra content you care nothing about, and it could have all been avoided if you had simply known something about the season pass you were buying months in advance. Talk about buyer beware.
Video games shouldn't be like this. Perhaps more so than any other form of entertainment, there is a real relationship in the game industry between creator and customer. Players help to shape the games they play, whether it's in discovering exploits the developers missed or creating new content for the game out of sheer passion. It's just not right for publishers to ask players, their fans, to spend $40 or $50 without having to show anything for it. Publishers shouldn't be asking fans to spend $40 on a promise.
The game industry is better than this. DLC and season passes are here to stay, but that doesn't mean it all has to be so consumer-unfriendly. So, before you buy the season pass for Fallout 4 (which will probably be great) or pony up for the $120 Star Wars Battlefront Ultimate Edition (which may or may not be great), wait ... just wait. Wait for the publishers and developers to provide concrete details instead of promises. Get educated. Show some restraint. Make these publishers earn your money by letting them show, not tell (though, at this point, even telling us what's in a season pass would be an improvement). That's how this is supposed to work — or at least it should be.