Downloadable content, season passes, and preorder bonuses.
I know I’m hardly the first person to harp on these things. In fact, iplayedthegame just posted Modern Gaming Is A Bit Rubbish, which goes over some of the things that I’m noting here (microtransactions and preorder bonuses). Athena also finished a piece recently on hype culture called Crashing The Hype Train that is definitely worth reading. Other more prominent figures and publications have criticized the gaming industry’s abuse of DLC, season passes, microtransactions, and preorder bonuses.
But that isn’t going to stop me from chiming in.
It seems that buying a game these days has evolved into an affair that requires spreadsheets, strategy, and a second job. So many new titles that release come out to the fanfare of promised DLC, usually with the offer of a season pass that offers a “discount” for buying the extra content up front. The same title also releases with a preorder bonus; and if customers are really lucky, the game also has microtransactions available either at launch or later down the line.
It used to be that you just bought a game. You went to the store, grabbed the cardboard game box, threw down some cold-hard cash, and went home to enjoy your new toy. If you were playing on a PC, the worst you had to contend with was an install time of about 30 minutes to an hour, with maybe some disk changes to break up the action. We all know the corporate culture infesting our hobby has all but ruined our fun times, and I can spend my time lamenting the death of gaming, wringing my hands, and tearing at my clothes.
So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. So far we’ve seen everything from…
Horse Armor To Praxis Kits
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion released on PC and Xbox 360 in 2006 to (deserved) critical praise. It would later make its debut on PS3 in 2007, but not before Bethesda tried a relatively new concept.
In April after the release, Bethesda dropped a paid downloadable update for Oblivion that added armor into the game for the various horse mounts. Being largely cosmetic, and having a relative insubstantial price, Oblivion‘s horse armor DLC quickly became an example of how to not do DLC. Later, Bethesda would release several other DLC packs that offered content ranging from new player strongholds (Orrery, Wizard’s Tower, Thieve’s Den) to new quest lines (Mehrune’s Razor). Eventually, Bethesda even released a full expansion as DLC in the form of Shivering Isles, which gave players an entirely new area to explore and new quests to complete.
But Pandora’s Box was opened. Microtransactions and paid DLC had found their way onto consoles for the first time, and while Bethesda had demonstrated both the possible good and bad examples of how to handle DLC, others were free to make their own mistakes.
Once other companies (*cough* Electronic Arts) got their hands on the idea, things quickly got out of control. For instance, in 2008 EA announced that they’d be releasing DLC for Dead Space. While it followed in the footsteps of Bethesda’s previous actions, EA somehow managed to liven things up a bit. The DLC took the form of weapon packs and character skins, some of which gave ridiculous advantages to the player, and others that were entirely exclusive to specific platforms. Square Enix seemed to borrow this idea for their release of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided by including purchasable, one-time use Praxis kits for a dollar a piece.
Yep, you can level up one character once for $1, or ten times for $7. So there’s that I guess.
There are some bright lights in the depths of DLC hell, which is filled to the brim with all manners of phoned-in content and microtransactions. Oddly enough, EA also provided Bioware with the power to make some of the lowest priced, damn good DLC that I’ve seen in some time. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt also not only showcased how minor cosmetic DLC could be released for free, but how a season pass could be done right, and major DLC like Hearts Of Stone and Blood And Wine.
However, many publishers have proven that they’ll find any way they can to capitalize on their games, but that isn’t limited to just everyday DLC. Publishers also work out deals with platform holders to make sure their game…
“Includes 60 Minutes Of Exclusive Content, Only On…”
Full disclosure here, it’s BS whether Microsoft or Sony secures exclusive content for their respective platform. I’d mention Nintendo, but they really haven’t started in on the practice; credit to Nintendo where credit is due. Microsoft and Sony however have been lobbying publishers for any edge they can get over their competition.
Microsoft’s most lamented act in the exclusivity war took form in their partnership with Activision to deliver map packs to Xbox 360 one month earlier than other platforms for the infamous Call of Duty series, up until Sony snatched up that deal for the PlayStation 4 with Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Sony returned the favor by securing exclusive content for games like Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood/Revelations/III/IV: Black Flag/Syndicate, the Batman: Arkham Asylum/City/Origins/Knight games, and more recently with Destiny by offering PS4 users extra weapons and additional content with a year’s worth of exclusivity.
Regardless of which company does it, exclusive content is a load of garbage for everyone involved. Furthermore, there’s been little indication that exclusive content influences purchases at all. If anything, all exclusivity does is piss off the players that don’t own the platform that the exclusive content is for. It isn’t like four extra missions are going to convince a customer to buy a brand new system to play a multiplatform game anyway.
Luckily, we’re given the option to…
“Buy The Season Pass To Save On The Upcoming DLC!”
I used to like the idea of getting season passes for content when I worked for GameStop, but that was largely because it gave me a way to boost my store’s reserves when we were having an off-day. I’d preorder my games so I could make sure both my employees and my store wouldn’t suffer the shame of being the focal point of a conference call. Aside from my altruistic tendencies, I actually thought that season passes were a good idea, because I love getting more of games that I enjoy playing.
They really didn’t start that way though. Season passes started out in force through services like the infamous Call of Duty Elite service, which served as a way to capitalize on die-hard Call of Duty players. Subscribers to the elite service received DLC like drops and map packs for “free” as part of the yearly subscription. It was later discontinued with the launch of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, when it was rebranded as a season pass as a one-time purchase.
Now, many games release with a season pass for the extra content. Some season passes seem worth the cost of admission, like Dying Light‘s for instance. Dying Light‘s pass didn’t seem valuable at first, only offering some meager content in the form of smallish zones to explore, weapon packs, and one extra gameplay mode. It later proved its worth in the form of Dying Light: The Following, which was offered as part of the season pass that saw a sizable price increase from $15 to $20. Bethesda followed in the footsteps of Dying Light with their release of DLC for Fallout 4, by increasing the price of their season pass for additional content from $30 to $50 (let’s hope this doesn’t become another trend). Whether the DLC for Fallout 4 is considered to be worth the cost is a matter of opinion, but I personally feel that more value was added to the game by enabling mods on consoles than the DLC that was released.
Other games however have trouble proving the worth of their season pass. Probably the best example of poor value would be the original Watch_Dogs, which repackaged the retailer-exclusive preorder DLC (I’ll get to this in a minute) into the pass, seemingly to pad the content offered. Other than the preorder bonuses, owners of the season pass also received two unique pieces of content: the T-Bone storyline (which was pretty fun) and the Conspiracy! Digital Trip.
Probably the most heinous example of corporate greed when it came to season passes to date has to be Batman: Arkham Knight however. Warner Brothers had the nerve to ask players to fork over $40 for the extra content, which consisted primarily of character and vehicle skins. The only DLC included in the season pass that weren’t simple skins were small story packs or additional challenge maps.
The problem with season passes isn’t that they exist. After all, bundle deals have been a thing in consumer culture for some time. The issue is that season passes are sold with the pitch that the content will be worth the cost, but satisfaction doesn’t ever need to be guaranteed. What worsens the deal is that season pass content is generally not refundable if it doesn’t meet expectations of quality, and in some recent cases the season pass might not even cover all of the content that is going to be released.
Few games illustrate my last point better than Destiny, which launched with a $35 expansion pass that offered up two full $20 expansions for a $5 discount. The Dark Below and House of Wolves added a menial amount of content to Destiny: a handful of story missions, two new Strike missions, a raid, a few new multiplayer maps, and some new items to wear. To be fair, that sounds like a lot, but the story missions could be completed in a short amount of time; you could beat both expansion’s campaigns in less than three hours. The true insult however came when The Taken King was announced and it was later revealed that it wouldn’t be included in the expansion pass at all. The $40 expansion that wasn’t part of the expansion pass. Activision and Bungie later repeated this same practice with Rise Of Iron, Destiny‘s latest expansion with a price tag of $30.
Sometimes we’re given something for free just for paying ahead of time for a game. Publishers given us the option to…
Preorder Now And Get The Exclusive…
I’m going to go ahead and jump in on this little gem as well. Like with season passes, I originally was all in on preorder bonuses when working for GameStop. “Good” preorder bonuses made getting customers to reserve games much easier, which in turn made my life easier since I wouldn’t get in hot water over not maintaining a good ratio of transactions to reserves (15%-20%). Bonuses like Nuketown being offered for Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Sniper Elite 3‘s mission to kill Hitler made it easy to get people to throw down some cash early on a game.
It wasn’t always that way though. Most preorder bonuses are garbage to be honest. Often times, the bonuses are things like the Flames Of The Inquisition pack from Dragon Age: Inquisition that never get used after a certain level or different armor shaders and loading screen skins (aka space ships) for Destiny.
But this is me just complaining that preorder bonuses are generally lame. There’s another side to this as well. Preorder bonuses aren’t worth the cost of buying into a game that’s a hunk of steaming crap. The idea is to provide incentive to buy a game blindly, to lure in a customer to pay $60 for something that has no guarantee of quality behind it. Like the season pass, this is something that seems to be falling out of favor finally, though it doesn’t seem to be dying quickly enough.
I’ve always been careful with purchasing games on day one, though I haven’t been immune to buying a dud every once in a while. Preorder bonuses are just way for publishers to get someone to buy the game as soon as possible, to maximize profits.
Perhaps the last negative thing about preorder bonuses that I can think of at the moment is that they’re an attempt to create a gap between the haves and have-nots. Remember when I mentioned Nuketown earlier? Didn’t preorder the game? No Nuketown. Yep, that’s right. Players that didn’t preorder didn’t get an entire map for some time. Activision knew this would drive reserves, so they deliberately leveraged that to their advantage. They later started banking on getting people to reserve by offering the game early to people that reserved the game.
Except here’s the truth. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare had an offer to give preorder customers the game a day early, except if customers who didn’t preorder asked for the game on the early release day, we had to sell it to them, thereby negating the benefit of preordering. You heard that right… The one major benefit of throwing down money on a copy of Advanced Warfare before release meant absolutely nothing because when push comes to shove, publishers and retailers are going to do whatever it takes to get someone to buy a game. Even GameStop’s own promise of holding a preorder copy of a new release for 48 hours was often broken because store staff were told to sell through the copies they had in stock, regardless of the amount that were still reserved.
About the only reason to preorder anything anymore is is you want to preload a digital game onto your hard drive. That won’t save you from the risk of the game turning out to be a hunk of garbage though, because most retailers and storefronts don’t allow returns of games once you play them.
Well I’m Depressed Now
I do love some of the new things that have come out this era of gaming. I do legitimately enjoy the fact that I can get a game and have more of it to play because the developer spent some time building onto it. It reminds me of the days of Command & Conquer: Yuri’s Revenge and Rainbow Six 3: Athena’s Sword. The days when an expansion pack actually expanded the game by a considerable amount.
I love that my games can be fixed after launch instead of being stuck with a broken piece of crap (even though many games remain as a piece of crap). Day one patches will always suck, especially when the size of them can stretch into multiple gigabytes, but at least they tend to fix things.
Is modern gaming completely bad? Nah.
But preorder bonuses and season passes are still shit.
What do you think? Is there anything I missed? Anything that you feel isn’t a big deal? Let me know!
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