In today’s digital market, the use of season passes has become popular to get additional profits from a consumer through a game’s shelf life.
The season pass option has appeared alongside the rise of DLC and microtransactions in the Game Industry and has two different uses.
First is that they are viewed as a secondary pre-order on a video game. Where someone can spend money now and be promised future content just like pre-ordering a game from a digital store. This in turn can increase the price of a game from $50-60 to $80-$90 depending on the initial price of the game and size of the season pass.
Another use is that they can become a popular option for sales when the time comes. Since the original purchase will be on sale, many consumers will view the season pass more favorably if they are already getting a huge savings on the original. Also if the DLC that comes with the pass was reviewed favorably, people will be more likely to buy it both on sale or without.
Talking about advantages of the model, they are focused mostly on the developer/publisher.
With the issues of game devaluation and how risk adverse the AAA market is, being able to get more money out of each individual game in a series is important for developers and publishers.
Because gamers these days expect titles to be worked on beyond the game’s release date, season pass sales can guarantee that the developer will be paid for their continued work on a title. And again, if the game and DLC are reviewed favorably, then sales of the season pass will go up.
Season passes also offer another avenue for developers to convince consumers to pre-order the game if it means some kind of discount on the pass itself.
For the consumer, the main advantage is when the game and pass go on sale as it will allow them to get the “complete version” of the game at a cheap price.
However like pre-orders, season passes are not popular for a lot of gamers as the Assassin’s Creed Unity example has demonstrated.
The same concerns about pre-ordering a game are also associated with season passes as the consumer is expected to put money towards something that they have no idea how well it will turn out. While publishers have gotten more risk adverse, so have consumers who don’t want to spend $60+ between a game and season pass and find out that the game was bad.
When trying to sell the consumer a season pass, it’s important to lay out exactly what it will offer as to avoid any confusion. With Borderlands 2, Gearbox Software didn’t explain it clearly that there was additional DLC beyond the season pass and that confused and annoyed a lot of consumers.
The problem is that there is no real definition as to what a season pass should include and it’s based on the game and genre itself. Games like Saint’s Row 4 had a season pass which included all story based content, but did not give the player any of the cosmetic DLCs.
Another problem with season passes for the developer is that they are a commitment by the developer to put out new content for their title, regardless of how well or poor the game sold. If they fail to put out what they were promised, the negative PR for the season pass will affect future sales from that developer.
With Batman Arkham Origins, the game was shipped with a season pass option but after bugs and poor reviews which led to low sales, the developers stopped after just one piece of story content and the pass was edited to say that there would be nothing else coming.
But Assassin’s Creed Unity is the only example so far of a developer failing to honor their agreement to continue supporting Unity with more content. While the developers have promised one piece of free DLC and a free game from Ubisoft’s line-up, that doesn’t make up for the fact that now many people see Ubisoft as a failure when it comes to producing a quality game and content. And there is no doubt that this will affect future sales and pre-orders of Ubisoft’s games.
In order for more consumers to trust season passes, developers will need to commit to season pass development while developing the game and not as an afterthought. A season pass works best if the initial game is of high quality, not being tacked on to a title with shoddy infrastructure from the start.
Great DLC can elevate an already amazing title, but it won’t save a sinking ship and can end up costing the developers in PR and future sales as Ubisoft is now dealing with.