Should Video Game Season Passes Be More Transparent?

The quintessential gripe that many gamers of today have with the video game medium is the blatant monetization of in-game assets. This trend, often referred to as DLC (Downloadable Content), or Microtransactions, has accrued a considerable amount of censure in recent years, mainly because of the underhanded nature of how it’s marketed. While the prevalence of simple microtransactions are a disconcerting reality of the times we’re living in, they are, at least for the most part, transparent in that they illustrate to the consumer the amount of content each individual purchase provides (e.g. buying one cosmetic item, a set amount of in-game currency, etc.). These individual packets of content often grow in number following a games launch, and when left unchecked can obscure its associate game page on whatever platform its featured on. A good example of this is Dead or Alive 5 Last Round, a game so steeped in microtransactions that consumers need to cycle through 4 pages on Sony’s proprietary PlayStation store just to get through them all. A workaround that most studios have capitalized on is generating viable “passes” that allow players to circumvent the tedium of having to purchase bits of content individually.

Succinctly called, “Season Passes” (an initiative that was gaining commercial traction in the early 2010’s) these items were often sold shortly after a game launched and essentially granted players access to all future DLC’s that each respective studio aimed to develop. These passes acted similarly to what one would expect from theme parks; purchase one, and you’re allowed to ride any attraction within the park. The same concept applied to video games: purchase a season pass, and you’re treated to any future DLC that was made available to consumers. Not all video games launched with these passes, however studios that did feature the service often priced theirs at a reasonable amount ($20 to $30 were typical price points during the concepts nascency). This business mode — sadly — has been stretched, abused, and downright overly emphasized for its merits, especially when you take into consideration how cryptic its usefulness truly is. The developers behind each season pass, for example, do not have to make the content being developed known to the would-be consumers of the pass. They also neglect to give somewhat of an accurate timeline as to the systematic release dates of the DLC contained therein. Everything is kept in the dark, and, in all actuality, the quality of the additional content is contingent upon the successful release of the core game.

In other words, if a particular game sells poorly, then less money will go into the creation of additional DLC. Those who purchased the season pass — often times for amounts in excess of $30.00 — will then suffer as a result, mainly because less manpower will go into the development of this additional content.

If developers are more forthcoming about the content covered under season passes (i.e., showcasing all of the content they’re going to develop), then players will undoubtedly be a bit more apprehensive to shell out the extra cash. It is because of the season pass’ secrecy that it thrives in today’s market. It’s an attractive purchase, especially to those who espouse material associated with the main game (i.e. the fans). However, it is apparent that today, the very element that allows it to flourish is also one that, in retrospect, pushes it into a realm of censure and skullduggery. Consumers are purchasing a promise, one that is adorned in high-profile press releases and top-tier marketing tropes. I’d wager that the process works out a bit like this: once a studio nets a sizeable amount of money from their base game, they then proceed in developing the additional content, however small or insignificant it may be. If enough money is garnered from the sale of the initial season pass, then others might follow (e.g. Season 2, 3, etc.), each with their own respective promises. Should developers be taken to task on the lack of transparency associated with today’s season passes? I wholeheartedly believe so. Without such reforms, these marketing tropes will only get progressively more insidious.

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