The concept of a “Season Pass” comes from other forms of entertainment. It’s common in amusement parks, where a season pass means that you can visit as often as you like without having to buy individual tickets. The gaming season pass has a lot in common with television season passes, where you can buy access to all episodes of a show for a single price, even if some of those episodes haven’t yet been aired.
When you hear the words “Season Pass” in reference to game DLC, what do you think? Personally, I think that it indicates a discount for prepaying for all of the DLC that is planned for release for a particular game. However, there’s not really a consistent definition of “Season Pass” and I think that leads to confusion among us gamers.
The LA Noire “Rockstar Pass”
One of the earliest “Season Pass” DLC bundles available was the Rockstar Pass for LA Noire. Being so early, it really set the expectations of consumers.
Included with the Rockstar Pass was:
- All of the major “Case” DLC – 4 in total.
- Several bits of pre-order DLC, including some that would have required you to buy the game at different retailers
The price here was $10 if you bought it shortly after release, or $12 after the limited time offer expired.
What was nice about it was that it was a way to get all of the “exclusive” DLC. You didn’t feel like you were being nickel-and-dimed to death by the Rockstar Pass. You were paying a reduced price for the major DLC, and the minor cosmetic DLC got thrown in there as a bonus.
Rockstar on the whole tends to be pretty decent about their DLC – they release disc versions, sometimes just throw pre-order DLC in for free after the game’s been out a while, and typically offer a “complete” edition that gets you the full game plus all DLC for cheap.
Modern Warfare 3’s ELITE Subscription
When Modern Warfare 3 launched, Infinity Ward offered 1-year subscriptions to a service called ELITE. ELITE included a bunch of stuff, notably:
- All multiplayer map packs for the game
- All spec-ops co-op map packs for the game
- Access to special web content, stats, and “clans” within the ELITE website
ELITE itself was a complete boondoggle, with server issues, weeks of downtime, etc. Some of the promised features never materialized, and others were a constant source of pain and disappointment throughout the game’s lifetime.
The ELITE subscription was billed as a “1 year” deal. When people started to complain about the issues, they plied us with free months of service. If you bought it in, say, January or February after the game came out, you might have an expectation that you’d end up with DLC for the coming year’s release of Black Ops 2. Or you might assume that the ELITE website and it’s special benefits would carry over to the new game somehow.
Nope. After the Modern Warfare 3 DLC came out they told us all that our “year subscriptions” were more of a “well, whatever definition of year we want to use, in this case, it’s 5 or 6 months worth of stuff.” ELITE kind of died a quiet death, and we haven’t seen it back in the intervening years.
The Borderlands 2 Season Pass
Borderlands 2 really took the concept of Season Pass and twisted and stretched it even further. Trying to figure out what is and what isn’t included in the Borderlands 2 Season Pass is an exercise in frustration. It’s generally safer just to assume that a piece of DLC isn’t included in the Borderlands 2 Season Pass, honestly. I think for this one I’m going to need a table.
|What’s it caled?||So… what is it?||Is it in the Season Pass?|
|“Premiere Club”||A pre-order bonus. Access to a 5th class, the Mechromancer, plus a special loot-enhancing relic and a Golden Key.||Uhhh… kinda? If you get the pass, you get the relic and key, but not the Mechromancer. She’s a $10 charge.|
|Creature Slaughter Dome||A retailer-exclusive DLC, which features arena style combat like the other Slaughter Domes.||No, that’ll be $5 please.|
|Skin/Head Packs||Too many to list individually, these packs come with an extra skin and head for a single character.||Nope, $0.99 additional a pop.|
|Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty||The first major campaign DLC for Borderlands 2.||Yes!|
|Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage||The second major campaign DLC for Borderlands 2.||Yes!|
|Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt||The third major campaign DLC for Borderlands 2.||Yes!|
|Ultimate Vault Hunter Pack||A level cap increase from 50 to 61, and a third playthrough of the main campaign.||Yes, thankfully!|
|The Psycho||Access to the 6th playable character class, the Psycho.||Psh, characters in your season pass? I’m laughing so hard I can hardly keep hold of these $10 bills I removed from all your wallets!|
|Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep||The fourth major campaign DLC for Borderlands 2.||Yes!|
|Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 2: Digistruct Peak Challenge||Another level cap bump from 61 to 72, plus some sort of challenging new enemy arena.||Although the first “Ultimate” upgrade was included, this one, not so much.|
|T.K. Baha’s Bloody Harvest||The first of the so-called “Headhunter packs” which feature new areas and bosses to fight.||No, what are you crazy? The season’s over now, didn’t you get the memo?|
I love Borderlands 2. I own the Season Pass and even bought a few of the DLCs that weren’t included. But this is a mess, guys! If I’m a fan, and I’m playing your game, and I’ve paid up front twice (once for a copy of Borderlands 2, and once for a copy of the Borderlands 2 Season Pass), don’t freaking nickel and dime me. Seriously.
Gearbox also has this habit of releasing 2 really good campaign expansions, and 2 really meh ones. In Borderlands 2’s Season Pass, the “good” ones are Tiny Tina and Torgue, while the Pirate and Hammerlock DLCs are overwhelmingly meh. It’s almost a cost savings to pass on the pass, and just pick up the one or two really essential packs.
The Saints Row 4 Season Pass
Volition has announced that Saints Row 4 will also have a Season Pass option.
In this case, the Saints Row 4 “season” consists of 2 campaign DLCs and a special “alien anal probe” weapon. It’s only $10, which is cheaper than some recent Season Passes.
However, the Saints Row 3 Season Pass was a crapfest of shataclysmic proportions. There was maybe 20 minutes of “fun game” in 5 or 6 hours of lame jokes and miscellaneous stupidity. Thus, I’m a bit gunshy to pick up the pass until after the first pack is out and I see some good reviews.
It’s a shame, too – I’d love to give those guys more of my money, if they could just prove that they’d use it wisely and give me something quality.
What Does “Season Pass” Mean?
Should the words “season pass” mean something universal? Like “organic” as a label applied to food, it carries certain expectations and connotations. It’s increasingly clear that DLC is a big money maker for game companies, and they’ve already shown that they’re more than willing to stretch our expectations as close to the breaking point as they think they can get away with.
I don’t really expect the industry to just spontaneously decide what a “season pass” should consist of, but I think the platform holders (like Microsoft and Sony) should be thinking about what a good customer experience from one of these passes looks like.
In the long term, the survival of the DLC ecosystem rests on satisfied customers, and the more I see and read, the more I’m convinced we’re not all that happy.