Season Passes Like Destiny 2's Won't Go Anywhere Until You Stop Buying In
It was 2012. I’d just pre-ordered Mass Effect 3. When I got to the cash register I was confronted with an unexpected question: ”Would you like to buy the DLC?” This is pretty much a standard question in today's gaming market, but back then it wasn't quite as widespread.
After inquiring and deliberating for a few seconds, I opted to pick up the extra content. But the whole DLC turned out to be really short and wholly focused on recruiting a Prothean teammate -- not worth the $10 I spent on it. That in itself was disappointing, but worse than that was the fact that it felt like this teammate really should have been part of the base game in the first place.
Having the Protheans in the game unveiled the culture and views of a whole species of people who had previously only been understood through conjecture based on ancient ruins. Their presence in the game helped to recontextualize the reaper threat and made everything else feel more urgent. That added later of depth shouldn't have been locked behind a paywall.
Months later, Borderlands 2 released. The game's plans for DLC were ambiguous, but a Season Pass had been announced nonetheless. You would get all the DLC bundled together for a discounted price! What a great deal! How novel! It was a gamble I was willing to take, because the 4 DLC add-on’s for the original Borderlands were all pretty good.
Little did we know then that two extra characters would be released -- neither of which was included in the Season Pass. (And one of which was dropped shortly after launch because she hadn't been "balanced" enough to appear in the final base game at release.) Aside from that, multiple smaller DLCs come out which were also not covered by that Season Pass. The 4 major DLCs that were covered were quality content, but that doesn't quite excuse all the little extras that we still had to buy into separately.
These experiences were my master course in shady DLC practices. And every gamer out there has their own stories and scars from getting ripped off nowadays. These sorts of tales could make up a large, Tolkien-esque tome -- and every day, unsavory DLC practices are writing sequel after sequel.
Would've been awesome to have her at launch...
Destiny 2 Has Already Proven It Won't Be Any Different
When Destiny 2 was revealed, fans got the standard spiel about pre-ordering the game if they want to get early access to the beta. We also saw various pre-order editions, with passes that cover the first two expansions. Getting these passes will be an extra $30 on top of the base $60 -- that means you'll be forking over $90 if you want to have all the games "bonus" content. It's a steal....right?
Wrong. Let's look at how this deal is worded in a tweet from the official Destiny account:
See that? Expansion I and Expansion II. We have absolutely no idea what those expansions will be, or what they will include whenever they release -- that is, beyond speculation that's mostly based on what we got from expansions in the original Destiny. We're being asked to pay for a product when we don't have any concrete information about what that money is going to get us. This is a huge problem.
The Bad (& Worse) News
This isn't anything new. Bungie certainly isn't the first offender -- in fact, basically every AAA developer has done it in the last several years. We've had Day 1 DLC, on-disc DLC, and Season Passes for far too long. And we, the "valued" consumers, keep getting burned by these practices. Games get released with DLC that seems like it was withheld from the base version, rather than being truly "bonus" content -- like the Prothean in Mass Effect 3 or Gaige in Borderlands 2.
Seaon passes are sold without any actual detail on what they'll contain. Content that literally already exists on the game disc we've purchased is locked behind a pay gate. (One Dreamcast game didn't unlock its on-disc DLC for 17 freakin' years). And this doesn't even touch on the fact that microtransactions have become common in full-priced games, as well.
And the worse news is that companies are always finding new and creative ways to force us to fork over more cash for the same amount of content. (I'm looking at you and your episodic games, Square Enix...) All of these things have proliferated to the point that if you want to avoid them entirely, then your best option is to just stop playing video games.
But there is a sliver of hope, and it lies in the fans.
Season Passes and other DLC packs aren't the only time that game developers have taken part in unsavory business practices. In the early 2010s, it was extremely common to charge extra to access a game's multiplayer mode -- especially with EA games (including ME3). And EA's reputation got run into the ground because of it.
As early as 2012, Ubisoft openly discussed the idea of featuring microtransactions in their fully-priced AAA releases. In fact, they recently did that in For Honor -- and hell has been raining down on them ever since. This fan backlash means Ubisoft will have to turn course, just like they finally did after fans spent years complaining about franchise fatigue with Assassin's Creed.
What does this mean? That fans (and fans alone) have the power to shape the way that developers treat us. If we put our feet down (or in this case, put our wallets away), they will have to listen to us eventually.
If we want to see this pattern of behavior change, we have to start a revolution ourselves.
Viva La Revolucion!
We've all suffered at the hands of greedy developers. At some point or another, DLC has been a thorn in all our sides (at best) or has even outright ruined a game (at worst). This is a serious issue in the gaming industry, as the distrust and discontent between developers and their fans is growing rapidly.
And it's a shame, because games are such a unique form of entertainment that's being stagnated by money-grubbing selling practices and reiterative franchises that are uninspired but guaranteed to sell. Imagine what types of games we could be playing now if the industry spent half as much time innovating gameplay as it has innovating the business model.
I'm not saying that all DLC is bad and should be done away with -- there's plenty of content that's thoughtful, fun, engaging, and ultimately worth the money we spend on it. But as consumers, we must demand that it be that the bonus content we pay for be truly bonus content, and not just aspects of the base game that have been cut out. We must demand that any content we pay for be worth our time and money.
Power to the Players
More than anything, we must remain vigilant and act according to the practices we want to see from the developers who provide us with games. Keep a close eye on products. Demand transparency when investing in unreleased products -- be it Season Passes or Kickstarter campaigns. Demand that critics get access to review copies prior to release, or simply don't purchase a game until reviews are up. We can't keep fueling a publishers' ability and willingness to ask us for ever-increasing amounts of money unless they're holding up their end of the deal with quality content.
Not every company that’s asking for money is trying to screw us over, but unfortunately a lot of them are. Be wary and thoughtful about it -- whether it's with Destiny 2 or any other game that gets announced in the coming years. If you determine there is something amiss, then make a ruckus. If others agree we’ll become louder. They can’t help but listen to us once it cuts into their bottom line.