This week, we learned that Mass Effect: Andromeda will not feature a season pass. The news made the rounds on all of the major websites. This is interesting since none of the Mass Effect games have featured season passes, the fourth game doing the same should be anything but remarkable. And yet it is, because the industry has gotten so used to double-charging its biggest supporters that simply not trying to fleece them is somehow noteworthy. This is the world we live in and it’s time for a change.
I have to say that in theory there is nothing particularly wrong with season passes. The concept isn’t new or unique to video games. What you’re buying is essentially a bundle, the promise of more of the game you love a few dollars cheaper for paying up front. It’s an opportunity for fans to support their favorite studios with a little extra cash in a way publishers will understand (their bottom line). All of that is well and good.
Except in the vast majority of cases in recent years, season passes have all but screwed their buyers. How many times has a game come out promising X amounts of DLC only for it to finally release middling and mediocre, usually filled with bugs or PC problems because it wasn’t QA’d right? For every The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt there are five Batman: Arkham Knight’s. Even games who get it right in even several of their usual half dozen DLC drops release stinkers you can “save” on through a season pass. Or just as often, they release penny content: skins, XP boosters, and other second-rate “add-ons” that couldn’t say “checkbox filler” faster if they tried.
Fun fact: a whole lot of the DLC included in those passes isn’t even made by the studio who made the game. It’s true. They ship the assets off to contract houses, maybe work with them on some plans as “consulting,” while the developers who made the original game move on their next major release. This isn’t to say those contract firms aren’t filled with talented, dedicated game makers. They are and many studios survive off contract gigs. But it’s a bit like a famous painter handing his portrait to the apprentice and saying “do your best.” That apprentice might be amazing, but he’s not the painter. In games, it’s the rare outsourced DLC that approaches the craft of main game.
But this isn’t an attack on developers legitimately trying their best, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. Developers: we love you. DLC, at its core, represents more of a good thing. That’s nothing to scoff at unless it’s outright bad or somehow harms the original product. This is about the insidious trend of upselling ideas to wring every last nickel out of your fanbase before doing it again next year and not even making good on what you’re selling.
Mass Effect: Andromeda didn’t make news because it continued a trend, it made news because it once again threw it out the window. A trend that happens to be predicated on exploiting its biggest fans and the goodwill of its studios. A trend that has become progressively more expensive over time, now nearly the cost of a whole second game, and one that demands money upfront, sight unseen for what you’re buying or when it might materialize. A trend whose accountability is entirely and rightfully suspect.
To put it frankly, with the exception of only a small selection of studios blessedly from the RPG world, you are almost always better off not buying a season pass. Something will inevitably be poor, and passing on that one dud will almost always negate any savings you might have earned. In some cases, enough “content” is worth passing on that a season pass feels like highway robbery. They are quite simply not worth your trust.
When these topics come up, you inevitably hear the counter-argument that no one is making gamers buy these things. Publishers are businesses out to make money. If they can sell you on an idea (this is 100% of video game marketing, by the way), why shouldn’t they? And yes, you know what, the impetus is on us. We shouldn’t support things like this.
At the same time, this is an industry that eats its own tail year after year, cannibalizing its own studios and talents to feed the bottom line. Maybe it’s time game publishers have a little more accountability for their own standards. Maybe souring the final tastes of an otherwise excellent game is - shockingly! - a bad idea. Maybe stop poisoning the well until you come up with the latest scheme to squeeze an extra few dollars out of the people you need to buy your next game? These are trends our industry does over and over again in so many different areas. It hurts gamers. It hurts studios. It hurts developers.
But the impetus is on us. It is. Companies are not our friends. If they could release a $.10 GIF and pass it off as the next Call of Duty, they would. They’re simultaneously trying to make their shareholders profit while managing the soaring costs of game development. They will milk and milk until the proverbial teet is dry, then move on to the next heffer in line. It is up to us to say enough is enough and stop buying things without knowing what they are first. We need to be respectfully vocal so there are more Mass Effects in the world and we force the trend to shift.
Season passes need to disappear for good. Mass Effect: Andromeda should be that beginning.
Horizon: Zero Dawn has a new trailer leading up to its February 28th release date. We finally know a little more about the story and how Aloy is not exiled from her tribe but sent on a mission to uncover the dark forces who slaughtered them. Tribal warfare with a cyborg dinosaur twist? Sign me up.
Speaking of trailers, Rare has released a new video diary detailing the co-op elements featured in Sea of Thieves. Everyone will need to fill a role to successfully navigate, from the person at the wheel, to the navigator with the map, the to bird in the crow’s nest. Even elements like digging up chests will require teamwork. I am very keen to see how this one plays out. It will either catch like wildfire or rest in a small niche because of those very cooperative elements.
Tales fans will be excited to hear that Tales of Beseria has released a demo to both Steam and the PlayStation 4 store. Along with it come a very modest set of system requirements you can have a look at here.
Finally, Final Fantasy XV hit a milestone of six million sales this week. This figure includes retail and digital sales across PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Seeing Final Fantasy back on top should lift every RPG fan’s heart.
Have a good week, folks!