N-Eaction: A New Season Pass Approaches

We all like videogames, so surely getting more content for your favourite titles from a one-off payment can only be a good thing for the extra value it undoubtedly offers? Afterall, what's another twenty pounds or so on top of the original asking price of fifty pounds if you end up getting a lot more playtime out of the game?

There used to be a time when a game was considered to be a complete package when your purchased it either in tape, cartridge or disc format. There were no day one patches, no holding back of content so that you had to buy it again at a later date, no such thing as a Season Pass and the only cosmetic items you would have would already be in the game in the form of unlockable extras or accessible via a cheat code, rather than a credit card.

Simple times... better times? That's debatable, definitely more fondly remembered for certain due to nostalgia being a powerful thing and although it was nice to have a complete game in your hands which wouldn't change, also what was broken in a game would usually stay that way, so the modern age has brought us patches which are good when they are applied as needed and DLC can certainly add to games longevity.

Nintendo may be relatively new to the whole Season Pass way of thinking but over the past few consoles including the 3DS and Wii U leading up to the Switch with mobile on the side, the company seems keen to add more content in a variety of ways to games which cost money at launch, plus those which are 'free to start' with the latest addition being a second Fighters Pass for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate; but at what cost? Not just in monetary terms but also in terms of their reputation? Is it a worthy trade-off? Do their fans think it's even that big of a deal? And just how far would we go for more content to appear in some of our favourite games?

Here's what we at N-Europe think about DLC in general as A New Season Pass Approaches...

Dennis Tummers - Staff Writer

"Making games can be a costly business. If you see what it takes to make a big game nowadays, with big 3D open worlds, cinema-like cutscenes, ongoing online support in the case of online multiplayer games and the necessary marketing to get your game known; a game needs to sell well to make a profit.

It can be argued that from a developer’s perspective it would be desirable to increase the price of games, but that goes against all the market trends where game prices are under pressure and need to be as low as possible.

Therefore developers and publishers are looking for other ways to get some extra money out of their products. Be it limited editions, downloadable content, season passes or loot boxes.

It’s difficult to justify this additional content for what it is. Is it a shameless cash grab to get more money from the players that already paid full price for a game, or is it a necessary evil and is it meant to support the devs a bit more for their effort?

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is already selling the second Fighters Pass, and while we know that we will get six new characters and it will give you a pre-order bonus in the form of a Mii costume, we don’t know who is getting that Smash invitation. Not even the first character is announced.

SSBUFightersPassVol2The new pass includes six new mystery fighters, also featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series.

Personally I’m not buying into something where I don’t know what I’m getting. I can truly understand the need from the Smash devs to already announce the second Fighters Pass from a commercial standpoint, and that they cannot say anything about the upcoming characters. But I will not jump onto it, not before I know that it will be worth my money. And a pre-order costume is not going to change that.

In fact, I haven’t bought the first Fighters Pass, because for me it would not give me enough value for the money. For that price I can play a bunch of other content. Smash Ultimate is already packed with 70+ fighters, and I don’t feel the need to get those extra 5 for €25. It’s not that I’m against DLC. I’ve enjoyed the Breath of the Wild extra content, and I’m looking forward to playing with Donkey Kong in Mario+Rabbids.

And I think that is my standing point. I buy additional content if I know what I’m getting and the value for money seems good. I won’t blindly buy into loot boxes, season passes or DLC if I don’t know exactly what I’m getting, not even if it is to support the developer.

It’s a tricky business these blind purchases, as we have seen with the first Fighters Pass. Joker and Hero got fairly positive feedback, and fans went through the roof with Banjo-Kazooie and Terry. And then there is Byleth, who ehrm, got some feedback to say the least. Another Fire Emblem character! Another sword character! Even Sakurai himself saw the humour in that judging his remarks in his latest announcement video.

The thing is, you cannot expect to blindly buy into something and expect it to be 100% your taste. Unfortunately we live in a time where it is too easy to vent your opinion online, even directly to the people involved. And I think I dislike that sort of entitlement a lot more than any bit of DLC or Expansion Pass."

Glen O'Brien - Staff Writer

"When purchasing something, the first thing you'd probably want to know is what exactly you are buying in the first place. Which probably makes the more recent trend of the season pass all the more bizarre to me. As far as the Switch goes, I've had two different experiences with the kind of season pass that keeps information about what is in it from their potential customers. And I'm going to talk about them, and you don't have a say in the matter.

My latest experience was the Smash Bros Ultimate Fighters Pass, which hid pretty much everything about it at the start. We only knew that there'd be 5 different packs, each involving a character, a stage and music to go with it. A sensible person probably should have waited to see if they would like what was in it, but I couldn't help myself, because it was Smash. It's no exaggeration to say that Smash Ultimate is my favourite Switch game so far. So the idea of more content for that is very appealing to me. But then again, I'm the kind of person whose favourite choice of character is "Random" and I host weekly Smash get-togethers at a community centre and at the risk of sounding like a self-appointed expert, I'm probably in a minority there. Even if the unlikely happens and I didn't enjoy something about what was in the Fighter's Pass, chances are good that someone I play the game with would enjoy it.

ZeldaBotWMasterCycleI need your sword, your shield and your... Master Cycle?

Which brings me on to my second experience, the season pass that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was selling. It was a similar situation, a vague description of what was to come that I bought pretty much straight away. However, there was one key difference, I ended up not liking Breath of the Wild. No, this isn't the place to argue about why I hated that particular game, the main point is that I felt like that Season Pass wasn't worth the money because there was no way it could salvage that game for me.

I should have learned a lesson from that, and yet here I am, just recently buying the second Fighters Pass that Smash is now offering, despite not knowing a single character that will come with it. So maybe I'm not the right person to ask about this, but I can tell you one thing. If you're going to commit to buying a season pass that you don't know the contents of, you better be 110% sure that you'll get your money's worth. Because I can't really recommend doing so otherwise. I've been there, it sucks. Don't make that mistake."

João Pereira - Staff Writer

"My feelings on DLC Expansion Passes are ambiguous.

This might be because I am a fighting game enthusiast, and I see that every respectable fighting game has a post-launch plan to add more characters to their games. Looking at fighting game history, we see that increasing a game's roster post-launch is nothing new. Indeed, characters such as Cammy and Dee Jay debuted in later versions of Street Fighter II, and home versions of popular Arcade games would often contain newcomers (such as the much-beloved Link in Soul Calibur II). Within this genre, post-launch DLC is but a modern version of this model, so expected by developers and fans alike, fighting games often divide their post-launch content in "Seasons", essentially announcing that they have a plan to keep the game going.

In this scenario, Season Passes are reasonable, as you know what you're getting: new characters in a playable roster. If you play the game competitively, or just like varied or complete rosters, you'll want the pass. If you only plan to play the single-player modes and be done with it, you can feel free to ignore it. If you only plan to buy the characters that seem fun or interesting (while ignoring the rest), then you can wait to make your decision. Ultimately, there's barely any issue here, because you always have a rough idea of what's coming, even if the developers remain mum for a while on exactly which characters are part of a pass. This is the same for most other competitive videogames, I assume. The game's structure is there from the get-go, whatever extras are being added (be they characters, weapons, stages, or purely cosmetic), you know what a season pass entails, even before you know the specifics.

It's when you get to other genres that you start to see issues with having a Expansion Pass. Single-player PC games had to rely on Expansions for any post-launch content, and even then, there was no set blueprint on what to expect from a post-launch window. Indeed, there may never be one, as post-launch content varies wildly from genre to genre, or even among different games within the same genre. For example, Pokémon Sword & Shield recently announced that its DLC would entail new regions to explore, new Pokémon to see, and even new story elements, with characters that aspire to become gym leaders... but what does that mean, exactly? How big are these regions? Are the Pokémon part of a new Pokédex, or is your old one suddenly incomplete without them? Is the story incomplete without these characters as well? This is all new to the series, so it's hard to tell what to expect. If the first DLC is not to your liking, a Season Pass is not worth it... or is it? The second one could be bigger, or focus on the aspects you like more, but there's no way to know right away. It's a set of questions that's unique to Pokémon.

FireEmblemCinderedShadowsI wonder which of these characters will end up getting into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate?

Furthermore, there is this annoying tendency to not be specific with what to expect. The Expansion Pass for Fire Emblem: Three Houses was announced before that game was even released, and all we got was a vague description: "Additional items. Additional quests. Additional auxiliary battles. Additional story content." Well, at that point, none of us owned the game, so what did any of that mean? What are the items for? Am I missing out on anything important? What even is an auxiliary battle? You might be asking yourself: "What's the big deal, then? You can buy thoses passes at any time. Just wait until they reveal the details". Well, the truth is, companies reveal Expansion Passes early on because they know it works. Some customers really do take the plunge rather earlier than they should.

That's basically it. Expansion Passes can help in keeping a game relevant for some time after launch, and certainly help make the game more profitable, but the fact that they can sometimes be marketed so callously is worrisome. Perhaps it's an overreaction on my part. After all, Passes are usually bought by dedicated fans, and they would likely prefer to experience the new content, rather than skip on it. On the other hand, companies are looking to sell their product, and they're trying to make it as appealing as possible, even if that product is not what you would enjoy the most. Ultimately, all we can do is to think carefully about what is it that we're being sold, and make the most informed decision we can, and to that end, I recommend the patience to wait until you know exactly what is it that an Expansion Pass contains."

Nick Lone - Staff Writer

"Season passes have undoubtedly become a stable of gaming, whether you like them or not. While there is undeniably room for heavy criticism of season passes, I feel, in some respects, they have enhanced the gaming experience overall.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Dear companies, please don’t announce your season pass before your game launches. This is bad form. Why am I dropping fifty bones on your brand-spanking-new game and you’re already asking me for another 20? I only have 206 bones. Stop it. Honestly, this is what annoys me the most. It instantly cheapens the game in my eyes and I’m unlikely to pick it up on day one. It screams “incomplete” and tells me that your team didn’t have time to finish and polish it. I am not going to buy 80% of the game now and the rest later. It’s all or nothing, I’m afraid. I’ll wait for the GOTY edition, thanks, when I know it’s a full game.

Furthermore, to be done right, a season pass needs content. Extra costumes and “unique challenges” or “new gameplay experiences” that conveniently recycle existing assets are not content. They are micro-transactions masquerading as a season pass. A developer should put in work if they want your money. You, Mr. H. Consumer, have already given them enough. A few developers have attempted this approach, and all but one has been left empty handed by yours truly, Nintendo. Of course, I’m on about Breath of the Wild, which I feel didn’t justify its asking price, and is the one Season Pass I truly regret buying. While it did have “new story content”, it added very little to the “base” experience of BOTW (I mean a Master Mode as DLC, come on?!).

I mentioned Colin Moriarty and Chris Ray Gun’s discussion on the N-E Café podcast the other day about how the ‘season pass’ had replaced the same-gen sequel. While we are getting a BOTW sequel, this is one of the rare examples over the last decade of Nintendo actually making a full sequel on the same platform. Still waiting on Pikmin, Mario 3D World, Mario Kart, ARMS… All of these would likely have had a Wii U / Switch sequel by now based on the same engine as the original game had we been having this discussion 10 years ago. All of them, bar 3DW, had DLC added over time. But that’s just down to the progress technology and connectivity have made over that decade.

PIkmin3dlcPikmin 3 had some pretty good dlc, not enough of it to tide us over until Pikmin 4 though.

Content is king, and always will be. Drawing on the Sacred Symbols discussion, I am always happy to drop extra money on a game if a) I have enjoyed the “base” game, and b) would like to play it more. One benefit of a Season Pass is that it is often ready long before a sequel used to be in the previous generation (where a wait of up to two years was likely). This is beneficial due to the fact the game is still fresh in your mind or may even still be in your weekly rotation. So what is a “base” game, then? The way I see it, a “base” game is actually a “full” game. One that has a start, a middle and an end. An experience that is complete without the need for ANY additional money to be invested. Something that Breath of the Wild actually was. Something that, on reflection, all Nintendo developed Switch games have been.

Yes, Nintendo have done well in this regard. Their day-one retail releases are complete experiences (I realise that Splatoon 2, ARMS and Mario Tennis Aces are different, but that’s a discussion for another day). You could pick-up any of their First (or Second) Party releases and be completely satisfied with a content-rich, front-to-back, “full” game experience. Mario Kart 8 on Wii U set the gold standard. A fantastic game, a complete game that gave me more content for a fraction of the price of entry. Off to a good start.

I feel Nintendo have generally followed this path. Splatoon 2’s DLC was fantastic. A second, full single-player experience for a reasonable price. Mario and Rabbids followed suit. The Torna expansion in Xenoblade 2 was less a season pass and more a second game. The upcoming Fire Emblem: Three Houses season pass looks to be cut from the same cloth. Captain Toad, though I admittedly haven’t played it, added more levels for a fiver. I have nothing but positive thoughts about all of this. A good chunk of content to add to and build on the “full” experience. And that is what is critical here. The “full” experience. New content, new missions and new levels. Nothing recycled. In many ways, I think I prefer this to a sequel. It’s available sooner and costs less than half the price of a new game. Give me some more worlds for Mario Odyssey and I’ll bite your hand off! (Though in this instance, a sequel would also be nice).

And so that brings me to Smash Brothers Ultimate. The outlier. Content announced before launch (bad). Content not recycled (good). Content expensive (bad). I’m going to preface this by saying that Smash character reveals are, by a country mile, the very best thing in gaming. What Bose is to audio, Smash reveals are to gaming. They are better even than actually playing the game. The rumours, the hype, the build-up, the reveal, the music, the GORGEOUS cutscenes, the YouTube reactions, the online meltdowns. THE EVENT. It is like Christmas as an eight-year-old child times a thousand but FIVE times a year. Masahiro Sakurai. Oh, Mr. Masahiro Sakurai.

SakuraiSmashBrosThis is the man who has the potential to either make or break your wildest Smash dreams.

And yet, I only jumped in when Terry was released. The fourth Smash character of the five. Why? You see, I’ve recently become of those people who doesn’t like to pay for something when I don’t know what it is I’m getting. While I love the unadulterated ride of a Smash reveal, asking me to drop £25 onto a £60 game for five new characters and stages (in a “full” game that already has 70) is asking a lot. I get that fighting games are different. I get, and wholeheartedly appreciate, the monumental task involved in creating and balancing a new character for a fighting game, but 2020 Nicktendo is much more fiscally responsible than 2017 Nicktendo. Ultimate is currently sitting at 145 hours played on my Switch. I feel like I have gotten more than my money’s worth for the original game + season pass number one. The second is appealing, but I won’t bite until at least the third character release. I have learned my lesson. No amount of “early adopter” “bonus” content will convince me otherwise.

In summation, my word of advice to anyone is to always vote with your wallet. If you understand what you are being sold and find appeal and, more importantly, value in what is being offered, then please, be my guest. At the end of the day, we all have the power to shape how the gaming industry will evolve. My experience with BOTW was a harsh lesson in buying on promise. I will never do that again. Season passes can and should be fantastic. Do your research and be wise. Responsibility is your Master Sword. You always have been and always will be playing with power."

Sam C Gittins - Editor-in-Chief

"During past generations of videogame consoles, the very concept of extra content being added to an already complete game was nothing short of mesmerising. It was all mostly out of reach to anyone outside of Japan until just after the turn of the millenium, however; even before that point in time, there were services on the Sega Megadrive titled Sega Channel in America which would allow you to download entire games such as Pulseman (one of Game Freak's earlier titles) and the BS Satellaview System for the SNES in Japan which let users download new non-canonical entries in The Legend of Zelda series in separate installments to be used in conjunction with radio broadcasts; so in some respects we shouldn't be too surprised now at mere portions of content being added to games, but a couple of decades ago it felt like the future, though it's what many now take for granted.

It all started with the (trojan) Horse Armour download for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which would grant you cosmetic armour for your Horse to use in the offline RPG for the price of just over two pounds. Transactions such as these were in their very early days on the Xbox Live marketplace for the Xbox 360, this meant that it would take a while for developers and publishers to work out just how much would be an acceptable amount of currency to charge for in-game content; today that same horse armour would likely be some king of pre-order bonus instead, or perhaps even a whole legendary horse attached to a real-world plastic figurine?

AHorseDLCofCourseHorses for courses, different steeds made available in different ways but you still needed to pony up.

The realm of downloadable content has expanded exponentially since that first testing of the water in 2006, as simple bits of dlc paved the way for whole paid expansions and as those packs of dlc grew in popularity we would then see the introduction of the season pass, which is in effect purchasing additional content in advance which has a time-frame attached to it and until fairly recently, you at least knew what pieces of additional content you would be purchasing; and why wouldn't you want more content for your favourite game? It's easy to see how the concept became so popular in a short space of time.

What seems to have become more commonplace now, is a season pass which is more like a reverse promissory note, where there is the promise of some sort of content which the owner of the game is paying for up front with the expectation of getting some kind of extra content which will hopefully end up being worth the amount of the season pass cost; except there is no real way of knowing. Some companies will give you a vague idea with a 'road map' of where they see the game going with plans for the future and what kind of extra content you could expect to see, while others just keep it as a complete mystery until 'X' amount of months down the line when the content is ready.

This isn't generally a method of rolling out content which I'm that happy about, especially when it comes to Nintendo seemingly being more than willing to partake in these practices when it comes to mobile titles which have their IP's attached to them; but I'll never play these games so I won't be buying a season pass or subsciption for a Mario Kart game on mobile as Mario Kart 8 DX on the Switch is probably all I will ever want from a Mario Kart game and more for just the price of the game itself plus the Nintendo Switch Online subscription, which at the very least you know what you're getting for relatively little outlay.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a game which I've enjoyed playing regularly since it came out just over a year ago, with the return of ALL characters from the launch of the game plus additional fighters, it was already a generous prospect, especially for Switch owners who might have skipped the Wii U entry entirely which let's not forget had DLC fighters and in many ways paved the way for what we have now in the form of the Fighter's Pass which has been available for some time now plus the second Fighter's Pass which has recently been announced.

SmashBrosUltrosterEven the base roster in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is phenomenal, DLC just elevates it even higher.

Not really knowing what characters I would be getting beyond Joker from Persona 5 plus Pirahna Plant as a bonus, I went ahead and purchased the first Fighter's Pass without hesistation, you can call it blind faith in Sakurai perhaps but I was confident that whichever extra fighters ended up being included, it would still be very good value for money, even though there is an element of gambling to it as to which fighters would end up making the cut; I think that feeling of being invested in the game to such a degree that when the next fighter gets announced in a video from the games director Masahiro Sakurai, the stakes are that much higher and thus the capacity for increased hype in the buildup to the announcement is an inevitability, even something to very much look forward to at certain points throughout the year.

It's not something I would consider doing for many other or indeed any other games at this point, which probably speaks volumes about just how much of a pull the Super Smash Bros. series has over me, that I'm willing to make the exception for this one game, which just so happens to be the one game I get the most enjoyment out of throughout the year and it's the N-Europe community that I have to thank for that because even though I might not have played that much of the single player modes, the multiplayer nights each week keep me coming back which are brilliant enough as it is; but when it's a week in which a new downloadable fighter has been added to the roster... in those weeks I've had some of the most memorable battles ever, as it's usually the first time I will have played as that new character so getting to share that with other players who are as hyped to be playing the game as I am, if not even moreso, is something I can't put a price on.

I suppose that means I'll be off to the Switch eShop soon to buy that second Fighters Pass, which not only will get me a Zelda inspired costume for my Mii which I'll probably never use but it's also my ticket to board the Hype Train ready for the next wave of fighters."

You've heard our staff members takes on the subject but what do you think?

Leave us a comment below or join in with the discussion on our forum. We'll be back with another N-Eaction in the not too distant future.

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