Season Passes Are Destroying Games; A Letter To Bethesda

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I’ve been super excited for the upcoming Doom reboot and you’ve probably read all the great things I’ve said about it. It plays great and just about everything a Doom fan could want is potentially included, but then Bethesda threw down a huge bomb…The game has a season pass that will undoubtedly cause player fragmentation across the community. This is an issue that the past three titles didn’t have and yet it already blew up in our face.  

For those who don’t know, Bethesda and id Software already announced DLC plans for the upcoming Doom. Yep, the game doesn’t release for an entire month and we already have a “season” worth of content planned (which seems to be the norm anymore). The first drop will include maps, weapons, and demons among other assets. I hate it…

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Season passes have destroyed countless games I paid $60 for. You would think the ever so popular Call of Duty would be somewhat immune to it, but even that franchise suffers from it. Shortly after Black Ops 3 released I went back to play some Advanced Warfare since my friends haven’t upgraded yet. While in the lobby we were sitting there for a good 20 minutes waiting for a game to start before we decided something was wrong.

So we go to the forums to look for a solutions, or perhaps to see if the servers were having issues. There was nothing there stating the game was actually having issues, but we went to the forums and found a list of people telling everyone to “delete your DLC and you will find games.” Yep that DLC we paid extra money for, delete it. Why? Because the shriveled up community isn’t using it, duh it’s the same community that isn’t shelling out $60 for the new yearly release so why would they have the overpriced DLC? The problem was that the game was looking for people that have the same content as us, but since the community shrank from being old (BO3 was out after all), it shriveled up even further when it looked for people that actually had all of the DLC. The end result was us not finding a match because our pool of players was so tiny. You delete the DLC, you widen the pool, but you lose content you paid money for.

This is a great example of “the divide” the DLC wall creates. On one side you have the players that pay $60 and that’s it. They don’t pay for added DLC for whatever reason, they keep the core game, and they stay happy with that. On the other side of the divide you have players that pay for the DLC, but it gets broken down even further than that. Some buy the season pass and get all the content, others buy one or two packs. You get a divide in players by doing this. Players with just stock content can only play with players with the same content. Players with all the content want to play with players that have all the content, since they paid for it. As a game ages, the community weakens and pools on both ends get smaller, but they still can’t cross paths.

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It wasn’t just one game either. Several games in that franchise suffer from the divided community upon the release of new titles. The smaller base simply isn’t utilizing the DLC released and a lot of people are having trouble finding matches because of the extra maps not being used. Either people get bored with the stock content, or they have extra content and nobody to play with. Once the pay restriction is removed, however, the problem on both ends goes away…Interesting.

It’s incredibly sad that the game industry went from having games that lasted forever, which could still be played to this day, to games that barely last a year.

Halo 5 and Rainbow Six Siege finally did things right, giving us FREE content and “DLC” added elsewhere. We had maps, weapons, characters, all unlocked for FREE. There was still a season pass for other benefits such as unlocking characters early, or early access to certain things, but overall the community would never hit that wall. I mean Rainbow Six Siege is good for many things, but Ubisoft found a unique way to generate revenue without creating a wall between players.

Then bam, we get dragged back into Hell (literally) by Doom. No, let’s ignore the two hit games changing how things work and swing all the way back to this tired old formula of dividing communities. Hell even Ubisoft ignored their own strategy and will divide the online only title The Division

My issue is that this will hurt future growth in the franchises. Doom is coming from PC, and PC fans are not thrilled about this formula. Then you look at the divide and it isn’t just one wall, it’s three or four walls. One group might buy one DLC, the next only two, and the next only three. What you are left with is a tiny fraction of players that actually buy a season pass, or all the DLC’s. You now have groups that can’t even play together properly on the same game.

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Very few major games can get away with season passes because they have large enough bases which allow enough people to buy the pass and not create a huge divide. However games like Doom are sadly no longer part of that group. During the beta phases, I was telling a few people I got to test out “Doom” and several people asked, “What’s Doom?” The new generation of gamers grew up with Halo, not Doom, which makes sense because Doom hasn’t been highly relevant in well over a decade. I’ve even seen people complain that the game is a “rip off of Halo” and then people need to explain to them that Halo wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for Doom. 

New IP’s and games with smaller install bases can’t risk the divide and they need communities to be as strong as possible to extend the life. They need strong communities so that the franchise can continue. Doom will, without a doubt, have some sort of “expansion” to go along with the season pass. This expansion hopefully extends the single player portion of the game, and adds some new content elsewhere. I see no reason why this formula can’t be used instead of small map payments, but if the community dies before then, the expansion won’t do well.  In turn, that means the overall game is going to suffer.

This has happened to so many decent games it’s become both annoying and heartbreaking. Call of Duty, The Sims, Destiny, older Wolfenstein titles, Assassin’s Creed online, and pretty much anything from Capcom to name a few. There is a reason why some studios are trying to find new approaches to the season pass. I get it, the cost of development is rising and games need the influx of money, but ruining your game in an attempt to get that money doesn’t seem like a great idea. Not only are you asking players to spend $100-110 dollars on a game overall, you’re asking them to do it and pray the game doesn’t die before the last content drop.

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There are ways around it. Single player content that actually adds to a story is always welcome. Smaller extended releases, like Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, are great ideas for filler episodes. If we don’t divide the community then I’m okay with, dare I say it, microtransactions. For example Rainbow Six Siege is riddled with them, but at no point is a pay wall stopping you from doing anything. I’ll gladly give them money for a skin here and there, and guess what? These transactions are clearly working because more games are implementing them, and many are making out like bandits by not only including micro-transaction, but throwing in a “season pass” to go with it. Do we really need both?

There’s a difference between paying $110 dollars for a game that slowly releases over a year, and paying $60 with the option of bonus content throughout the year. Many publishers are already complaining about lack of sales and frankly, I find myself struggling to sympathize. The reason sales are low is because after buying games and season passes, people already spent over 200 dollars on two games! Gee, I wonder why they can’t afford a third.

So with that I ask id Software and Bethesda to truly rethink their objective with Doom’s season pass content. I want to see Doom succeed and perhaps this route could happen in the future, but during a reboot this will totally kill a lot of momentum. I honestly don’t want to be spending another $60 on a game that can’t even make it past September.