No Season Pass for Mass Effect Andromeda, but Will Other Games Follow in Its Footsteps?
Pop quiz, hotshot! Barring the sweeping sci-fi stories, far-future settings and RPG mechanics, what’s the one thing Horizon Zero Dawn and Mass Effect Andromeda have in common? Neither was tethered to a Season Pass on day one.
In launching its bold new IP, Guerrilla Games doubled down on creating a strictly single-player experience — that means no drop-in/drop-out multiplayer, no seamless co-op, no microtransactions — and Horizon was all the better for it. That’s not to say that Guerrilla is done and dusted with Aloy and her apocalyptic adventure; just last week, we not only learned that Horizon blew past 2.6 million sales in a fortnight, but also that the Dutch studio is hard at work on the first story expansion, the details of which remain under lock and key for the time being.
Finding a Happy Medium
And though Andromeda’s wonky animations are surely tip-top of the priority list for BioWare at the time of writing, the studio no doubt has plans to roll out a smattering of post-launch content over the coming weeks and months. A combination of free and premium add-ons looks to be the strategy, while we’ve already caught wind of the game’s microtransactions which, just like Mass Effect 3 before it, allow players to unlock multiplayer content using real-world money. Those Andromeda Points can cost anywhere between $5 and $99 and should you choose to indulge in Mass Effect Andromeda’s in-game currency, you’ll obtain multiplayer packs filled with a random assortment of items and various goodies.
Here’s a reminder of that Tweet from BioWare General Manager, Aaryn Flynn.
— Aaryn Flynn (@AarynFlynn) January 7, 2017
So far, so familiar. But the fact that Mass Effect Andromeda and Horizon Zero Dawn both launched sans Season Pass is indicative of a changing tide. Granted, that the former chose to forego a Season Pass isn’t all that surprising, given previous Mass Effect games have traditionally released without said incentive. Horizon, meanwhile, is another matter entirely, considering that Guerrilla’s wildly ambitious franchise-starter launched into a largely risk-adverse AAA market, one in which developers often lean on Season Passes as a proverbial crutch to open up another stream of revenue.
Because in theory, once you boil down the concept of a Season Pass to its very essence, the premium package ought to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between consumer and developer. On one end of the spectrum, the latter receives a revenue boon that in turn helps maintain a steady stream of post-launch content — be it technical fixes, cosmetic additions, or full-blown expansions. It also works as an added incentive for those players who wish to pre-order ‘Game X’ and feel confident in the developer’s vision, but it’s here that problems start to arise.
Of all the many complaints and criticisms levelled against Season Passes, the one that tends to bubble to the surface often occurs when consumers feel ripped off or outright burned by content that is either sub-par or, worse, not quite what the developer promised. Batman: Arkham Origins is often-cited as a poor implementation of post-launch DLC, given Warner Bros. Montreal stuffed its Season Pass with nine kinds of alternate costumes for the Caped Crusader as opposed to, you know, compelling content. WB Montreal even cancelled all of the game’s DLC plans for Wii U, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.
Not all Season Passes are created equal, then, and one need only look to Irrational’s handling of BioShock Infinite — the two-part Burial at Sea is arguably a better experience than Infinite itself — or CD Projekt Red, whose pragmatic approach to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt drew praise from all across the four corners of the industry, for evidence of Season Passes done right.
As a matter of fact, as part of our recurring Top 5 video series here on PlayStation LifeStyle, last year we pinpointed a handful of video games that truly delivered on their post-release promises, and you’ll find that Fallout 4, L.A. Noire and Gearbox’s gleefully over-the-top shooter Borderlands 2 were among those titles that made the cut.
A Tricky Butterfly to Pin
Closer to home, Titanfall 2 is another candidate under EA’s umbrella that ditched the traditional Season Pass in favor of a DLC model that is, quite frankly, worth getting behind. For the uninitiated, Respawn’s blistering sequel enforced a strategy that ensured all of the shooter’s maps, modes, and weapons were rolled out free of charge, thereby negating a scenario in which the Titanfall 2 community would’ve been segregated by map packs and other piecemeal content. Not all shooters have the playerbase of Call of Duty or Battlefield, after all.
That’s not to say Titanfall 2’s DLC model is exclusive to first-person shooters — far from it. In fact, Psyonix implemented something similar with Rocket League, and an onslaught of post-launch content has ensured the studio’s über-addicting racer only continues to be a runaway success. Perhaps that aforementioned combination of free and paid add-ons really is the best course of action. So, for instance, a game like The Witcher 3 and its 16 pieces of free DLC wins over the naysayers, before delivering two premium expansions in the form of Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. The perfect scenario? Maybe.
And though it obviously can’t be applied to all games regardless of genre, developers ought to take a leaf from The Witcher 3’s book when it comes to delivering post-release DLC that is at once compelling and fair. As we mentioned above, we are beginning to catch signs of a changing tide. Titanfall 2, Horizon, and Mass Effect Andromeda stand as examples of games that are adopting a different strategy when it comes to DLC models, but they’re not the only ones.
Anne Blondel-Jouin, Ubisoft’s VP of Live Operations, noted recently that the continued success of Rainbow Six Siege has forced the mega-publisher to rethink its approach to downloadable content.
“The key is if it’s not adding something on-top of the actual experience of the game, then it is no good. Because you’ll be asking for more money for the wrong reasons. Also, if the content is compulsory for the gamers, it’s no good as well. It is a way to deliver more fun to gamers, but they have a choice to go for that extra fun or not.”
Even if the traditional Season Pass is on the wane — or, at the very least, subject to a small overhaul — post-launch content is here to stay. Exactly how developers handle their respective DLC models, though, will no doubt influence the ways in which audiences resonate with said content. Top-tier developers in the vein of CD Projekt Red have arguably struck a healthy balance between free and paid content, and now that EA has adopted a more pragmatic approach to Titanfall 2 and, to a lesser extent, Mass Effect Andromeda, we’re intrigued to see whether that mentality carries over to the release of Star Wars Battlefront 2 this holiday season. Because if there’s one game from 2015 that came under heavy fire for its pricey DLC plan, it’s Battlefront.