The gaming industry has seen countless trends over the years, some that were merely a fad and others that have had major staying power. Season passes for video games definitely fall in the latter category, with them having a major presence across the last two console generations. The idea of a season pass had already seemed to be in a bit of a downward trend with traditional multiplayer shooters more recently and now the announcement that Call of Duty is doing away with it is the biggest blow yet.
Online gaming may have played a major part in the entire Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/Nintendo Wii era, but it was not until 2011 that the first season pass debuted with Rockstar Games’ LA Noire under the name “Rockstar Pass.” LA Noire was set to get post-release DLC, which was not something new by this point. However, what Rockstar did differently was bundle this upcoming DLC at the launch of the game for a discounted price. At the time, $20 worth of content was sold for $10.
While Mortal Kombat 2011 released prior to LA Noire, they adopted this same model with its post-release DLC, though this “Kombat Pass” began to be offered a couple months after the initial release date. When it was revealed, three of the four DLC characters had been announced, but one was still to be revealed. What helped here was that once again the pass featured a discounted price of $15 when the individual characters were $5 each, so it wasn’t really a gamble considering three of the four characters were revealed at that time.
Season passes were pretty simple in their early days before expanding much further in the years to come. The idea of a season pass for something such as the Telltale Games products seemed like a great idea back in the day for a number of years, with you easily being able to purchase the full season for the episodic series like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. Where this really became questionable though was with the surprise shutdown of Telltale Games last year that almost left fans without a conclusion to The Walking Dead: The Final Season. There is no doubt a good number of people had purchased the full season pass, rather than buying episode to episode, and thought they had completely wasted their money on an unfinished season until Skybound Games swooped in and saved the day.
The early season passes were pretty inexpensive, typically ranging around the $20 price point for the most part. This started to change with a lot of games, with Call of Duty leading the charge thanks to their $49.99 season passes. Being only $10 less than the main game itself, this meant you were having to spend nearly double the price of the game just to get everything the game had to offer. These season passes have been full of content that throughout the following year, with it costing even more if you bought everything individually.
Call of Duty is far from the only shooter to utilize season passes, with the shooter genre being one of the most prevalent for them. Series like Battlefield and Halo are but a few that have also used season passes in the past, but these really appear to be in a downtrend within the genre more recently.
The creation of a season pass for a single player experience like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is by far the easiest of all. You can advertise that you will get additional story content, maybe a few extra modes or something later, but have no worries about multiplayer content. This is often sold as part of a special edition that includes the DLC as well, which is a way of getting everything you expect to release for the game in one package essentially.
Multiplayer games have also had season passes a plenty over the years, but there is one major issue that they have had when it comes to season passes or paid DLC in general. That is having a split player base after a certain point, which can cause a number of problems with online matchmaking first and foremost. If you have players that own no DLC map packs, that would have meant they could not play with those that had, splitting the player base. This is split further with multiple map packs as well, which is why Halo 5: Guardians took the approach that it did. Rather than charging for DLC through a season pass, it instead kept microtransactions relegated to a certain game mode separate from typical multiplayer. They then released maps for free as DLC, which was very well received by fans.
This trend has continued across the last few years with the removal of season passes in games like Titanfall 2, Star Wars Battlefront II, and Battlefield V among others. Star Wars Battlefront II had itss own issues with progression separately, but it was definitely nice not to have to purchase a season pass for the game regardless. Even with all of these series dropping season passes in recent years, Call of Duty has still clung to this idea up through last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII, though that is finally about to change.
Late last week saw the reveal of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the reboot of the classic FPS game that helped to define the genre on the last generation of consoles. Considering season passes have been around in the series since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 through what was known as the “Call of Duty ELITE Membership” at the time, it was hard to imagine that Activision would drop what has almost certainly been a major moneymaker for them over the years. However, they did in fact announce this past week that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will not have a season pass.
With Call of Duty being such a major player in the shooter genre, season passes were always still on the table. Now that Activision has dropped it for the time being at least with the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, it appears that season passes for your classic multiplayer shooters are all but dead at this point. Looter shooters seem to fall into a category of their own here though, as games like Destiny 2 and the upcoming Borderlands 3 still maintain season passes. These are more expansion and event driven though, so that is to be more expected than your classic FPS style franchises like Call of Duty.
Even with the multiplayer shooter genre moving away from them, season passes are far from dead themselves though with the aforementioned single player games and especially fighting games thriving with season passes right now. There is no doubt they will be popping up in future multiplayer shooters too, but it seems the heyday where a season pass was available for every single multiplayer shooter is all but over at this point.