We have another year’s winter gaming season upon us. Which means we’ve got the usual push to buy who knows how many games but also to purchase their season passes. For every type of game that exists it looks like we can now pay to get their DLC bundled together. This article is an argument for why it’s not a bad thing and should be allowed to exist.
Point number one is that they help studios make money. Yes they’re going to put this content out anyways, it’s not as if they weren’t going to do anything else with a game if you didn’t buy the season pass, but making games is now absurdly expensive. From a development standpoint the game they want to release can take several monetization formats:
The first we’ll think about is really a larger class but it’s the annualized release. Activision made a ridiculous amount of money in the first half of this decade by having 2 teams release a Call of Duty title every year and follow it up with more maps as DLC. Similarly Ubisoft annualized the Assassin’s Creed franchise and funded their other games and now are at a point where they can put out games like Grow Home if they want to. They don’t care they have Assassin’s Creed money.
Annualized games depend on building up the brand recognition. The FIFAs and Maddens built this idea and other games are now standing on it. Point being that this is a format for making games that can make money but it needs this game to be a big success and for a level of infrastructure to exist or at least be built. Games like Destiny and Far Cry exist in a middle space where they also have a specific release schedule that also centers on not going too far out of the public consciousness. But most games can’t expect this.
The next big format is to drop microtransactions in your title. Releasing a game with a handful of items that can be purchased over and over. While this idea doesn’t mix with every game it does give developers a chance to project much more money coming from a release.
In many ways it feels like micro transactions are the most preferred method of making money now and that’s a shame but it does mean that they find some way to make money off of used game sales. The big negative with this is finding ways to put microtransactions in a game and not inherently break the game.
Then the format everyone really loves: freemium gaming. A developer can release a game that’s completely free to play only there exist optional items like microtransactions and monthly memberships to make play better in an optional sort of way. This is a format I’m really starting to like, I think a lot of people are, but there are also huge drawbacks. I love Planetside 2. But it could use some serious rebalancing of skills and classes. That’s not going to happen though because they’ve sold people weapons and money and whatever else. They can’t devalue these purchases in redesign quite the way a company could if players hadn’t actually spent money on products.
So freemium is a very strong model but it has certain constraints on future development. Also you need the numbers. There are lots of games that have perfect strategies to pay for the game through microtransactions but the game never reaches the numbers necessary. Your game also, as with the previous example, needs to become riddled with microtransactions.
Also these games need whales. There have to be people spending a lot of money in game to make up for the other 80% that spend nothing and the 19% that never cross the $5 mark.
All of these models all work as ways to make money off of your endeavor. But what I’ve been talking about is the traditional concept of video games we’ve developed in the past 30 odd years. Games came on cartridges, then CDs, now they’re largely digitally distributed. Everything that was taken for granted as the way business was done and that has been iterated on for decades recently changed.
The second point for the season pass existing is that we live in a new era.
We’re now living in the era of mobile gaming. Where we still have trouble convincing people to pay $60 for a console game mobile games have moved beyond price and set themselves up as tiny little sleeper cells on your phone. Eventually they kick in and you want to play the game when you can’t due to some sort of energy mechanic and you pay money. They know what they’re doing pretty well at this point.
Though this is now a major problem. Because this is how profitable games have worked so far mobile as a marketplace really only supports that type of game. It’s Pavlovian. Consumers expect certain things. Beyond this particularly profitable format other games that don’t fit this mold aren’t getting over the profitability hump.
Basically they’ve created this marketplace that crushes individuality. It crushes games that demand a different approach.
This is where the money is though. For the big publishers more and more of their efforts are going towards making a lot of money on a small investment. And this trend will continue. While many think of Konami as being awful in their decision to pull their focus off of console gaming this is actually a fairly interesting bet they’re making. The way business has been done is changing and they’re one of the first companies to really whole heartedly endorse it.
We as this particular gaming audience though see games in a different way. From Spelunky to Persona there is this huge variety modern video gaming entails. But for publishers it’s a very different environment. Why push more money on a big game, millions upon millions, only for players to go on a hate campaign upon release and harass their developers? Meanwhile nobody really hates on these mobile games that way. They might be predatory by nature but there aren’t nearly as many videos on youtube about hating these games as there are for Destiny. Who knows how much money goes into making your Destiny experience work. It’s basically magic.
Think of the money a game like Destiny demands. A game that can only realistically charge $60 at launch. There’s an argument for the $100 game somewhere but even I have a hard time with that one. But the ratio is not working as well as it used to.
So Fallout 4 is announced, a game that Bethesda has spent years making, and they can only charge as much as a Call of Duty that had a 2 year production cycle. But even CoD is going to try to get that extra cash. They want to maximize their profits too.
Around the time Borderlands 2 launched we started seeing the season pass and since then we’ve had many discussions with every game over whether their season pass content actually warranted the price or if players should of just waited and purchased the one good one.
But it gave developers an option. This isn’t something set in stone: no players have to purchase this item. It’s an option and it keeps people employed. There are other ways to make money off of games however not all games fit these models.
What’s more we’ve seen gaming devices start to hit the edge of their expected market. If you can own one of these systems you probably do. Beyond moving to new territories games now have to become more profitable per unit, per consumer, versus expecting pure saturation of the world market to lead to enough sales to warrant that initial investment.
Though realistically we have to accept that this whole gaming thing is changing. We’re going to probably be the last generation that sees games as this specific product, kids born now are aware of games as being this broader idea. While it would be easy to argue against buying a season pass the reality is this is our new normal. The industry has changed massively and for the most part people who buy games on console and to some extent PC have not really had to deal with the fallout but received a lot of the benefits. This environment has allowed for a growth in games and types of games, but as payment options begin to change it’s important to really think about whether or not you want to argue against these practices if the only other options are for games to go the way of mobile.
Diversity is the strong suit of gaming right now, that whatever way you want to play you can find games that make full use of that platform. We are also at a time where these different payment methods are mostly optional. That’s a positive because it means we still have that diversity. Just remember this era is coming to an end.