Friday, 15 June 2012

Preorder exclusive and season passes are they worth it?


With the recent release of Battlefield Premium I have been wondering about the validity of these offers from developers before launching their big titles.

Some offers are fine since this doesn't impact other players
Its kind of become the norm these days for developers to entice you into preordering day one, with the promise of some content not available to those who don't preorder.  Usually this takes the form of extra characters, more weapons, extra maps, costumes or other multiplayer/singleplayer bonuses.  Obviously this content is usually made available at some point further down the line for a small fee, a good example of this is Shogun 2's fall of the samurai exclusive clan packs.  I bought the amazon edition which gave me the Saga faction to play as, while both Sega and steam each had their own along with another faction that was unique to gamestop.  But it was in the first week of this month that those exclusive factions became DLC for all players, at a small cost of £2.99 each.

And there lies the problem, do you ignore the offer in the first place, generally saving yourself a little cash when the game launches, but then end up paying the same as the person who preordered when it becomes available on PSN/XBLA/Steam?  Yes its unrealistic to go out and buy three seperate copies from different retailers for all of the exclusive content, buts thats the way development seems to be going for games these days.  I would have much preferred to buy the clans as a pack for £5 more as an incentive then have to pay £9 because of these offers.  Some players like to think they are making a statement by not buying the content at all, but then they essentially hurt themselves, because they are the ones with the now incomplete game and the developer has no idea you chose not buy it because it was a silent protest.  Others will buy it, but at the same time bemoan having to in the first place, when if thats the issue then why did they not just get the preorder incentive instead?  I noticed this with War for cybertron when three multiplayer characters were locked out to those who had chosen to decline the preorder offer.  I bought my copy of war for cybertron from amazon and got access to Jazz as a multiplayer character, but missed out on Shockwave and Demolisher.  I bought those characters later on amidst the anger from fans on both sides of the fence.
Store exclusives can be a pain

It seems some players who do preorder for all the goodies on offer, seem to be under the impression that those who didn't buy the exlcusive character etc. should not be allowed to have it ever after release.  This is just as bad as the above example of protesting by not buying, because some gamers seem to believe that developers owe them something personally.  Yes developers wouldn't be around to make games if it wasn't for all of us buying them, but in the end the reason you get into the business of developing and selling computer games is to make money.  So of course they are going to make all of those exclusive goodies available for a small price futher down the line, it just makes sense.

I do disagree with developers giving into pressure from players who demand the same bonuses but not have to pay the extra amount those who preordered have to.  My example here is Battlefield 3 and its physical warfare pack.  Way back when EA revealed this offer players made a stink about locked out weapons and other minor items, without looking into the facts first.  The physical warfare pack only allowed early access to guns already in the game, you just didn't have to level up to use them.  Players who preordered felt like they were getting something half decent for their money and those who didn't simply whined and bitched about the game being unbalanced at launch.  Bear in mind that these two guns where a shotgun (not all that useful on wide open maps) and a sniper rifle (good for a minority of players) both of which wouldn't have had that much of an impact at launch.  EA though decided to give into the pressure and give everyone the same unlock regardless of whether they paid for the warfare pack or not.  This was a case of developers giving into the vocal minority and not doing anything for those players who happily paid more for their edition of Battlefield 3.

I think WWE did the season pass first so blame them
Nowadays its becoming more common to see the 'online pass' or 'season pass' depending on how the developer wants to phrase it.  Basically you make a down payment which can vary from Battlefield 3's premium price of £39.99 to things like WWE 12's fan axxess pass costing around £6.99.  The down payment gives you access to all future DLC when it becomes available.  The upside being that you get it all later at an overall reduction in price.  When you work it out it does save you some money, but then you need to know the facts about what you are paying for.  Developers sometimes helpfully highlight all of the future content giving rough release dates and details on what each DLC contains.  If you like everything you see then the offer is great, if you have the cash there and then.  Of course the season pass suddenly loses value when you see that some of the DLC is minor things like costumes, fetch quests or other minor cosmetic items, that normally you may not pay for, but with the season pass its already included with the more substantial DLC.

L.A. Noire for instance had a rockstar pass system, but failed to inform everyone what was coming with that pass, other than the knowledge that other DLC cases would be available.  Now in the end this was fine since the DLC cases are all worth it and there was no harm done, but could you imagine paying for that pass, then finding that most of the DLC wasn't what you would personally have bought anyway?  Thats the threat players are now under when developers offer such incentives to gamers.  Assassin's creed 3 on the PSN has an offer of over £100 with a seasonal pass included for all DLC.  But what if you don't like the multiplayer? What if the items included are things that add little to the experience?  Now fortunately that offer has several minor varitations, one of them being that you can opt out of the seasonal pass which is good.  But in the future I worry that we may see developers simply pushing these items onto gamers without giving us the full picture.

When the season pass runs out, and the developers then release a new DLC which can happen in the world of games development, will the pass still be valid?  Or will they claim that anything beyond a certain date is exempt from that offer and you must pay.  Battlefield premium for instance runs out when the fifth pack titled "end game" is launched, but since Battlefield 3 is likely to be one of those multiplayer shooters that continues to be popular for years until the next battlefield game, I can see EA and DICE adding more content into the later months of 2013.  Will our premium subscription cover these?  Or will EA demand another £39.99 from everyone?  And this can happen with any developer/publisher.

The most expensive to date, but not the last I imagine
I like the choice of DLC, things I want and things I don't want.  But if developers start pushing more for the season passes and fan axxess' will the ability to choose your own DLC vanish?  Hosting content on PSN and XBLA is expensive for publishers so they are always looking for a way to cut costs, such as on disc DLC and promotional codes.  In regards to exclusives such as Jazz in war for cybertron will they continue?  Will we see exclusives vanish in favour of a more all inclusive method with down payments for promised future content.  Imagine if kingdoms of amalur had a much longer DLC deployment plan, and they had taken money for Season passes.  They go out of business, and the player has to jump through hoops to get their money back.  In the current economic climate any publisher or developer is under threat of going out of business so these offers are something to wary of in my opinion.

To answer the question from the title of this post, I think that preorder exclusives are worth it.  They give you something to look forward to as an added extra, and also make your choice feel more special.  Yeah its stuff that everyone else will get at a later date but most of the time its not costing all that much extra.  The only thing that annoys me is when the content is spread around several outlets and they they then charge you for each seperate item (see my shogun example above).

 Seasonal passes though are something that really needs more tweaking before developers offer them in the first place. You have to remember that when they offer the pass, they have already decided what the DLC is and when it will launch, meaning that depending on your view, they have removed content to sell as DLC, or they have taken time out of the main product to work on DLC, both of which don't sound all that great.  Also it means that the chance of any future DLC past what is on offer is very slim, this seems to be the next evolution of DLC and how it is handled by both publishers and developers.  I would say that season passes are not worth it, but they could become something better in the future as developers and publishers learn how to engage with customers and get a better sense of what they consider to be worth it and what isn't.  Maybe a future that allows players to select what items they recieve as part of their pass would be better, each item being equivalent to a certain monetary value.  You add items until you hit the cost of the pass and thats what you get, the remaining items you didn't select would be on offer then seperately from then on.

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment below if on what you think about preorder exclusives and season pass offers.

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