From DLC to free-to-play: a brief history of everything you love to hate

By Brenna Hillier
19 March 2015 08:40 GMT

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Season Pass

A season pass is, essentially, a DLC pre-order. Publishers commit to producing a certain number of content packs, and gamers agree to buy them all at a discount off the full ticket price. While saving money is a good result for those who grab all the content anyway, season passes combine most of the negative aspects of pre-orders and DLC both. Refresh yourself with the sections above.

The season pass is so common today that it’s hard to remember what a recent phenomenon it is. The specific phrase “Season Pass” was popularised by EA, but it was actually Rockstar (another case of “yes, Good Guy [company]” which kicked the idea off with 2011’s LA Noire and its “Rockstar Pass”.

While saving money is a good result for those who grab all the content anyway, season passes combine most of the negative aspects of pre-orders and DLC both.

The idea quickly took off, and you can see why – it’s an added revenue stream on top of the game’s launch sales, which looks good to investors; helps fund development of DLC which will later generate more income; and locks users in to playing the game for a relatively long time, something publishers get super excited about – although GameStop hates it.

Before the end of 2011, Microsoft and Warner Bros. were both on board, and it wasn’t long before 2K, EA, Konami, Microsoft, Namco Bandai, Sony, Square Enix, Ubisoft and Warner Bros. had joined in. I doubt there’s any major publisher that hasn’t produced at least one, now.

One of the most interesting aspects of the history of the season pass is how the name evolved. At first publishers made an effort to come up with a name for it, usually Something Capitalised to indicate it was a proper noun, in an attempt to hide the fact they were jumping on a bandwagon. Nowadays we mostly just call it a season pass, lower case, and have done.

The season pass concept suffered a little bit by being lumped in with EA’s super unpopular Online Pass scheme, something Sony also toyed with for a while, but these were very different ideas. Unlike the unpalatable online pass, season passes have lost most of their notoriety now, and only a few dissenting voices speak out against them – which is not necessarily a good thing, I should add. See “DLC” and “pre-orders” above.

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