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Battle/season passes in 'live service' games - your experiences and thoughts?


Captain Kelsten
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Strap in, cus this is going to be a long one! Apologies to the 'tldr' crowd in advance. 

 

Loads of 'live service' games now include battle or season passes. You know the ones: they refresh every couple of months, typically have a free and a paid for tier, reward in game items, cosmetics, currencies for progressing though a load of levels (100 seems to be the norm). I don't know who started it, but I do wish they hadn't.

 

As said, usually these passes have two tracks: a free tier that anyone who plays the game during the season can grind through (and boy, are they mostly a grind) that rewards a few bits and bobs and then a tier you pay real money to unlock that rewards more 'premium' rewards.

 

They're becoming more and more common, but why? I guess partly it's the fact they often unlock just by playing a lot of the game - or at least unlock enough just through playing that you get hooked and want to unlock more because 'it's only another hour, it's only another 1000 kills, it's only this or that and then I unlock a cool beanie hat for my character'! It's also partly because it gives you something to focus on; a drip-feed of serotonin every time you unlock a new level of the pass, new rewards only just out of reach.

 

There's also the fear of missing out (or 'FOMO' as the yoof say), because typically once that season ends, those items are gone for good, never to be seen again. People ask for them to be put back in because they missed them, and those who earned them argue that why should their effort be diminished by making exclusive rewards more available again. I can see the argument from both sides, personally. Joining an older game late and getting invested only to discover it has some sort of season pass built in often means there is a lot of content that is now closed to you for good, that no amount of effort, or playtime or skill will unlock. Feels bad, man.

 

On the whole, I find season passes a pretty predatory practice, encouraging you to spend more time and money than you might otherwise on a game. You might feel like you have to log in every day to get those rewards so you don't fall behind, or grind out those few levels to reach the next unlock for a shiny new AK-47 skin or funny moustache. I also find them generally very tacked on without much real integration into the game. It's just some menu that slowly grinds up as you play, and there's no in-game world logic to it. They often have a theme, but even then it's not necessarily aligned to or even in keeping with the game itself.

 

As a result, I try to avoid season passes in games. UNLESS...unless it's a game I really like, and it has cosmetics I really like and want, and I want to further support the devs. If I get a new pair of boots for my character as a result? Well, that's just a bonus. I suppose that even I am not immune to the temptations of the evil season pass!

 

So yeah...having said all of the above I have dabbled in the occasional season pass. As stated, they follow a fairly similar format: free and premium tier, about 100 levels, enough rewards to keep you grinding. I thought I'd write up my experiences of the few season passes I have purchased but I'd like to hear from you, too, on your experiences with them.

 

Dead by Daylight - the Rift Pass

 

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Dead by Daylight was a game I got heavily invested into last year and my first personal experience of a battle pass type thing. In the game it's known as the Rift. It is a menu buried within other menus - not hard to find, but not a single click away, either.

 

Anyway, I was really enjoying the game so thought I'd give the pass a go, get some 'free' stuff. At first I was going up the levels quickly, unlocking new cosmetics and things for my killers and survivors. Then I saw the premium track - that stuff, although fewer in number, looked even cooler! So I bought the premium track. Thankfully, this automatically unlocked all the premium levels up to the point I'd bought it, so I didn't have to regrind those levels. But I hadn't appreciated the time commitment or the time left on the season and it ended before I'd even got half way through. There were several cosmetics I missed out on which I liked and wanted, but now they were gone.

 

In DBD there's more in the premium pass to make it feel like you're getting value from it and it rewards the game currency you buy with real money so if you finish it, you can almost make the cost back in a way. It's pretty generous, it's pretty quick to level if you play a lot and there are challenges you can complete to boost your progress in it. 

 

Not to be deterred, I bought the next season pass the day it arrived and managed to finish it, all 100 levels, before the season end. But how much of the 'stuff', be they cosmetics or whatever, did I actually end up using? Honestly, hardly any. What was most useful was the in-game currency it rewarded occasionally, as that allowed me to buy new character traits and items a bit more quickly, improving my experience of and ability to play the game.

 

Another thing that annoyed me was that I noticed many of the rewards were simple recolours of existing items, costumes etc. I'd recently bought myself what I thought was a cool outfit for my favourite killer, the Huntress. I paid real money for this outfit from the real money transaction shop. It was unique, it stood out, people commented on it. It was cool. So imagine my disappointment when a very slightly recoloured but otherwise identical version was given away as part of the free track on the next season pass! This pissed me off no end to the point where I didn't buy any further outfits from the RMT shop and didn't get any further season passes, either, my enjoyment of the game beginning to wane.

 

Sea of Thieves - the Plunder Pass

 

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I recently returned to Sea of Thieves for the first time in a few years and fell in love with life on the waves all over again, even if sometimes (most of the time?) it doesn't feel as though the game loves me back.

 

Since I last played, SoT had introduced seasons and a season pass known as the Plunder Pass. Like DBD, the pass has a central theme and most (but not all) of the cosmetics are related to that theme. The pass is a menu you find buried within other menus.

 

When I returned, there were about 20 days left in season 6, but I was enjoying myself so I bought the premium pass to unlock some of those items. The theme seemed to be centred on Japanese items: blossom tree figureheads for your boat, Japanese ceremonial outfits for your pirate, a capstan with koi carp swimming in the top of it. Whilst it was all fairly nicely designed, if not particularly to my taste, it didn't fit with anything else in the game. Sea of Thieves is a pirate game set in a lost section of the Caribbean. There are no overtly Japanese characters, or a Japanese faction or a region styled after Japan, so it just felt really odd. Regardless, with only 20 days left I didn't unlock very much so it didn't feel like the best investment.

 

Nevertheless, when season 7 opened on 4th August, I bought the premium pass for that, too. I'm currently level 83 with 13 weeks remaining of the season, so as long as I play a bit between now and then I should easily finish the season.

 

At least this time the cosmetics were themed after castaways and being marooned on a desert island. The premium costumes were all a bit Polynesian in style - all grass skirts, straw hats, shell necklaces. Okay, still not exactly piratical but at least it's a bit more themed on sea-faring adventurers, I guess? There is also palm tree figureheads and cannons and a watermelon ship's wheel...wait, what? Yes, once again the pass seemed to go towards the more whacky and random side of things rather than really tying in or enhancing the overall SoT theme or aesthetic. There's a fair few ongoing complaints about SoT offering increasingly weird and whacky items in the passes and also in the real-currency shop instead of adding what many would consider more typical pirate fashion, of which there seems to be a strange lack. Much like DBD, there was also an abundance of simple recolours of existing items, many of which were available to buy with in-game currency already, so the fact it was now available in white or fuscia wasn't the most exciting thing and it didn't feel great when you got one of those as your reward.

 

I also noticed that the game is rather stingy with the premium rewards - whilst every free level rewarded something, the premium rewards - the ones you actually play real money to get access to - are few and far between. The image above is my current progress and as you can see, the premium tier, the one in gold, only offers two rewards for ten levels of progress: one a handful of the RMT currency and one a costume that completely overwrites whatever else you're wearing and can't be mixed and matched (another point of contention amongst SoT fans since most of the game is about playing pirate dress up!) and isn't something I'd ever actually wear on my pirate. It's almost like they got the free and premium tiers mixed up. 

 

Deep Rock Galactic - The Performance Pass

 

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Yes, I'm talking about DRG again. It's my new obsession, leave me alone!

 

DRG is where my opinion changes on season passes changes somewhat. Why? Because the DRG season pass, known as the Performance Pass, is completely, 100% free. It allows you to pick which cosmetics you want to unlock AND it is built into the game in a believable way that fits the narrative and the game world.

 

There is no free or premium tier, it's all there for no extra cost. It rewards in game currency, cosmetics and a thing called 'scrip', which is currency used to buy season-specific cosmetics through the cosmetic menu. Yes, unlike other season passes which arbitrarily hand out cosmetics in a random order (although DRG does this too), DRG allows you to go into a cosmetic tree and choose what you want to buy, using scrip to unlock it (or the nodes connecting them, gotta have some grind I guess). Time running out in the season? Just make a beeline for the cosmetics you want. Only care about new hair or beards? Only unlock those, then! Only want the new gun models? Go for it! As a new player I've been focusing on hair and beards, which become available to all my characters to give me some variety in how I style them, and weapon models for my engineer, as the class I play the most, and I love that it allows me to do that:

 

drgcosmeticwindow.thumb.jpg.6c79942efa68580b5db75451ad458319.jpg

 

The narrative of DRG is you're a blue collar miner working for a sleazy company who underpays you, treats you like shit and generally doesn't care about you. It's mostly done for laughs rather than being some kind of social commentary, but it is there. The season pass is called the 'Performance Pass' because it is the company management assessing your performance against their quarterly targets and paying you bonuses for being a good little miner. The pass is accessed through a computer terminal in your base that you have to go and interact with to view. I know, I know, it's not much but it's just a little touch that makes it a slightly more enjoyable experience. The devs have at least tried to build the season pass into the actual game with logic and context instead of it just being tucked away in a random menu.

 

One final good thing about DRG's season-exclusive cosmetics: they are rotated into the main game as rare drops at the end of the season. They're never lost forever like in other games, you can still get them it might just take some time and luck.

 

Anyway, that's me done. Phew, was quite long, wasn't it? Ah well. 

 

 

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They're way better than microtransactions which had all the ethical issues with being gambling aimed at kids, or the pre-microtransactions system of map packs or whatever that split the userbase. We've actually found a system that allows consumers to have all the content without spending a penny, and yet also provides monetisation for the company to deliver new content, isn't that the best model possible?

 

Most of your problems there seem to be with specific games maybe not offering what you consider the best value, but there's nothing intrinsic to the model that requires throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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Will never buy one and don't see the point. 

 

Cosmetics are the least interesting thing in a game for me. Especially when I CANT EVEN SEE MY CHARACTER. 

 

They provide absolutely nothing to benefit the core gameplay of a videogame. A tick list of things to do adds bugger all for me. "oh look if I kill 100 enemies with this shite gun I get a some XP and a new pair of gloves"

 

Sell me a finished game at full price. It's all I want from gaming then and now. 

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I didn't really have a problem with Destiny 2 or Phantasy Star Online 2 having battle passes when I played them - seemed like decent stuff was provided in them, and the premium track was always part of something I had to buy into anyway so it added value (Destiny 2 was a pass into the season content itself, PSO2 had a deal where you got the pass and a 30 day sub for more storage space/server access/buffs, which was invaluable when content dropped and the servers were jammed).

 

Path of Exile added one, but it was kinda shit as it revolved around beating the challenges the game had - usually dumping hundreds of hours to beat endgame bosses x number of times. The previous two was accrued by fairly casual play, and was normally done when you're, you know, actually playing the game and having fun.

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The only one I've ever bought is the Plunder Pass on Sea of Thieves.  And that's because I want to help the devs with the game - I think the content updates for SoT are absolutely fantastic, bearing in mind anything of merit is always free.  I've no problem spending a bit each season as a sign of appreciation for a team who goes out of their way to provide a good service to their community.  I agree with your thoughts on the Plunder Pass - the cosmetics you get don't fit in that well with the rest of the game (though that blossom capstan from season 6 is fucking GREAT and I won't hear otherwise!).  But it pales in comparison to the numerous updates that are free to all players.

 

When you compare the updates and variety to the likes of Halo Infinite, it's night and day.

 

I don't have to spend anything at all on SoT - it's on Game Pass, it's never going to leave Game Pass, it gets updated regularly.  So I have no qualms about getting the plunder pass as a thank you for the great service.

 

It's really the only live service game I'd consider buying extra content for TBQH.

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I have done the Apex and Valorant battle passes in the past. Valorant tends to reward with gun skins, spray and cards to identify you in lobbies. If you play a huge amount of Valorant (as I do) I don't begrudge putting money into it and now and again the skins in the pass are fairly cool (especially with upgraded VFX/finishing moves). But that said you can share guns around at the start of rounds and often people will do this to donate to people with no investment in the game at all to try out with some of the cooler ones. More generally I find grinding the Valorant pass is pretty fair - you can play whatever mode you like, and so long as you do a couple of basic games every couple of days you'll easily finish it. There are tasks to complete to boost your XP but I never find them that onerous or stupid - and they're normally stuff you'd be doing anyway. Also, there's such a huge variety of gametypes and Riot understands matchmaking so a bad day on Valorant is quite a rare thing. A bad match or two, but never a comprehensive waste of an evening. 

 

Apex is a bit more borderline - apart from being a living hell some seasons because of the meta, you are largely playing for character skins which of course you can't see while you're playing, and gun skins that don't seem quite as overtly designed or prominent in a high paced movement shooter. Cosmetics such as sprays are also less important with massive arenas and such fast traversal. Apex is also quite dictatorial in the tasks it gives you to accelerate your way through the pass (forcing character progression), has only two main game modes (BR or Arenas) which means I've found if you're not in the mood for being fucked over by the shit matchmaking and 8th partying on King's Canyon makes the entire thing feel less rewarding than Valorant does. 

 

Ultimately though they are pointless, though I find myself playing multiplayer shooters quite a lot because I find them less pointless than a lot of other traditional SP videogames. They feel a bit like a sport, where you're besting other human beings. Not just a skill check but a game sense and game intelligence one (and one that you can normally play with mates as a shared experience). So, the battle passes meet somewhere in the middle for me - they gamify a little more what is more of a daily skill challenge or sporting event. But in most of the games I've come across them they are a bit give or take - I frequently go one or two seasons where I don't do them and don't really miss it. 

 

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I like the Fortnite battlepass to be honest - crucially it gives you enough V-bucks as battlepass unlocks to buy the next season so if you don’t spend on anything else the next seasons are ‘free’ after buying the first one. As well as all the cosmetic unlocks (some of which are good fun, I love my hench pink unicorn dude) it unlocks loads of quests to do that the FTP game doesn’t get so it makes the game feel a bit more directed. Sure, you can play the game without the battlepass but you really just have to play for the wins then. 
 

You get a big chunk of XP for doing 3 quite short daily missions so yes, it does gently encourage you to log in every day, but they are usually over quite quickly. XP quests are often shared too so if you’re playing in a party then everyone gets the XP if one completes the mission. 
 

Would the game be better without the battle pass? Possibly but I genuinely think that Epic have found a very friendly approach to it. They’ve kept me playing pretty much daily for over a year now and usually enjoying myself. And I’ve been levelling 2 battlepasses as my son wants the unlocks in his account too without making the effort :lol:

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If they’re not based on FOMO and hitting deadlines then they’re fine, one of the few things Halo Infinite multiplayer managed to get right. But 99% of them just make games start to feel like a second job to me.

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Concept seems fine. Balancing them is tricky but I think they're necessary (or something is) to ensure these continually updated online games can be supported. They could just charge a subscription fee but this creates some feedback on how you're doing. I'd prefer there to be a free track simply so people not playing much can skip paying but ideally you make the paid for one somehow just attractive enough so that enough people cough up to fund ongoing development.

 

People mention the way Fortnite lets your buy the next seasons pass with rewards from the previous. How common is that in other games?

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It depends on the game, but I quite like them. If it’s something multiplayer with no other progression driver I like that it gives it a bit of structure. If I wasn’t going for rewards and missions I’d probably end up logging out after a few games where nothing went well, but if I’ve progressed a few things on the pass it makes it feel like games where you don’t do well aren’t completely pointless. It is however highly dependent on what they put in them, PUBG ones were awful as the rewards were ugly crap, too similar to the stuff you could get for free. If there’s a few things I like or one thing I really like I’m happy to do them, but this seasons Apex one seems to be themed around dull brown items so I’ve not bothered much. In Destiny it’s a bit different, as there’s so many ways to get stuff that it just feels like another one, but the Destiny one is the rare thing that comes with actual modes to play and weapons so it’s not just cosmetics.

 

17 hours ago, Ry said:

Will never buy one and don't see the point. 

 

Cosmetics are the least interesting thing in a game for me. Especially when I CANT EVEN SEE MY CHARACTER. 

 

They provide absolutely nothing to benefit the core gameplay of a videogame. A tick list of things to do adds bugger all for me. "oh look if I kill 100 enemies with this shite gun I get a some XP and a new pair of gloves"

 

Sell me a finished game at full price. It's all I want from gaming then and now. 

 

As RJ said, this is the best system I can imagine for them making money off a game that never ends. There’s no splitting of the player base and everyone rightly despises pay to win so this way you get to play the game and ignore the cosmetic stuff and people who do like it fund ongoing development. 

 

16 hours ago, thesnwmn said:

Concept seems fine. Balancing them is tricky but I think they're necessary (or something is) to ensure these continually updated online games can be supported. They could just charge a subscription fee but this creates some feedback on how you're doing. I'd prefer there to be a free track simply so people not playing much can skip paying but ideally you make the paid for one somehow just attractive enough so that enough people cough up to fund ongoing development.

 

People mention the way Fortnite lets your buy the next seasons pass with rewards from the previous. How common is that in other games?

 

 

Apex does the same thing, though I usually spend the free currency on loot boxes then give them another £10 next season. 

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16 hours ago, thesnwmn said:

People mention the way Fortnite lets your buy the next seasons pass with rewards from the previous. How common is that in other games?

 

Plenty of games let you get part/most of the way there.

 

Fortnite's probably a bit of a unique case because the sheer volume (and quality) of its downloadable skins and emotes means that sooner or later pretty much everyone is going to end up buying something. The battle pass becomes a mechanism for simply keeping people playing the game, rather than a primary driver of income in its own right.

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Dead by Daylight and Sea of Thieves definitely let you part fund the next one if you don’t spend the premium currency on other stuff from the rmt shop in the meantime (new survivors/killers/costumes for DBD and ship parts, costumes, emotes and pets for SoT). 

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I don't really play games like these any more, but have paid for the odd battle pass when I have in the past. I don't really have an issue with them, especially if the game is otherwise free, and they're a much better option than a mandatory subscription fee, loot boxes or pay to win mechanics.

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I can imagine they're a nightmare to balance, though. You need to make sure free players are tempted into spending money, you need to ensure casual players still get cool things, yet you need to give your most dedicated players something to do all the way through the season. And you need to keep people buying other items in your in-game shop as well.

 

When a game gets that wrong, it can do real damage. Fall Guys changed its previously fairly generous rewards system for a super-grindy battle pass and a really expensive store, and it's had loads of negative feedback. And Halo Infinite's never-ending supply of slightly different unlockable helmets isn't much of an incentive to play the game.

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I end up buying into Destiny 2's battle pass grind because it's sort of rolled into the entry fee for the season. You get nice trinkets and things - emotes, ornaments - but I think that the only drops I care about are the currencies for D2's hellish economy that let me invest in actually useful upgrade and infusion stuff for my gear. :P So it's mostly just a nice bonus thing that I ignore.

 

Besides all of that, I think a battle pass is pretty funny as a metric and a reflection of your own engagement. How much fun was the current season? Well, the season ends in three days and I've only reached rank seven...

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I had to hard stop on them as it felt like too much work and not enough fun. I would happily get a single player battle pass that gave me extra stuff to do at my own pace. But there current ones are dangerous to me and my mental health.

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1 hour ago, Garwoofoo said:

I can imagine they're a nightmare to balance, though. You need to make sure free players are tempted into spending money, you need to ensure casual players still get cool things, yet you need to give your most dedicated players something to do all the way through the season. And you need to keep people buying other items in your in-game shop as well.

 

When a game gets that wrong, it can do real damage. Fall Guys changed its previously fairly generous rewards system for a super-grindy battle pass and a really expensive store, and it's had loads of negative feedback. And Halo Infinite's never-ending supply of slightly different unlockable helmets isn't much of an incentive to play the game.


Giving dedicated players something to do for the whole season shouldn’t be included in the battle pass, because realistically you’re never going to be able to give them enough stuff. When I’m playing Apex I’ll often finish the whole pass before the mid point of the season, which I don’t mind because I’m quite a dedicated player. I do kind of wish they’d either let it keep going numbers wise (even if there’s no rewards) or just make it invisible once I’ve finished though, being told about how I’m doing on the daily challenges when I literally can’t claim them anymore seems stupid.

 

With the value, I think they’re smart to make the pass relatively cheap. Using Apex as an example, the best tier of skins are £18 from the shop, which is ridiculous, but it’s what the game says they are “worth”. So a battle pass with three or four of them in for £8 and a bunch of your time naturally feels like a better deal. 

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I hate all of this.

 

Grinding is fun when the game's mechanics are nice.

Grinding is horrible if you need to make them work at all.

 

Battle/Season Passes make games feel like work. They turn even the good kind of grind into the bad kind. This stupid 'games as work' notion started with gamerscore and achievements and we're now getting to the point that some devs are trying to actually make it into work by letting you earn money by playing games through shady crypto-stuff.

 

I want a game to be a game. A game needs to earn attention, not demand it. If it's F2P, make dedicated transactions crystal clear (I still feel Warframe is doing this best currently). Don't make people spend money on what is essentially Stockholm-syndrome-as-a-Service.

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I think they’re a reasonable alternative to micro-transactions and I have bought a couple where I thought of it as giving the developer some money for all the time I’d spent playing the ‘free’ game. 

 

I’m surprised something like WoW hasn’t tried it yet. Maybe they think it’s not worth annoying the player base. 

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11 hours ago, Garwoofoo said:

 

Plenty of games let you get part/most of the way there.

 

Fortnite's probably a bit of a unique case because the sheer volume (and quality) of its downloadable skins and emotes means that sooner or later pretty much everyone is going to end up buying something. The battle pass becomes a mechanism for simply keeping people playing the game, rather than a primary driver of income in its own right.


This is true - I initially said I would only buy the first battlepass and that’s it, but since then I’ve probably spent over £100 on store items for myself or my son. I don’t begrudge it though, I have easily spent more time playing Fortnite than any other game and been enjoying myself doing it. And if the basic game wasn’t bloody good fun (and I’m not big on online games as a rule) I wouldn’t bother. 

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