Why Do Season Passes Time Out?

By Rich Stanton on at

You may well read the title, and think 'duh'. Of course season passes run out: they only last for a season. Clue's in the name. But I don't think that's good enough. The popularity of the season pass in recent years, seen most prominently in Fortnite but present in everything from Rocket League to Apex Legends, suggests that this business model is here to stay. And for me, it's got one enormous problem.

Tiny violin time: I am old now. I have children. I simply cannot cane Rocket League all day and all night like I used to. But I love the game and I have money. So I buy the season pass out of loyalty and a desire to support Psyonix, and then... I play Rocket League maybe four or five times a month, and barely make level 20 (out of 100) before that season pass rolls over to the next one. Exactly the same with Fortnite. Just to clarify the basics of how these things tend to work: you pay the toll, usually around £7, then for three months earn rewards by grinding through the pass's levels. These rewards are purely cosmetic in the case of Fortnite and Rocket League: costumes, cars, boost trails, and so on.

I accept my diminished status in 2019's online world. Once I was a beast, the kind of terror that had teenagers worldwide quaking in their boots. If you ever met me on Dust II, you probably don't remember: it happened so fast. But now that I'm a geriatric in my 30s, I accept that hitting Global Elite or Champion rank, or even chalking up the odd victory royale, is very much a young person's game. I play purely for the fun these days, because what else is there?

All of this said, it hacks me off that these season passes are time-limited. I guess the theory is that this encourages player engagement: you've only got three months to earn all this great stuff, so you better play lots! That's what it is: a pure grind. And when you don't have the time to play a game every single night, you're never going to 'earn' all of the season pass items.

Here's the thing though: I paid for them. I paid as much as the person who can play for ten hours a day. So why shouldn't I be able to just gradually crawl my way up these various passes, and earn all the stuff over a longer period? There is no reason beyond a bogus idea of exclusivity, the sense that players will somehow rebel against the notion that anyone can eventually get the level 100 items. I don't think that reasoning is good enough.

Season passes are a clever model, when applied to the right game. They tap into the engagement that players feel with truly excellent games like Rocket League, and allow the developer to make money from a long-term playerbase while rewarding committed players with cool cosmetics. People can be sniffy about cosmetics: I once remember explaining to someone why I'd spent about a fiver buying a costume for Chun Li in Street Fighter IV. It was because, at that time, I played SFIV as Chun Li constantly, so the money was for me incredibly well-spent. That represented value. I've never been stingy about buying stuff in games, as long as I love the game.

The season pass feels like the right idea, but executed in the wrong way. Everyone pays the same price. But those who are time-rich get so much more for the same price, whereas those of us who can't drop everything to grind those last 50 levels get a bit of a second-class experience. As far as I'm concerned, I've paid for this stuff: why shouldn't I be able to 'earn' it at my own pace?

You may disagree: what a noob, stop whining, etcetera. Just remember the words of Paul McCartney. You'll be older too.