The 'season pass' model is now familiar to the gaming audience, most prominently exemplified by Fortnite's tri-monthly Battle Passes. Each game's take may have slight differences, but the core idea is always the same: a player forks out somewhere between £5-10 for a list of rewards and in-game benefits such as extra XP, then grind their way through it until the next pass is released a few months later.
(To be clear I'm not talking about the kind of 'all inclusive' season pass one might find in for example Assassin's Creed Odyssey, where you basically buy all the DLC upfront for a discount, but specifically the three-to-four month time-limited passes that popular online games favour.)
So far I've tried several flavours of season pass: the Fortnite and Apex Legends Battle Passes; Clash Royale's Pass Royale; and Rocket League's Rocket Pass. Of those games, Rocket League is the one I play most by some distance, so it's where one might expect to find the best value.
Instead there's a little niggle in my mind that, over time, has only become more pronounced. The Fortnite passes I bought were when the game began taking over the world, I was playing it a fair amount, and to be honest I didn't especially care about the rewards as much as the boost to friend XP. Fortnite also has the distinction of being free-to-play, so it felt appropriate to chuck a relatively small amount of money Epic's way for the fun I was having.
With Rocket League, too, I have no problem giving Psyonix money. It made one of the best games ever. The Rocket Pass is reasonably priced (about £7 every three months), there are some cool bits and bobs in there, but here's the thing: I end up getting almost none of them.
To unpack this somewhat: these things are built around grind. Lots of grind. Even allowing for the XP boosts that the passes provide, and playing the game for several hours a week, my progress up the pass tiers is glacial: by the time the new pass rolls around, I'm usually at level 30 or thereabouts of 100.
Now: that's fine, as far as it goes. Don't cry for me! But what bugs me and what I've come to resent is the pass simply disappearing when the new one pops up for sale. Why does it need to be removed? Why can't I just grind up through my old passes over the years?
Is there any good reason? I don't accept that it's to do with balancing the in-game economy, even if it does make high-level items exclusive.
The resentment is that, essentially, it feels a little bit like these things serve the time-rich at the expense of the rest of us. Obviously there's an element here where Psyonix wants to encourage regular and repeated play, because that's how the Rocket Pass is structured, but in doing so it ends up with a nasty outcome: players who pay the same amount of money, but don't have the same amount of time to spend gaming, only get the shitty rewards.
Example: each pass comes with a car. At low levels you will get the basic chassis then, as you go through the pass, you literally earn better-looking versions of that same car. It feels like Psyonix designs a great-looking vehicle for each pass, then just takes bits off it for low-tier rewards. So once the pass is gone, you can't 'upgrade' that car anymore.
Oh for a world where I could just grind away at my own pace, slowly eking out the rewards from passes I bought years ago. I buy the new pass every time it appears, but with the most recent felt a tinge of remorse handing over the dough, knowing that I'd get less value from it than people who can afford to play Rocket League for four hours every day.
It's not that the maniacs get more stuff quicker, that's always going to be the case. It's that my purchase has this weird time-limited element to it that simply doesn't seem necessary. I'm happy to grind my way through and earn this stuff at whatever rate Psyonix wants; I just can't do it over a few months.
Won't someone think of the children? No: screw the children, they've got all the time in the world to play Rocket League and need no sympathy. Think of the bitter adults in their thirties with jobs and families who just want to pay their money and, eventually, get what they paid for.