Mario Golf And The Core Issue Behind Season Passes

A few people I’ve seen seem to be shocked Nintendo is releasing a season pass for one of its upcoming games. When you look closely though it’s not that surprising. Really, all the distress from it could just stem from a feature introduced for PC games clashing with console culture.

If you don’t know, Nintendo’s doing it for Mario Golf World Tour. The company known for being extremely conservative regarding technological trends in gaming, especially online implementation, is doing three DLC packs for World Tour. Looking at this game in isolation, it’s not a bad deal at all in my opinion. The three packs put together almost double the amount of content in the game, and the pass is only $15 — the price of most individual DLC packs from other companies.

But still, announcing DLC packs and season passes before a game is even out gives a lot of people the feeling that the game released on day 1 is incomplete, and that the “extra content” is a ploy to charge people more for the “complete” game. Some people just wait until “Game of the Year” editions with all the content on the disk come out. Nintendo if you remember though maintains they don’t start working on DLC until the base game ships. I assume Nintendo’s holding to that policy with World Tour, in keeping with the company’s reputation for putting out very strong 1.0 versions of its games.

The practice of DLC came out of how PC games get expansion packs — DLC is just released in smaller bites. When you think about it a season pass is really just an expansion pack you pay for at-release and get later in pieces. Traditionally on PC though, expansion packs aren’t even announced until after a game’s release. Why get people to pay for future expansions up-front instead of just selling them expansion packs down the road?

A piece of data highlights how a difference in how people interact with console games changes how publishers think they need to sell extra content. Basically, most console games see their player bases drop off dramatically pretty soon after launch, so publishers need to sell as much extra content as possible as early as possible. I think Microsoft even used to suggest publishers release any content less than 30 days after a game’s release. It’s impossible to get any DLC out in that time unless it’s developed almost concurrently with the game, thus fueling the perception that the initial 1.0 release is an incomplete product. Thus, season passes let publishers promise future DLC while getting people to pay for it now, even a company like Nintendo that swears not to start DLC development until the base game is done.

PC games however can keep announcing and releasing expansion packs for games that are months or years old because people on PC tend to keep playing their games for longer. Civilization V came out three and a half years ago and is still one of the most played games on Steam. Firaxis was able to release an expansion pack for it almost three years after the base game’s launch. Then of course you have the six-year-old Team Fortress 2 and its many updates since 2007.

Console game publishers don’t operate on the assumption of that kind of player attachment, but I think a few might be able to. I think it’s true most console games aren’t played for as long as many PC games but a few are. Ubisoft announced and released Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon months after Far Cry 3’s launch, and the company later reported the expansion increased sales of the base game. What made that work? Street Fighter IV is the only recent console game I know of that can have expansions released for it six years after launch. I imagine other supremely popular multiplayer console games could allow the same treatment to work. Maybe if Activision didn’t release a new Call of Duty every year, but they make too much money off of that right now.


  • On the subject, I still don’t understand why none of the Mass Effect games have received “Gold” or “Game of the Year” editions. Even the trilogy pack includes none of the paid DLC, and that DLC has never been on sale on PC. Right now buying all of Mass Effect 2’s DLC costs more than the actual game.
  • Breaking down doors at the cost of weapon durability in Dark Souls 2 reminds me a bit of Ultima Underworld. I enjoy that kind of openness in the choices you have to deal with.
  • Saw Castle in the Sky for the first time recently. So… basically every Japanese RPG ever is trying to be that movie?
  • Someone on Deviantart is doing an impressive Zelda comic in the style of Katsuya Terada’s early 90’s art.
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