Over the last couple of years we’ve seen a real fork in how developers want to be continue providing content for a full-priced AAA multiplayer game post launch. On the one hand you’ve got the traditionalists. The grizzled old stalwarts like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Churning out a rigid year of premium content with 4 or 5 packs, effectively doubling the price of the game.
Then you’ve got the new wave. The enterprising youngsters looking to change things up. I’m talking about the likes of Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, Rocket League and For Honor. All of these games are similar in that all gameplay affecting content is free of charge, whether that be new maps, modes, arenas or playable characters. In the case of Siege you’re going to have to work a bit of earn some of the unlocks, but it is all there for free if you put the effort in. With these games, the biggest priority is clearly to never split the playerbase up. Every map pack and expansion for COD or Battlefield fragments the player base yet further, and it’s little wonder why the likes of Star Wars Battlefront have become ghost towns on PC.
I believe one of the major selling points of games with free content is that they tend to have much longer lifespans. The old season pass model is heavily geared towards releasing a new boxed title every 12 months. Again, look at Star Wars Battlefront. DLC support has halted completely as DICE prepares for Star Wars Battlefront 2. Compare and contrast to Rainbow Six Siege, which launched a fortnight later and is now into its second year of free content and with a playerbase that has more than doubled since launch. Keep gamers entertained with a great game stacked on top of lots of content updates and it’s no wonder they’ll stick around for longer.
When it comes to free content, the benefit to publishers is that development costs for this new model are drastically scaled down. The Call of Duty franchise requires three development teams and potentially billions of dollars of investment just to keep it ticking over for three years. Blizzard just needs to concern itself with balancing Overwatch and adding the occasional map, character, or season event. What they’re sacrificing are those $60 game sales and $50 season passes, although this is in part counteracted by cosmetic DLC which can be purchased.
Of course, there are also those who prefer the older model. You could buy Battlefield 1 with the Premium Pass on day one and know that you were absolutely set to play the game forever. It may have cost you $110, but neither EA nor DICE would be asking you to hand over any more cash for content. And talking of content, because Premium Passes have a high value attached, they’re often much larger packs than the free drops in other games. In the case of Battlefield 1, your $50 will get you 16 new maps over the next year. In Overwatch there have been just two maps added in the last 9 months. In Rainbow Six Siege it’s six in about 15 months.
So which method do you prefer? Are we seeing a total shift towards free maps and modes? Is the DLC map pack a dying breed? Let us know your thoughts!