I want to love Gears of War 4. I want to praise it to high heaven, and tell everyone everywhere how simply sumptuous the fourth instalment in the series is. I want to climb the tallest tower, perch myself upon the highest peak, and broadcast my love for this game from the biggest building. And I’d do it too, but I just can’t seem to scale my way up the infernal pay wall that is the store feature of Gears of War 4.
Talk about poisoning the well. That tenebrous tab just won’t let me love Gears of War 4. Practically every week since the game’s launch, more microtransactions have emerged, bombarding players with unapologetic adverts and price points on a virtually constant basis. The final straw that broke the Carmine’s back came in the form of the most recent airdrop – that’s what The Coalition have taken to calling their microtransactions, because players didn’t feel assaulted enough by them, so they named them after the act of deploying military personnel upon enemy combatants – that contains the highly-anticipated ‘Run The Jewels’ DLC. The airdrop costs nearly £20 and includes two new characters – a pair of rappers I think, but then I don’t keep up with rap… because I’m a pudgy, white nerd who is wasting a Saturday writing about a video game – a few gun skins and more worthless emblems and bounties. Now: I don’t need, or particularly want, these new additions.
I could live until I was level 100 and I’d never give ‘Killer Mike’ and ‘EL-P’ a second thought, but I can’t help but think how this microtransaction has made a fool out of anyone who bought the Gears of War 4 season pass. Practically the price of a whole game, the season pass was a laughable investment at best. All players got with the damn thing was slightly different character skins, a few bounty cards, some emblems and the right to indulge their juvenile ‘want it can’t have it’ mentality while they are playing remakes of old maps that everyone has played before in the previous games. Simply put: the Gears of War 4 season pass was a complete rip-off: but at least we had the rest of the season to look forward to, right? I mean, only a completely unscrupulous, money-hungry bunch of corporate sell-outs would charge more for a season pass than the remake of Gears of War 1, only to have the ‘season’ of benefits end the minute the game comes out, right? Who in their right mind would do this? Well, Epic Games never did, that’s for sure.
When the magnificent Gears of War 3 was released back in 2011, the practice of season passes was in full swing, and Epic Games delivered a fantastic season of content. From a multitude of maps that could be played on and offline, gun skins galore, and campaign DLC, the season pass was well worth the purchase. Fast forward to the Coalition’s implementation of a season pass, however, and the picture isn’t so much a bleak one: it looks more like a black canvas smeared with shit. Nothing significant has been produced for season pass holders, and the first relatively ‘major’ DLC drop is wholly separate from the season pass. This departure from what constitutes season pass content and what doesn’t will invariably set a vile precedent for future microtransaction implementation. If paying for a season pass doesn’t get you access to DLC that is released during the game’s lifespan, then what on earth is the point in the damn thing? The ‘Run the Jewels’ content should be covered by the down payment season pass holders paid prior to the game’s release. Early investors should not be excluded from content that their money produced. Now, I am aware that The Coalition are not a charity, and they are just like any other company: but even an amateur-hour Kickstarter company knows that customer loyalty is tantamount to success. Taking investors money for a season pass and then telling them to climb more paywalls after they have showed you their season pass is simply egregious and unethical.
The very definition of a season pass is a pass that gets you behind any and all paywalls during the lifespan of the game in question, right? I mean, think about the terminology for a second. What are you ‘passing’ through? What do you bypass with a season pass? You are allowed to pass the paywall that obstructs the common folk when stuff like this latest airdrop comes around, that’s what you get to pass. Imagine getting a wristband for your favourite theme park, only to be told that a brand new ride has been built, and you cannot ride it because it was built after you paid for your pass that covers you for the entire year! Where is the logic here? Nay: where is the loyalty to the investors? The same investors whose money you used to build the damn ride you won’t let them ride with the season pass that doesn’t even work!?
A man’s actions before his crime can help determine his reason, but his actions after a crime can often determine his remorse. The Coalition may have cheated players out of their entitlement to the latest DLC, but you can tell they are sorry about it. How can you tell? Well, giving away free stuff #itrunsinthefamily, so to speak. Gears of War 3 gave players free gun skins and character models frequently, with each public holiday or just as a way of saying thank you to their happy, loyal fanbase. From the perfectly profane Aaron Griffin to the seasonal spray-paints that were gifted to fans at Halloween and Christmas, Epic were a pretty generous bunch. The Coalition, on the other hand, seems more like a group of grinches. Take the recent Halloween event on Gears of War 4 as an example of how uncharacteristically tight-fisted the Gears series is now. What did we get? Nothing. We, as players, got nothing. A lame, tired-and-tested pumpkin head (that we couldn’t even keep – thanks season pass!) was all players got. Even Gears of War Ultimate Edition gave players a free shotgun skin… eventually.
The attitude of The Coalition seems bizarre to me: to take the well-earned, cultivated goodwill of their fanbase and shit all over it so systematically? I don’t get it. Maybe that’s why the 10th Anniversary pack, set for release on 7th November, will be priced on the completely reasonable 200 credits. That’s right: credits. Remember that definitely-not-arbitrary-in-game currency? Well, for 200 of the worthless things, you can celebrate 10 years of a franchise you have made significant financial contributions to, to say nothing of the time and friendships you have poured into the series. The Coalition’s decision to sell the 10th Anniversary pack for such a meagre amount of credits seems to be nothing short of an apology to me. They aren’t stupid – well, they did leave out 4-player coop, but that’s a rant for another article – and they must know how audacious their recent behaviour regarding DLC is. Allowing everyone access to a pack that players would have undoubtedly paid for is, as far as I’m concerned, a sign of repentance being displayed from the developers. They have descended too far into the depths of our wallets, and are running the risk of becoming fallen angels in the eyes of their fan base. Gary Carmine is their way out; their salvation, and I for one will happily accept such a gift.
I don’t want to sound like some kind of gaming-socialist here. I respect the ‘great chain’. I love capitalism and the freedom of the market. If developers want to sell season passes, that is fine. No one has to buy them, and the choice is there for the consumer. I take umbrage with the almost arbitrary naming of the content, however, which seems designed to mislead buyers. If I buy a month’s subscription to Netflix, I wouldn’t expect to be told that the latest series of Archer is going to cost me more money to watch. If I buy a year-long subscription for Xbox live, I would not accept any such action. Imagine being told you had to pay to play specific games online because they were released after you paid for your year-long coverage!? The practice makes no sense. Calling something a ‘season pass’, then disabling players from passing paywalls during the season, is simply farcical. Yes: I know the description of the season pass never explicitly said “you will get everything that comes out, including that guy with the shades and his homicidal friend Michael”, but that’s my point. The nebulous wording of ‘season pass’ makes it difficult to know exactly what your pass allows you to pass.
How long is a ‘season’ in a games ultimate shelf-life anyway? What exactly do you get to ‘pass’ if not other miniature paywalls? I can’t help but think that games like EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront has enabled this kind of unacceptable behaviour. Battlefront’s season pass was a shocking £39.99, and the content on offer was a joke. Two or three variants of what was basically a single map, two characters and emotes. Because who uses headsets and verbal communication in video games anymore, right?
The whole season pass was unreservedly shameful, and a waste of money. No surprise that gamers everywhere abandoned the game in droves shortly after it’s launch, with only the most masochistic of morons circling back to the game when new content was released. With Gears of War 4, this sequence seems destined to repeat itself, right up until it blow up in our faces. With the only benefits of a season pass being that you get two maps before everyone else, what on earth is the point? I mean, are gamers really so immature, their psyches’ so barbarously undeveloped, that they cannot go an extra week without two maps? Surely gamers can maintain the savage, expulsive desires of the id for seven days? This juvenile culture in gaming, or being the first to wear this, or the first to have that, is just petty, and definitely not sufficient grounds to expect me to pay for a season pass, let alone additional content that is released during the very season to which I have a pass! It is the seizing and stoking of this eagerness- culture that has promoted in-game purchases into the domain of acceptable gaming practices, and this isn’t right. Selling aspects of a game on the basis that ‘you can get them before the poor folk’ is a weak premise upon which to sell anything. If the content on offer was worth paying for in the first place, I’d be happy to wait for it and still pay full price. Urgency is, and always has been, a pressure tactic in any sales environment, and is primarily used in lieu of a qualitative defence of a product’s commercial viability, and by extension its attractiveness to the consumer.
All of this, the meagre content, the deliberately nebulous wordplay, the destruction of years of trust that had been built between the Gears of War series and its fans, and the shameless tactics and psychology on display from The Coalition: all of this is a direct result of the implementation of microtransactions, and the developers’ constant pursuit of profits over passion from their fans and customers. The simple truth is, if this practice continues, the trust between creators and consumers will dissolve into nothingness, and words like loyalty, faith and trust will be bargaining tools used against buyers rather than badges of honour conferred unto the most trustworthy game developers. We cannot allow the dangers of vulgar commodification within games to go unchecked. We cannot allow the paywall-within-paywalls to go unchallenged. We cannot allow the pernicious, poisonous effects of season passes to pass us by.
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