If you are a gamer over a certain age, your interest will have spanned several decades of industry change. By the time I moved from console gaming to the PC, during the mid-nineties, there was already a precedence for expansions to single player games. For example, I was bought Star Trek: Starfleet Academy back in 1998, a few months after its initial release. The game had an adequate amount of content that justified its retail price. A year later publisher Interplay released an expansion pack called Chekov's Lost Missions, featured seven new missions, two new multiplayer games, and various improvements to the game interface. If memory serves this cost half the price of the full game and by the standards of the time was broadly deemed an acceptable. Despite the title of the expansion, this was not content culled from the original game and was purely an optional extra. That was the nature of expansions at the time. They provided new material to enhance a game at a reasonable cost.
Today, expansions fall under the broader marketing term of DLC (downloadable content) and the definition is not as black and white as it was two decades ago. DLC can be anything from cosmetic skins, weapons or armour. Then there are PVP and multiplayer maps as well as new missions. In certain cases, the capacity to have further game saves, inventory space or character slots is dressed up as DLC. Nowadays, there are times when a game feels that it’s been gutted of key content that is then withheld and sold back to the player. This can be bought piecemeal as and when required, or pre-ordered through the “miracle” of the season pass, which can add a further £25 or £30 cost on top of the price of the base game. Like or not, the season pass is an established part of a games lifecycle and an integral part of the business model of most major games publishers. It’s a bitter pill to swallow but once done, it should ensure that you’ve got all a games future content in the bag. Or so I foolishly thought.
Usually the lifecycle for a new triple A game is 12 to 18 months and the DLC is released every three months or so. That has mainly been my experience of things with games such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. However, I’ve recently bought some titles from Ubisoft, who seem to drag out their products life cycle far longer. I got a deal on Ghost Recon Wildlands recently which was initially released in March 2017. The Gold Edition included a season pass for DLC, which I assumed (wrongly) covered everything. It would appear not. I noticed last week that there was available in the Uplay store what Ubisoft called a Year 2 pass. Yes, they had released a smattering of further content and wanted me to pay more money for the pleasure of accessing it, as I wasn’t covered by my previous season pass. Suffice to say I wasn’t impressed by this. Furthermore, I've subsequently spotted that Ubisoft have just released a Year 3 pass for further DLC for Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege. A further example of striving to extend a games life and hence its financial yield.
So, it would appear that "games as a service" is slowly becoming a reality. Buying the Gold Edition of a premium new game these days does not guarantee all future content. Yearly DLC passes are a thing and if you want to access further content regardless of how superficial it may be, you have to keep paying. And although I am not alone in being critical of this egregious business approach, it would appear that sufficient numbers of gamers are happy to open their wallets, thus making this practise bear fruit. I would not be surprised if this approach continues to grow and greater functionality will be excised from games and gated behind a paywall. The free-to-play business model of mobile gaming, MMOs and co-op genres could eventually become the de facto industry standard. Ownership as a concept is slowly be erased from gaming and the product is evolving into a continuous service. What times we live in.