In recent years, more games are starting to take up a new model for distributing post-launch content beyond what were once launch-and-forget events where a game would not get any support from the developer after the public got its hands on it except in special instances. Online functionality changed this by allowing the developer to push game updates to players upon hearing feedback from reviewers and consumers like you and me. Updates were not the only things added when the internet became a staple in gaming—multiplayer and paid add-on content came as well.
No longer were players forced to find ways to keep themselves occupied once their game progress reached 100%. They took up speed-running, ROM hacks, and variations of randomizers. Of course these practices continue today, but here, I will be focusing on official developer post-launch support. While MMORPGs could be considered “Games as a Service,” I will not be covering anything with a required monthly subscription price in this article. I am going to go deeper into ever-changing online games that require a one-time purchase or games that are F2P or “free to play.”
Post-release paid content used to come in the form of expansion packs in various prices and sizes. Sometimes a game would receive one expansion and others many. If a gamer wanted more, usually they would receive it.
This trend continues today, but in normally smaller bites called downloadable content, or “DLC.” We are given map packs ranging from two to five maps or sometimes a new weapon or mode, depending on the game and release schedule. Eventually, Rockstar changed the post-launch game with L.A. Noire’s Rockstar Pass. With this pass, you got to receive all of the content for the game that did not make it on the disc. Everything in one package with a little discount to it all to boot! Soon, other developers and publishers caught on to the idea and the Age of the Season Pass came into being.
Subsequently through 2011, multiple titles used the season pass or a similar format to release their content; examples include Gears of War 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Over the course of the following year every major game with multiplayer was selling season passes too—some with resounding sales success while some caught flack for this practice, such as Aliens: Colonial Marines (Though its negative reception was due more to the base game’s quality than anything). As this trend persisted, some games continued to give the same amount of content every time with their yearly releases like Call of Duty; others were considered disappointing for the perceived lack of content such as Evolve with its double season passes, the second of which launching only four months after the base game’s release.
While Evolve‘s gameplay was not a major point of contention, the extras around it were. When Evolve launched, forty-four paid skin packs were released alongside it ranging from $2.99 to $4.99 each (if memory serves correct; most of the content was de-listed from the digital stores, barring one hunter character and a monster skin.) Seeing as this was a fully-priced game, this pricing scheme became the straw that broke the camel’s back.
By 2015, 343 Industries announced that Halo 5 would be receiving multiple updates throughout the year after its release that October. This meant they were forgoing the season pass that was used for Halo 4‘s map packs. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege released that December with a season pass, but there was a twist. Every character that came in that season pass was unlock-able if you were to grind out in-game currency. Things were changing, the “Games as a Service” (GaaS) trend was rising.
The season pass model was merely the tip of this iceberg. In the fall of 2014, Bungie and Activision released the smash hit shared-world shooter Destiny. This was the most popular GaaS title on consoles as it made $325 million in revenue in its first five days on the market. Yes, Grand Theft Auto V made $1 billion in three days, but it did not launch with an online component for another two weeks.
Clearly Bungie did something right with their new franchise, and it showed. People were playing thousands of hours so they could try to be among the first to beat the new raids that came in most of the paid expansions. Every time there was something the players were unhappy about, Bungie would put it on the list and subsequently take care of those concerns in order of importance. Sometimes systems would be fixed in the major expansion. In reviews for Destiny‘s The Taken King expansion, it was cited that the loot drop system was fixed and felt more rewarding after it was previously called “stingy” after a year and two relatively lackluster expansions, The Taken King gave new life to a game that seemed to be getting stale. New enemies, loot, story missions, and raid drew players right back in. However, a challenger emerged six months later.
Tom Clancy’s The Division arrived in March 2016 to an 80 score on Metacritic. While lower than the 86 from The Taken King, it developed its own dedicated fans. Just like its sci-fi counterpart, The Division also launched with a season pass that promised content following its release. Suddenly, there seemed to be no time to play both games. At their core, they were the same. Both had shared worlds for players to interact in with promises of loot for defeating bad guys. However, due to their constantly changing nature, nobody could keep up with both and it felt like you had to purchase the level boosts just to keep up. This was just the beginning.
Suddenly, most new releases in gaming were focused more and more on online functions and less content in the base game. The cheeseburger you ordered suddenly seemed to have a nibble of meat and cheese in the bun, totally unsatisfactory. Star Wars Battlefront (2015) is a prime example of this. When it was released that November, it was praised for visuals and gameplay but criticized for its lack of variety. There was no real single-player campaign, and the few multiplayer maps that it came with got old quick. What made matters worse was that a season pass was included for new content. Once again, the camel’s back was about to be broken.
The players demanded change, they wanted their dollars to mean something. In 2017, EA answered. During their E3 conference that year, they announced Star Wars Battlefront II would be released that fall with no season pass. Every piece of new content would be completely free: every map, hero, and mode. They even put a single-player campaign in it that would also get new missions for free as well. Things were looking up until it launched. The game contained loot boxes and micro-transactions that drew heavy criticism for being unrewarding and grind-y. It was estimated that it would take 40 hours to unlock just one hero out of the many locked options. This game’s “service” stank to the high heavens.
On the other side of things, FortniteBattle Royale introduced a paid Battle Pass with its Season 2 update. In this update, players could pay for the Battle Pass to receive in-game rewards for completing challenges. Since Battle Royale was a free game, nobody cared that there were micro-transactions for this pass and other cosmetics. Suddenly, almost as if overnight, Fortnite became the biggest game in the world. Epic Games was clearly on to something.
As each season ended; new features, weapons, and landscape changes to the map came to Fortnite. With each update, things would be broken and almost immediately fixed upon feedback from the fans. There was always something new to check out when you would dive back onto the island. While I concede that Fortnite does things well, I do not think they are doing it the best. Enter Rare’s Sea of Thieves.
Released in March of 2018, Sea of Thieves was bogged down by awful connectivity and other issues. The next day, Rare released a video on their YouTube detailing their plans to fix all of these issues. They outlined every issue they had heard about and what they were going to do about it. This trend continues every Wednesday—Joe Neate (executive producer) or another producer on the team will give an update to the fans about what progress is being made on the game. Every bug fix they find or hear about is addressed right to the fans. This is not the only thing being done right.
Every time a new feature was planned and the response was negative, Rare immediately changed or dropped it. Micro-transactions were planned three months after launch and immediately were scrapped after the players voiced their concerns. When the players were faced with the prospect of being charged by the Ferry of the Damned when they died, they let Rare know and the plan was scrapped. They have even delayed added content to fix issues with both the game and the possible bugs the expansions could introduce. Players’ suggestions are given serious consideration and added to the game based on demand for said feature.
When the players wanted more to do in the world, Rare gave more quest types and ways to play. A new emerging threat came in the form of the Megalodon and in a later update, volcanoes. Players wanted more ship custom options, and they were given. When three-man crews wanted a ship to play to their size, the developers gave them one. Every need that the community had was fulfilled. See a need, fill a need indeed!
Each new feature given was a new opportunity for the players to think of new ways to mess around. When the Speaking Trumpet was added in The Hungering Deep expansion, a player took it upon themselves to use this tool to Rick Roll the seas. What one sees as a mere communication device, another sees a practical joke waiting to happen. When the ability to trap snakes came, players used them to deter enemies from dropping/raising their anchors when the crew was busy elsewhere. Giant powder-kegs were combined with pistols and crows nests to sink ships with one shot. The tools that were given, had no rules attached. If you could imagine it, you could figure out a way to make it happen.
What has been viewed as an empty, repetitive experience before has become something more rich. While the game itself is not perfect by any means, the way the game has naturally evolved is due to the community and developer working in harmony. There is not just a Twitter or blog post telling you about what is happening—a person is looking at you telling you everything this is happening; no enigmatic presence is needed. Even more wonderful, the developer streams the game on a weekly basis to hang out and play the game with the community.
Developers are always doing their best to find a way to keep players interested in playing their games. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege is on its fourth year of updates. You can pay to unlock the new operators or grind out the unlocks. Destiny 2 has an Annual Pass to keep players invested with both paid and free content. But at the end of the day, it is rare to see a developer have so much public love and passion for their own game and have fun with their community. You can have a great presence on Twitter and Reddit, but it cannot beat having a smiling face greet you every week telling you about the fun you will have in the coming update.
If you want players to stick with you, do the Rare Thing. Be personal with your community, and show them how much you love them.
Fortnite: Battle RoyaleSeason 8saw the meme-ification of the island with pirates, ninjas, and dancing bananas joining the fray. It also saw the arrival of a volcano, among a few other changes, and new Points of Interest (POI). We also got to enjoy a few new Limited Time Modes (LTMs) such as The Floor is Lava, Planes only, and Avengers Vs. Thanos. At the end of the season, they held another one-time in-game event, where the volcano blew it’s top, leading to the destruction of Tilted Towers (something they’ve been teasing/threatening to do since it was built), Retail Row, and the volcano itself. The event happened the weekend before the new season started.
Season 9: The Future is Yours
It was all a troll by Epic. On day one of the new season, Tilted has been rebuilt as Neo Tilted, and Retail is now Mega Mall. I have many questions revolving around the passage of time and poor Jonesy and Peely in the bunker, but I know it’s a fool’s errand to try and parse the lore at this point. I’ll just reiterate my point from the last Fortnite article that it used to feel like the seasons were linked in lore and causality back in seasons 4, 5 and 6, but when we hit the wintry Christmas season (7) everything went off the rails. Now, it’s definitely a continuation of the last couple seasons where anything goes and it’s all about goofy mashups and the rule of cool over making sense.
The Battle Pass has a smorgasbord of new outfits, including a couple cool ones that unlock right from the start. Rox and Sentinel start the pass off, or, as I’m calling them, Brunette Samus and Gundam Suit Chicken. I also like that Rox levels up her gear as you gain experience and complete challenges, because I’m not all about a 3rd-person game with a character running around in a schoolgirl outfit. Bunker Jonesy also unlocks if you opt for the +25 tier Battle Pass, which I thought was cool at first, but from behind he just looks like base-game Jonesy…hmm.
The upper half of the Pass is a mixed bag, in my opinon: Vega (looks like Huntress with modern clothes, meh) Stratus (Spitfire base character with a hoodie), Demi who looks like Ada Wong with a sweet Iron Man arm, and Vendetta, A.K.A. Neo Drift. I like some of the effects that you can unlock for him, but if I counted all the characters that already look like Vendetta, it would probably make up half of my locker. Please, no more robots or dudes-in-masks, Epic.
The other big change in the game and map are the inclusion of sky bases, and the slipstream. Around both the new neon POIs and the center of the map run slipstream courses where players can jump in and fly around on a stream of air that goes at a pretty good clip. It’s still possible to get shot, but next to planes, it’s the fastest way to get around the map. Sky bases are floating platforms around the map where players can float up and get an elevated view before using fans on the base to bounce off with no fall damage, just like using the zip lines.
While these new mobility options are interesting and will undoubtedly make for some cool clips from top streamers (you can take vehicles in the slip-stream), it’s getting awfully cluttered out on the map. It’s boring to keep reading the same thing every season, but I’m gonna keep at it until they do it or I stop writing about FBR: it would be great if they just made a new map.
The last big change is the inclusion of Fortbytes (I kind of hate that I had to type that word). Fortbytes are CPU-looking pickup items that can be found in-game or unlocked with progression throughout the season for things like top 10 wins or enemies defeated. According to the patch notes, as you unlock them, you’ll reveal an image, and if you unlock all 100 of them, you’ll get special rewards and unlock the lore of season 9.
On a personal note, Season 8 was the first season since I started buying the Battle Pass back in Season 3 that I didn’t hit tier 100. I played several other games over the course of the season, and at times, it just felt like if I wasn’t playing with friends it was either a bit of a waste, or just checking off challenge boxes instead of enjoying the game. The addictive fun is still there, but when I die for the 39th time of the night because I drew an outline with my gun around someone who rushed me and destroyed me, it makes me want to play something with tight controls and the ability to shoot at my enemies and hit them every time. Epic used to do shooting test modes where they tried to fine-tune the aiming and accuracy of the guns, and I wish they’d get back to it. Until then, you can find me skulking around the outside of the map, hoping the top 5 players all simultaneously blow themselves up so I can nab a sweet unearned Victory Royale.
Season 9 of Fortnite: Battle Royale runs from May 9th to August 1st.
In Fortnite season 7, we saw: an iceberg hit the island, leading to snow covered areas and new Points of Interest (POI); new modes of transportation with zip-lines and biplanes; multiple tweaks to balance damage and gameplay; Christmas celebrated by covering the whole map with snow; an in-game event where the Ice King (Tier 100 outfit from the Battle Pass) released snow over the whole island again along with ice zombies; an in-game concert for Marshmellow; and a free Battle Pass promotion for completing several overtime challenges. Season 7, while for the most part divorced from the “lore” of the past few seasons, managed to pack quite a bit into its schedule, and I didn’t even mention the pop-up tournaments that players could join in each week. I’m sure that growing dark spot in Wailing Woods is nothing to be concerned about…
Season 8: The Ocho
Adventure Awaits! Pirates and ninjas. Dancing bananas. Style (clothing) upgrades galore. Oh, and a huge volcano spewing hot magma where The Block and northern Wailing Woods used to be, along with a few new POIs in the northeast corner of the map. The X-4 plane and golf cart have been vaulted, but they added cannons that players can use to attack enemies or launch themselves across the map. Also aiding mobility are Volcanic Vents, which fling players skyward like a naturally occurring launch pad. So if last season saw the southwest corner becoming a snowy biome (it still is) then the northeast corner has become tropical, and has new features including a volcano, pirate ship, and jungle. Still no new map, sadly. But if I had to venture a guess, the cracks all over Tilted Towers and other locations make me think the map changes aren’t over for this season. For a list of all the changes, check the patch notes here.
Speaking of change, Epic has made this season the first instance of not only a female, but minority female as the tier 100 outfit for the Battle Pass. There’s always been good diversity in the outfits overall, but for the top tier reward we’ve had John Wick, Omega, Ragnarok, and werewolf dudes. Now, though, we also have a black woman channeling her inner Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez. While she might share some similarities with Apex Legend’s Lifeline character, what Epic really stole from that game was the ping system—players can now tag enemies and items, as well as locations on the map. Tagging also shows distance now.
Since pirates are a big part of this season (and pirates steal amirite?), it’s not totally surprising that cannons have made their way into the game. It seems that someone at the Fortnite offices is a fan of Sea of Thieves since players can not only shoot the cannons at enemies, but load themselves into them and fire a humanoid cannonball across the map. Just. Like. Sea of Thieves. You can get some good distance if you have redeploy gliders as well. Just be sure not to land in a tree, stranding yourself like I did.
Slightly frustrating is the continued lack of discernible story or lore – and I know, I know, nobody goes to a Michael Bay movie or a Battle Royale game for story, but it used to make sense what was happening on the island from season to season. Last season and this one it’s just “This happened! Now fight!” See the intro video above, which is one of the shortest season trailers I think they’ve made. Again, it’s cool what they’ve added, and I understand from a programming perspective it’s far easier to just make small tweaks to an existing map, but it’s getting tiring to me that they keep just shoving new things onto the map, much like a kid pushing more and more toys onto a play area. There should be a new map already. Or it could be cool if they just did a Limited Time Mode (LTM) where they let people play on an old map, like season 1 or 2. Maybe remembering how sparse the first few seasons were would also keep complainers like myself from whining about wanting a new map.
Challenges this season have gotten harder, with weekly challenges now asking players to get eliminations or do damage with multiple different weapons. To aid players with this is the Party Assist feature that lets you select one challenge per match that your entire party can help you with, so if you stink with sniper rifles you can get everyone to help you complete that pesky “Do damage with a sniper rifle and SMG in one round,” challenge. Or you can knock out the “Visit three stone faces” in one match with everyone in the squad’s help. It doesn’t work with randomly queued players however, just your party. Sorry Rando Calrissian.
Between the pirates versus ninjas, bananas (and banana dance), and emphasis on play over lore or story, it definitely feels like Epic is catering to it’s target audience of kids and internet-savvy adults. The volcano is a cool addition, and the lava gives the game a bit of Mario feel as you take 1 point of damage and bounce off. But after a year and a half, the cycle of drop/loot/fight/die (sometimes win!) is starting to wear thin, at least for me. There are some cool additions to season 8, and if you received the free Battle Pass promotion you should definitely check it out. However, as more games like Apex bring new ideas to the table, Fortnite is going to have to do more than just add new outfits and a couple map changes to keep everyone engaged.
Season 8 of Fortnite: Battle Royale runs from February 28th to May 8th, 2019.
In the video introduction for Season 7 of Fortnite: Battle Royale, ‘Swole Santa and his not-so-merry helpers have arrived on the island and they brought the snow and ice with them. This isn’t just cosmetic as several of the changes will have an impact on gameplay possibly all season long. Oddly enough, this season seems divorced from the past few in terms of lore; the runes and corrupted areas of the map are gone, along with the shadow stones and any other remnants of past seasons except for rifts.
The snow covers most of the Southwest corner of the map, and almost all of the Points of Interest (POI) in that area have been replaced. If you were a big fan of landing at Flush Factory or Greasy Grove, you might not like what you see. On the plus side, we have a new airport named Frosty Flights, a new mountain with a buried castle named Polar Peak, and a Bavarian-themed village named Happy Hamlet. The remnants of Greasy Grove can be seen in the lake north of Polar Peak, but be aware that walking on the lake will frost your character’s feet like they stepped on a chiller trap (which among other items, got vaulted – see patch notes here). It’ll be interesting to see if the snow spreads this season or starts to melt, revealing buried POIs.
If you don’t have time to read the full patch notes, the highlights are the previously mentioned new snow areas, the addition of planes and zip lines, and the ability to shoot or use items with balloons. Last season they introduced us to holding balloons with your character’s hands; now you’re free to bound across the landscape and shoot at the same time. Planes and zip lines make getting across the map a breeze. It’s almost too easy now. I’m not saying I miss sprinting all match long from the stadium to Moisty Moire, but what I said about last season is feeling more and more true: Epic needs to stop adding stuff.
Some players have already complained that the new planes are overpowered, but it’s only been a day. They’re great for getting across the map quickly (and with your whole squad sitting on the wings!), but they’re slow, loud targets that don’t shoot very well. I wish they would have left in the ability to re-deploy your glider instead of adding all these other things that clutter up the map and make it more of a cartoony Battlefield game. The meta of Fortnite has always been change, but it’s these vehicles and new modes of transport that really make it unrecognizable from last year—not the map changes.
Another move that sees Epic copying a big-name franchise is the addition of wraps: weapon and vehicle skins pulled right out of Call of Duty. As you unlock new wraps, you can apply them to specific weapon types. For instance, any shotgun you pick up has a bright green wrap to it. Personally, I’m not sure about it for use on weapons, but liked how it looked on the vehicles—again, I’m not sure I like it in the game. One new thing I am a huge fan of is the addition of being able to sort by new in your locker. Now, when you buy or unlock a new item from the Battle Pass, you don’t have to search though every single emote, spray, toy, and sticker to find it. There’s not much more to say about it, but this innocuous feature has been long-requested by the Fortnite community.
The Battle Pass has several great skins, now called outfits, and the first two you unlock by buying the Battle Pass both have upgradeable clothing. Zenith starts out looking like an average Asian guy, but as you level him up, he bundles up and looks like an ice-climber or explorer. Lynx begins with a look that screams, “manic pixie nerd girl,” but ends up as a “Tron-meets-Catwoman” with reactive colors. Outfits also included if you get through the Battle Pass levels are Sgt. Winter (‘Swole Santa), Powder (Snowboarder Lady), Onesie (Girl in a Durr Burger outfit), Trog (Yeti!), and the tier 100 outfit of the Ice (Lich) King.
This season Epic has also seen fit to tap into player’s creative side, adding a Creative play mode where—much like Playground—players can build and create to their heart’s content, the difference being that you can save your creations in Creative mode. They also added an area in the North of the map called The Block:a space where they will be uploading player-created structures into the game! This sounds amazing if it works; I just wish they hadn’t dropped it right on top of Risky Reels, a great POI for the last couple seasons. Between this and the fluctuating area where the soccer stadium used to be, it seems like they don’t know what to do with the North part of the map.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with the outfits and additions to cosmetics for this season, and it’ll be interesting to see which Christmas-themed ones are introduced or brought back from last year. I think it’ll be a matter of when, not if, they’ll add the Snowman outfit from the trailer to the Fortnite Store. I like the new snow biome, but still think it’s time for them to add a new map. In the meantime, if you’re looking for the Christmas trees from last year—if you can find the house from the trailer, I’ve seen it spawn three chests next to each other under the tree. Merry Christmas and good luck getting those Victory Royales!
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