THE NEW GAMING REALITY
The following is a list of current marketing strategies and various ways your wallet can get raided. If you have a good understanding of how the industry works, you can develop sound buying practices based on your own set of criteria. Then you will never have to feel that you've been taken for a ride.
In times past, a game would come on the market when it was finished. Now a game can be sold months before it is scheduled for release. Pre-selling games has become a standard practice and to entice you, the publisher may offer special content and a small discount only available with pre-orders. In many cases, however, that same content may or may not become available after the game has been out for awhile. There are some disadvantages to pre-ordering, lack of reviews for one, but as a marketing strategy, offering pre-order bonuses seems to work. There are always those who want the latest and greatest the minute it becomes available. However, as happens quite frequently, these same games can be had for deeper discounts fairly soon after release and at some point, a GOTY (Game of the Year) version may be released that includes all of the DLC as well. There seems to be some indication that pre-orders are declining as gamers wise up; especially in light of the plethora of problems plaguing Triple AAA game releases.
DAY ONE DLC
When this practice started, many gamers were quite affronted believing they were being ripped off. Many felt that developers had intentionally left important content out of the main game in order to squeeze more money out of you. The rationale being that if DLC was ready on day one, it meant it could have gone into the main game. For instance, The original Metro 2033 had a ranger mode that was included in the game, but cost extra on day one in the sequel, Metro Last Light. This has now become fairy common.
A season pass really translates into nothing more than a promise from the publisher/developer to provide future DLC for their game. So once again, you are purchasing something that does not yet exist. You, in fact, have no idea what you will be getting and season passes do not guarantee that you will receive all DLC ever made for that game. You will receive a certain amount, but will have to pay for any new DLC after the season expires. In other words, you're buying a pig in a poke. The developer could release content that is not very good, but that hardly matters as they have already been paid for it. It's a successful phenomenon that's hard to understand. Season passes can be fairly expensive, almost as much as the base game, but can still be purchased long afterwards, so at least by then the reviews are out and you will know what you are getting.
Microtransactions, in one form or another, have been around for a long time and traditionally get their name from transactions that involve micro amounts of money. However, it's quite recent that the gaming industry has started to introduce this little money-maker into more and more of their games. It is not uncommon to see them in Free to Play games, but now you will find in-game stores cropping up in full price triple AAA games as well. At the moment it is somewhat controlled by paid content not being necessary to win the game, but it remains to be seen how far publishers/developers will try to push this by making it harder to beat the game without purchasing special weapons, armor, abilities and upgrades. This already happens in many Free to Play games and why some of them have been dubbed "Pay to Win". These so-called microtransactions, which started out costing cents, are also now costing dollars. One of the early instances in a Triple AAA game was Dead Space 3 where upgrades could cost as much as $4.99 each. This is on top of the base game being released at $60.00 US. I'm sure you can see just how expensive a game could get. Worse is when you are at a severe playing disadvantage if you do not purchase these extras.
Some games can be released in various editions. Usually these are the standard vanilla version and the upgraded version that could include soundtracks, concept art and developer commentaries. Naturally, the latter costs more. After the game has been out for awhile, you may get a GOTY (Game of the Year) edition which includes all the DLC to date. You may also see other types of editions that include all games in that series. These are all ways of marketing games as they grow older.
REMASTERED & DEFINITIVE EDITIONS
From time to time, publishers will release an older game in a remastered form. Examples of this are Doom BFG and Deus Ex: Human Revelations Director's Cut. The content of the game usually remains basically the same, but graphics, resolutions and changes to fit newer technology are improved. They may also include past DLC. Opinions on whether these re-worked games are always an improvement over the original can be mixed, however re-releasing games and editions such as Goty can have the effect of pushing the originals off the market. They are also priced much higher to reflect today's market. We continue to see more and more of this, although some developers will give deep discounts or free upgrades to people who already own the originals. Bethseda announced a Skyrim remaster and a free upgrade for those who owned the Legendary Edition, but they also raised the price of this current edition in anticipation of the interest in the remastered game.
Okay, this is one that just baffles me, but some people like it. Developers have taken to selling their games in their Alpha and Beta stages. In other words, you are basically paying to test their game before it is officially released. Early access games will be full of bugs as they are still in development. The price is assumed to be lower than what it will be when the game is finished and officially released. More and more early access games are showing up for sale, and why not as the developer can fund development this way. The problem is that many people don't understand that what they are paying for is what they get and that there is no guarantee that the game will actually ever be finished. In fact, Steam had to post a disclaimer on these games as people were raging and demanding refunds. Although there have certainly been some notable successes in this category, the vast majority of these games never get finished and some feel this a ticking time-bomb waiting to go off. In Oct of 2015, SteamSpy reckoned there were more than 700 games entered in the Early Access category since 2013.
These are renewable fees that you pay to either play Online games or buy additional services. For instance, Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation charge a fee that allows you to play multiplayer and also gives you access to various apps, bonuses and discounts, although Microsoft has dropped this fee for Windows 10 users. Online games can use different models. The game could be free, but with monthly subscription fees, or you may be required to buy the starter pack as well as pay the fees. The rationale for this double dipping is that online games deliver a persistent world that constantly needs updating. If you play these Online games on the console, you may actually find yourself paying two subscription fees to play the multiplayer.