Microsoft today announced the Gears of War 3 Season Pass, making Gears 3 the latest example of two trends we're seeing more and more of these days: announcing downloadable content ahead of the game's release and asking gamers to pay for that DLC before it's even available.
The Season Pass entitles those who buy it to the first four downloadable content packs for Gears 3 and an exclusive liquid metal weapon set. The first of these downloadable add-ons will be released in November, followed by three more over the next year. There are no details on exactly what the DLC packs will include; presumably they'll be adding new maps, but it's not specified how many maps they'll each offer, when they're coming, or anything else you'd want to know before spending any money. The Season Pass won't begin being sold until Gears 3 is out on September 20, and hopefully by then Epic or Microsoft will give us some additional information so potential buyers don't have to buy in while knowing so little.
2400 Microsoft Points ($30) is the asking price for the pass, which is a 33 percent discount over buying each of the four DLC packs. That means the foursome will cost 3600 points ($45) total if you purchase them individually as they are released.
Essentially what this does is allow you to pre-order the DLC at a discount, which is similar to what we've seen happen a few times recently. Mortal Kombat's four DLC characters could be bought for $5 each or pre-ordered (with that game's Season Pass) for $15 total on Xbox 360. Prior to that, the Rockstar Pass was offered for $10 and granted access to $20's worth of L.A. Noire DLC as it came out.
On a similar note, EA Sports recently began offering the $25 Season Ticket as a way of getting a discount on a number of its games' DLC releases, early access to play games before release, and a few other perks.
Once upon a time, pre-orders made sense to ensure you'd get one of the copies allocated to your local game store. Those aren't as necessary as they once were as very few games (at least those of the mainstream variety) ever sell out, but they've become important to many as different retailers offer exclusive pre-order bonuses that you may or may not be able to get later.
The concept of pre-ordering DLC might seem silly as there's no way for it to sell out, but it makes good business sense for developers and publishers to offer it. And with downloadable content support only going to continue to grow in the coming years, these season pass style deals are going to become increasingly prevalent, whether or not some gamers balk at the idea.
Update: Epic design director Cliff Bleszinski has explained on Twitter that the four DLC packs referenced in the Season Pass announcement aren't just new multiplayer maps. There will be new campaign content, and he emphasized the "new" part -- it won't be stuff that's been cut out.