On Tuesday NetherRealm Studios released their first batch of DLC for their newest fighting game, Injustice: Gods Among Us. The content included the first of four new fighters planned, and two new skin packs. Fans who had already purchased the game's "Season Pass" were less than pleased when they found out that they would have to pay an additional cost to download the skin packs, having previously been under the impression that all of the game's DLC was included in the season pass.
Those who were outraged wasted no time letting the Injustice team know about it, and profanity laced cries of, "False advertising!" were all over the game's Facebook updates for the rest of the day. Conventionally, a season pass is the cheapest way to get all of a game's future downloadable content for a discounted price. It's been utilized by virtually every franchise since it's inception. Battlefield, Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, Gears of War and Bioshock are some of the more well known games to include this feature; and all use a pretty unilateral definition to set the parameter's of what the season pass will include.
Injustice: Gods Among Us gave players the option of downloading the season pass, but never stated that they would be getting all of the game's content. What the information says when reading the description is that, if you choose to buy the season pass instead of each additional character, you will be getting four characters for the price of three. The point of confusion might be that included in the purchase of the season pass is a set of "Flashpoint" skins, leading players to believe that further skin packs would be included as they are released simultaneously with new characters, but at no point does it say that the season pass will include new skins. In fact, it doesn't mention including anything but new characters. Therein lies the problem.
There is no set definition for what exactly the term "Season Pass" should mean. It's become more of a gaming industry convention, than a set business practice. For almost every other game it has meant all future DLC at a discounted price - hence the title "Season Pass." You are paying one price upfront to get the rest of the content that will be released for that title throughout the current gaming season. So while Injustice never made any mention of their season pass including all skin packs, the issue that many found was that by excluding content they have essentially not given people a season pass, but rather a "Character Pass."
Can that really be considered false advertising though? The Better Business Bureau's "Basic Principles of Advertising" state that, "Advertisements which are untrue, misleading, deceptive, fraudulent, falsely disparaging of competitors, or insincere offers to sell, shall not be used."¹ This is where a lot of fans feel that NetherRealm Studios committed the infraction. The problem with their argument is that they were expecting something that they were not promised, due largely to their expectations of how other entities in the gaming industry have used the season pass.
Expecting something from one product without being told you would receive it because that's how another product used it is more akin to not reading the fine print on a coupon, than to being deceived by a company/advertisement. Consider also that the BBB's "Basic Principles of Advertising" go on to state that, "An advertisement as a whole may be misleading although every sentence separately considered is literally true. Misrepresentation may result not only from direct statements but by omitting or obscuring a material fact."² This is where both sides' biggest argument lies.
NetherRealm Studios cannot be held accountable for consumers misinterpreting their product's description, but at the same time an omission of information is what has gotten fans who purchased the season pass so riled up in the first place. As someone who spent a better part of a decade working retail, I can assure you that this sort of advertising is standard practice. You draw in consumers with a great deal that inflates their expectations, but if they don't read the fine print, or their reading comprehension fails them - they get really pissed off.
The question then becomes - why not just put "The Season Pass does not include skin packs" in the product description? It's a simple solution to avoid fan backlash. Those who bought the deluxe edition versions of Injustice and the season pass don't feel like they should have to spend more money after investing almost $200 on a single product. The argument could be made, from a marketing standpoint, that advertising what a product does NOT include can lead to a decrease in sales. So by omitting that detail, and instead listing what it does include, a company has a better chance to sell more units.
This whole "controversy" is a very serious case of give and take. Should fans have read the description of what the season pass included? Yes. Should NetherRealm Studios have been more clear that they wouldn't be getting the skin packs as part of the deal? Yes. Is the company guilty of false advertising? No. It's as simple as that. They did not unethically deceive their consumers into purchasing their product. However, the term "Season Pass" has become so synonymous with purchasing DLC content in bulk that they probably should have renamed it something like "Character Pass" or "Fighter's Pack." As there is no set business definition of how to use the term "Season Pass" other than a discounted rate for DLC the argument that NetherRealm Studios falsely advertised their product falls flat.
Was the advertising shitty? Yes. Unlawful? No.