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Easily abused use with caution

The concept of a season is to run some in game event which includes related content and possibly player rewards. Typically a "season" would include both free and "premium" content, this means that some aspects of the season are freely available to all players while other parts are only available to player's who have purchased the season. Seasonal content often takes the form of a bespoke progression path. Players are asked to participate in the seasonal event to progress the season and unlock seasonal rewards. The progress along the season is typically global, meaning both free and premium players progress in the same way with the same level of efficiency. The only substantive difference between free and premium season players is the rewards they receive along the progress path.

The idea of a season can be thought of as an optional "subscription" and in this format seasons tend to offer real value for the player (both free and premium players) with little or not manipulation. On the other end of the spectrum a season can be a FOMO mechanic or a driver into MTX or other forms of monetization the player wouldn't have otherwise considered, in this form the concept is clearly predatory and tends to lead to negative communities. The season concept can even be used outside of monetization as part of a subscription or other live service model. Seasons when done well can create a since of shared experience though this requires significant work on the developers part.

Creating a game around seasonal content puts your development team on a treadmill. Think of these seasons as you would a TV series' seasons. You need to have a plan for the start, middle and end of the seasons and a means to deliver all that content on time and at the standard of quality your fans demand.

Heathen Recommends If you do seasons we recommend you pre-build the first few seasons. This will give you a better idea of how much effort each season will be to produce in live. Keep in mind you will get it wrong and will need to re-work some aspects of these prebuilt seasons. You will also find that maintaining seasons in live is a lot more work that it sounds like. We suggest you plan for 2 seasons a year and if that goes well you can always increase the pacing if that makes since at that time.

You should also have a notion of where you will end support. Seasons should link together brining the player along some journey over the life of your game. Seasons don't have to be narrative in nature but you need to think about what and when your "last season" will be. If you plan on running this game forever your wrong, but even in that case plan a series flow from season 1 to the last season you can always do a second or third series down the road.

๐ŸŽ‰The Good

Using seasonal content as an alternative to traditional subscription the net result on your users and your bottom line are both positive. The key factors that define this approach are

  • Avoid FOMO Any content (items, skins, etc) that comes with the season should persist, that is the player shouldn't feel they may miss some content. Think of a MMO, any meaningful content (not-event bound) are permanent additions to the game. Even when locked behind the premium (pay wall) a player can even after the fact buy the season and get access to said content, for example new races, classes, zones, maps, etc.

  • Avoid Pay-to-Win Don't turn your game into work, any event bound aspects should have no meaningful impact. This means temporary factors bound to the time limited event should have no material impact on the game as the player experiences it. This way if a player misses the season or simply wasn't interested, they are not disadvantaged. This also means that players who have paid for the premium experience shouldn't have any competitive advantage over non-premium players. If you attach some "player power" concept to the season it must be part of the free path at the same level of acquisition as paid players.

  • Never use skips / boosts Skips or boosts are evidence of a FOMO problem. First your non-event based seasonal content should be persistent, see the "Avoid FOMO" point above. Since that content can always be unlocked by paying up at a later date the skip or boost devolves into a Pay to Win mechanic letting players with less since and or more disposable income out perform others.

  • Be Persistent where it makes since If your season has no non-event features as is common in some ARPGs where a season is less about story, skins and rewards and more about unique game rules and barrowed power to spice up the game, then you may not have anything to persist. In contrast RPG, FPS and other games tend to link story, skins and other rewards to seasons and players should be able to go back and play old seasons to experience that story and earn those rewards. Their is also no reason to leave that money on the table ... if you created a season of narrative and thematic content, treat it like the mini-expansion it is and let it persist and be available for purchase in perpetuity.

๐Ÿ˜กThe Bad & The Ugly

Using seasonal content as a means to add a layer of FOMO to your content is predatory, its also the most common method of Season we see at current. In this model your basically loading up some pseudo exclusive content behind a grind that you time gate and bound such that players feel a stress to complete the buy in early and complete as much progress as quickly as possible to insure nothing is missed. Now that you have created the problem of not having enough free time to play your game enough to earn all the rewards you paid for you offer a paid Boost or Skip that lets you skip progress or make progress faster ... you have thus created a problem and provided the solution.

To add to the issues this sort of season is often only available for a limited period of time. This creates a stronger fear drive to buy the premium pass knowing or at least thinking that the content will be gone forever when the season ends. This stress compounds with time limit on progress to drive players into buy the skip or boost solution you provide. The net result is that even players that enjoy the game and the season features often feel like they are working a job. This tends to breed negativity toward the game and fellow players and contributes to toxic communities.

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