Nowadays, it's rare to encounter a major Xbox 360 release that hasn't sprouted its own particular manifestation of the infamous Season Pass, under which forthcoming DLC and add-on features are sold ahead of time at a discount. The idea began life as a bid to escape the gravitational pull of a saturating boxed game market, and if the likes of Battlefield or Modern Warfare are anything to go by, it's been a rousing success. Sure, publishers that offer such are schemes are committing to on-going support of a game that won't necessarily be worth the trouble of supporting, but they're also guaranteeing themselves a certain level of DLC revenue upfront.
It's harder to assess the benefits for consumers, beyond comparing price points. The eternal problem of subjective worth is at its most acute when you're discussing decorative bobbins like character skins, or maps that, given the wrong set of allies or opposing force, may degenerate into attritional sludgefests. There's the impact on the main game to consider, too. By charging early, publishers give developers more justification for spending a portion of development time on DLC, but every hour devoted to polishing up an add-on campaign is an hour that won't be spent polishing the main one.
Ultimately, of course, it all comes down to hindsight. Have the Passes we've been presented with to date justified their existence? And what should we infer of the Passes appended to the likes of Assassin's Creed 3 and Halo 4? I've created polls for a number of last year's noteworthy specimens, along with a brief reminder of their offerings - if you're among those who bought in, let us know your final verdict.
Forza 4 Motorsport Season Pass, 2400 MP (save 30 per cent)
Forza's first Season Pass offered six packs of 10 cars ahead of schedule, plus the free American Muscle Cars Pack. The others are: November Speed Pack, December IGN Pack, January Jalopnik Pack, February American Le Mans Series Pack, March Pirelli Car Pack, April Alpinestars Car Pack.
Gears of War 3, 2400 MP (save 33 per cent)
That Brumak-sized sum nets you the add-on campaign RAAM's Shadow, plus the multiplayer map, character and item packs Fenix Rising, Forces of Nature and Versus Booster.
Battlefield 3 Premium - £39.99 (hard to quantify)
A deal that's halfway between the other Season Passes and Activision's Call of Duty: Elite subscription service. For the price of a brand new game, you get five DLC packs (Back To Karkand, Close Quarters, Armored Kill, Aftermath and End Game), comprising 20 maps, 20 new weapons, over 10 new vehicles, over four new modes, over 30 assignments and over 20 tags. You also get access to another layer of Battlelog, offering exclusive access to Double XP weekends, additional Battle Report saves, the option to reset your stats and server queue priority, among other things. Rounding the package out are a unique tag, knife and camos.
FIFA 12 Season Ticket, 2000 MP (hard to quantify)
Plonking the dosh bagged you three days early access to the game itself, early access to the EA SPORTS Football Club Challenge, access to Creation Centre and 20 per cent off all FIFA 12 and Ultimate Team DLC, along with select DLC from other EA Sports titles.
Saints Row: The Third, 1600 MP (15 per cent off)
THQ's offer covered four Saints Row DLC packs - Nyte Blayde Pack, Genkibowl VII, Gangstas in Space and The Trouble With Clones.
Mortal Kombat Season Pass - 1200 MP (25 per cent off)
The humblest (and thus, cheapest) offering of them all, a glorified Deal of the Week conferring access to four downloadable combatants - Skarlet, Kenshi, Rain and Freddy Kruger - for the price of three.
One more question before you go: which of the following, more recent Season Passes are you planning to buy, or have already bought?