Thoughts on On-Line Passes


More and more, it’s becoming not enough to shell out the purchase price for a video game.  For a while now, if you want to play that game on-line, you have to pay extra for a service like X-Box Live or the PlayStation Network.  Now there’s another way publishers are trying to get gamers to pay—especially those of us who purchase used games.  It’s been growing for a while now, and is really starting to take hold—the on-line pass.

The five companies currently using on-line passes.

Right now, five companies use it—Sony, Warner Bros., Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, and THQ.  Also, in all fairness, not every title published by those companies falls under the “on-line pass” banner—yet.

For the one person on the Internet who doesn’t know what an “on-line pass” is, here are the basics: You purchase a game, new, and with it—included in the original purchase price—is a one-time-use code to play the game on-line.  Fair enough, right?  There’s no additional cost, after all.  The hitch is when you decide to sell your game to a used game store.  If you do this, and you used that code, the next person who plays that game will have to spend ten dollars to purchase a new one.

Now, from the get-go, we have some problems.  One of the main arguments made is that the extra money goes to help maintain the servers.  This argument has been most famously put forward by none other than Alan Kertz, Senior Designer at EA Digital Illusions.  In response to being asked on Twitter why a gamer has to pay extra to play a used game on-line, he said:

Because servers cost money, and used games don’t make developers any money.

Now, I don’t know Kertz.  I’ve never met him, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never even seen or read an interview with him.  As such, I can’t, and won’t, speak for him or what he knows—but I will say that, apparently, being a “senior designer” doesn’t necessitate possessing an in-depth knowledge of what buying and selling games affects, how much, or where.

Let me reiterate a point I’d made before—if you purchase a used game, the money made on the original purchase does not get taken away from the publishers and developers.  To use the example I used before—let’s say a game is bought for sixty dollars (or sixty Pounds Sterling, or whatever other monetary form), and let’s say that the percentage given to the developers and publishers is twenty percent, or twelve dollars.  Now, let’s say you play the game and decide you don’t like it, or won’t play it again, or whatever else, so you decide to trade it in to your local used game store.  It sits on the shelf for a while, then someone else purchases it from that store.

Nowhere in there is the original twelve dollars reclaimed from the developers and publishers.  They got their fair, legal amount owed and never had to pay it back.  That is important, because buying and selling used games means it’s still the same, solitary game.  The software was not copied; one item was bought at a retailer, and that same, single item was later sold to a used game store.

That is why the business of used games doesn’t inherently harm the game business, and why the argument concerning multi-player servers doesn’t hold up.  The money that pays for the servers—the money made on the original purchase—is kept by the publishers no matter what the original buyer does with his or her copy of the game.

Brian Crecente over at Kotaku made an interesting analogy:

[…] the game you buy loses value not just with wear but because you’re unable to pass along the full experience when you’re done with it. (Imagine a car manufacturer designing a car that once sold used no longer has functioning passenger seats—and can only be driven in your driveway.)

Around halfway down that page, in the comments, is one by TRT-X, and it contains a great idea.  If the publishers are really worried about the used game market, they should get into it, themselves.

“[…] Sure, I can’t buy a used car for $55 bucks. But I certainly can save a respectable percentage by buying used […] because often the makers are the ones doing the buyback.

[…] Instead of going after my wallet with these stupid project $10 passports, they could start offering to buy back copies of their older titles and for use towards their newer ones.

[…] But of course they won’t do that? Why? Because they realize what everybody whining about GameStop forgets…THEY DON’T TURN YOU DOWN! […]

That’s why game makers don’t want GameStop to shut down. They know that the ability to sell old games for SOME amount of money helps fuel gamers ability to buy newer titles at a greater rate than they normally could. If GameStop stopped supporting buybacks, gamers would have a harder time raising funds towards new purchases.

All the while, gamemakers know full well they don’t want to deal with the headache of buying back their old titles, since they know they’ll often be unable to unload them again. So they let GameStop worry about that part of the picture.

It’s a grand idea, the publishers getting into the used game market.  If they competed with GameStop, they would recoup every financial loss they think they’re suffering from and make even more money.  That would negate the need for “on-line passes” in the first place, which would satisfy gamers.

What really doesn’t help the concept of an on-line pass any is that in order to play a game on-line, you have to have a service like X-Box Live or the PlayStation Network—both of which cost the user money.  So the consumer is already paying a monthly fee just to play games on-line—and games themselves are going up in price as development costs rise—and now we’re being asked to pay more, for something we were told was already included.

Now, all of the above seems only relevant to multi-player games, right?  Until recently, it was.  The single-player campaigns of games were basically left alone—but that’s ending, too.  Most famously—or infamously, depending on one’s point of view—is Batman: Arkham City.  About half of the single-player campaign, Catwoman and every bit including or referencing her, will be locked behind an on-line pass (though there are rumors that she’ll still be easily unlocked).  This doesn’t bode well.  It’s not “the end of gaming” or any other such silly thing.  At worst, it’ll just mean a shift in gaming and the views gamers have about it.

As a gamer interested in retro-ish gaming, I can’t help but look back to the days of Mario and Sonic.  We got complete games for our money.  Anything that was considered extra was usually made into a wholly new game, or we got an “expansion pack”, like near the end of the ‘Nineties.  What was so wrong with that?  I keep wondering that.

This might be nostalgia rearing its ugly head, but—until around the turn of the millennium, gaming seemed more simple.  We bought a game, and if we really liked it, we bought its sequel.  If we didn’t like it, we didn’t buy the sequel.  We sold and traded games without a problem, spending our money on new games when possible, other used games when purchasing new wasn’t feasible.

Truly available for all, or will only some be able to get their "pass"?

I really don’t want to try and get gaming back to such times—except for one issue.  We gamers can say whatever we want about whatever issue, and quite a few people make some pretty good points.  In the end, however, all the talking in the world doesn’t matter.  If there’s one aspect of gaming that shouldn’t change, it’s that we need to speak with our wallets.  If we like what a company does, we should throw money at them—purchase games new, maybe toys and other such related things, that sort of thing.  When they don’t, though—when we feel a company doesn’t hold our best interests as the way to preserve their bottom line, we need to keep our money from them.  Purchase only used games, for example.

There’s a lot of previous eras in gaming that, while looked back at fondly, shouldn’t necessarily continue through the modern age.  Talking through our wallets, though, should always be a part of the hobby.

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6 Responses to “Thoughts on On-Line Passes”

  1. WhiteWolf Says:

    You mentioned having to pay for Xbox live and Playstation Network, though PSN is free. As far as the pass goes, I don’t think it’s all that bad. For one, it only affects the used gamers, and really if you are buying the game used, for twenty dollars or less, than is ten more really that bad? Not all online passes are required for online play and some are. Like Resistance 3 where you have to buy an online pass, but if you pick up that game for ten dollars and want to play online, that is still only costing you twenty dollars, but if you just want to play the game through without online, it is only ten. I don’t think that is so bad. Also as far as Batman Arkham City, you don’t need Cat woman to play through the story, and she still shows up in the game. The online pass is if you want to play through her four of so extra missions. It’s more like DLC with a different name. Like Best Buy offering Robin as a playable character, or GameStop offering extra map packs. I like that I can buy the used game and not have to pay extra for stuff I don’t want and can if I do.

    • Considering that there’s no good reason for it, yes, it’s “really that bad”. Considering that one reason for the new fee’s existence is based on an erroneous working knowledge of how certain things work—yes, it’s “really that bad”.

      I know it seems attractive to say, “It’s only a few more dollars”, and that’s just what the publishers want you to say. It’s not a “few more dollars”, though–it’s asking for money on top of the purchase price. The original game was bought at its full price, and everyone got their cut from that original sale. When a game is sold, no one gives up said cut. So, trying to get even more money out of the thing, when they’ve already gotten their owed portions, just comes across as greedy.

      • WhiteWolf Says:

        When the original game was bought you got everything with it. That is like saying if I go to a yard sale and buy something used it should have everything, which is not always the case. Not to mention, it is not the first nor the last time companies will try new ways of making money. Look at all the things game companies have tried, found it not to work and then not bothered with it, like the makers of Mortal Kombat, when it was going to come out, they were going to make online content have to use a online pass as well and then decided, not to. Since as of now the online pass is for a handful of games, and not set in stone, it makes sense that the companies would try something new.
        Also they are asking for money on top of the purchase price, that is just it, you don’t have to buy it. But if the game is good and you want to play online then I don’t see a problem for paying extra. Like you said, you would rather pay the extra gas, to go to Cheap Thrills for the same game you could get at game stop, so if paying extra for gas is worth it because of the quality of the customer service then, why not pay the extra money for quality of a game? You said your self in a previous if you like a company then your willing to pay more and give your money to them, so how is that different then with games, if E.A. is going to charge more for online and I like that company shouldn’t I support it.
        The game Magic The Gathering is on Xbox live, and has online mode. Now if that game were to charge say ten dollars, for an added couple of decks, and being able to play online I would pay it since I love playing that game, but if Halo started charging for online content I simply wouldn’t buy it since I don’t play that online. Same with Batman, I am going to wait for the price to drop and buy it new, but when it is a greatest hit, for twenty dollars, then I get the code, since it is still new, and for a lot less then that sixty dollars. Like the Batman before, which came with 3d glasses. If the code for cat woman comes with the game new, then that doesn’t mean you can’t wait and get it when the price drops. Wait for the game to be twenty dollars buy it new and get the code. Every one is talking about how bad it is yet if people just wait, we can get cheaper, or if you don’t care about cat woman buy it used and don’t download it, there are many more options to buying the game and getting the extra content then people are talking about. The best thing to do is wait for the price to drop and get everything.

      • Again, the difference is additional money. The original price was already met by the person who originally bought the game; everyone who gets a cut got it. When someone trades a game in, the publishers et al. don’t give their money back, so what they’re doing is trying to get more money for the same item. They’re trying to sell one item numerous times.

        I do agree that if you like what a company does, throw money at them, as I said in this post. And if a gamer doesn’t like what they’re doing, they shouldn’t throw money at them. That’s where the only real stance can be made–the wallet.

  2. It’s frustrating that content available ON THE DISK is locked and cannot be accessed unless you “pay” for it…. Didn’t I already do that?
    It’s not even the price of the content that’s unreasonable to me – I paid a good amount of money for the game itself – it’s the hype that you get in previews and beta tests that leads gamers to believe that it’s going to be included only to be let down when it’s locked behind a pay wall. Kind of insulting…

    • I agree that it’s not the amount of money being asked for. I also agree about the hype. I mean, over half of the commercials for Arkham City had Catwoman, after all. For me, though, it’s that they’re taking one item and trying to sell it numerous times. That’s one of the things that really gets to me.

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