Recently the readers have asked us to delve into the topic of the new Electronic Arts Online Pass and what it means to video games in the future. Not only does this new “feature” attack used game sales, limit the user’s rights, and generally betray the sacred relationship between gamer and game, but it is also a belligerent act that will put pressure on other publishers big and small. We already pay a hefty fee to pick up a game, now EA has made sure that if you don’t pick up your EA Sports games brand new you will have to pay even more to get it online. This means more than just attacking used games, which is bad enough in itself to most gamers; this is about attacking the entire industry. Allow me to explain how this recent action by EA is a symbol of how greed seeks to destroy gaming as we know it in a very active, calculated, and deceptive manner.
GameTrailers cites that when Electronic Arts created Mass Effect 2‘s Cerberus Network it was a step towards this Online Pass type of thinking, but it additional add-on content to the game. As everyone knows, online multiplayer, franchise mode, and the types of features EA’s Online Pass will limit access to are not additional content or “bonus” content as they have re-labeled them, but have actually been mainstay features in their sports franchises dating back to the earliest eras in online gaming. Games like World of Warcraft are often criticized for their hefty online fees. I’m one of the people who often say it is an unreasonable amount of money to pay to play online. But even I have to stop and think each time about the thousands of updates, tweaks, fixes, and overall additional content being added to the game every week, month, and year. Beyond that, I have to stop and think about the thousands of dedicated servers and their likely outrageously high specifications as well as the enormous electricity bill for housing so many millions of players in virtual worlds together at the same time. Do EA Sports games? Oh that’s right; they have no dedicated servers or substantial additional content via updates. Instead EA has taken the route of delivering a typical game every year and charging for micro-transactions from everything to cheat codes to actual regular unlock-able content already in the game for people who just want the achievements not to actually play the game!
The great excuse here is that used games are cutting into EA’s sales. They will tell you that this Online Pass is nothing to be afraid of, it is necessary for the good of the industry, it is for your own good little Johnny, don’t make me tell you twice. Well the fact of the matter is this is a boldface lie. When you buy a game brand new and sell it used, does GameStop say “Hey EA some one came and sold this back to us we want our money back for buying it from you.”. The answer is absolutely not. Will you ever hear an executive at EA tell you they lost money from the situation? Yes sir. So where is the disconnection occurring here?
The disconnection is from the assumption that if x amount of people buy a game used they would have also bought it new, and thus those potential new sales instead only went to GameStop’s benefit, and not EA’s. I have several problems with this type of thinking including the fact that there is no evidence to support such an assumption. I’ve heard plenty of people say things like “I would buy that game, only if it was used.” and felt the sentiment myself enough times to know that just because a person bought a game used does not automatically mean they would buy it brand new. Lots of EA Sports fans only buy their sports games used because of how little they change year to year, so EA has some foundation in their argument, but they are assuming these people will be capable and willing to buy all of their games at top price now. Thinking this will not have long-term ramifications is short-sighted to say the least. We all know that Electronic Arts rakes in plenty of revenue and has no need to attack the used game market, this is not an act of self-preservation it is an act of greed defended by basic capitalistic ideals.
Let’s face more cold hard facts, I seem to be in the mood for those today. The world economy has seen better times. Jobless claims are at all-time highs and this move is a dual-edge sword that will help and hurt Electronic Arts at the same time. On the one hand, their plan will appeal to many who already buy new games because there is no change needed on their part. On the other hand, many gamers will scoff at the ridiculous idea of paying for what has always been free and instead of converting used-EA Sports fans to new-EA Sports buyers EA will have a lot of boycotts and lost sales on their hands. While this occurs, the competition for such games becomes much pressured. While eliminating a risk for themselves, Electronic Arts will be creating more risks and worries for other publishers and developers big and small. As if EA Sports games didn’t have enough going for them, they will now hit players with the “Pay full price or go home” attitude which will leave wallets more drained than ever. That means less chance you might spend on a Backbreaker or Tecmo Bowl and certainly little to no chance left for titles like Hot Shots Golf, that I have yet to meet a fan of.
The fact that this business practice of separating online as a “bonus” service will not catch on still doesn’t help these companies. While they will be doing the best to provide their greatest online experience, there will always be that voice in the back of your head telling you the EA version might be better. It’s a big company, they have big development teams, they have lots of money, and they have the sanctioned, guaranteed, mediocre-or-better sports experience at all times. Supporters of EA’s new Online Pass should keep in mind the overwhelming psychological effect Electronic Arts already has on consumers and realize that this is just more propaganda in the long run. The existence of an Online Pass in itself is suggestive that EA’s online experience in sports is better than yours and there’s really nothing you can do to combat that because adding more cost to unestablished intellectual properties will only produce flops.
Bad economic conditions are leading to dog-eat-dog survival tactics. In the end, this is not about cutting costs, gaining back lost sales, providing for the gamer anything new/better, or even maintaining the past level of quality. No, in the end this is nothing more than a strong-arm tactic similar to Activision’s price gauging of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and now Call of Duty: Black Ops. Instead of trying to help gaming stay alive in the recession these companies are leading by example through greed and muscle from the highest levels down. If you can only afford a few games a year and you enjoy a good football game and a good shooter, how long until you only buy Madden and Call of Duty games exclusively? There may be a time when that is all that is left because greed is in a position to kill gaming.
Sales run a lot of this industry, so when the people with the most sales tell you they don’t have enough it is time to question what these people are telling us. Does everyone so quickly forget the fact that last-gen we only had to pay $50 for brand new titles? If prices continue to soar like this for games and gaming modes cost extra, there will be no room left for any creativity or originality. I hope gamers out there understand that competition breeds quality and monopolies breed fat, rich, embarrassing companies that do not know when enough is enough. You pay to play, but some day you may end up having a distorted sense of what is good because you are afraid to venture away from big names like EA and Activision who will take your wallet over by force.
On the other side of the fence, GameStop’s reaction to this is yet to be seen in full. IGN Reports that Dan DeMatteo, Chief Executive Officer of GameStop Corp., is “excited” to work with Electronic Arts in selling downloadable content such as the Online Pass. If Electronic Arts was making up for lost sales it appears they are providing GameStop a cut for any customers they sell Online Passes to who may of not known they needed one. It is a bit early to judge how far out of their way GameStop will go to educate gamers about the new Electronic Arts Sports Online Pass policy, but likely it will vary from store to store. One thing is for sure, we should be seeing much cheaper price tags on EA Sports used games. Consumers are now getting an incomplete game so GameStop will hopefully; finally give a better deal to the buyers of used games.