A disturbing trend in gaming has arisen and unfortunately it's hitting gamers where it really hurts. Electronic Arts has been rolling out "Online Passes" with their retail titles, and in short, it requires you to use a one-time use access code to enable online gameplay. This was included in recent games like Dead Space 2 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, as well as a host of popular sports titles. This will also be required for upcoming games like Bulletstorm and Crysis 2, both of which boast impressive online multiplayer as a main selling point. While the concept of redemption codes is nothing new, this is the first one that I'm aware of that is required to access a key component of the game. Before that, most of the codes were for downloadable content and bonuses, or goodies packed into collector's editions of a particular game. But an access code for something that's included with the cost of the game? Something smells fishy here.
It's no secret that many gamers do not pay full retail prices for their games, either due to the perceived lack of value (paying $60 for a game that lasts 8 hours, for example) or financial limitations that require them to wait for price drops or the games to turn up used. This has benefited game retailers whose stock in trade is used video games, like Gamestop, EB Games and a host of independent retailers. EA clearly views this a loss to their bottom line, so the online pass is meant to entice people to buy a game at full retail, or if they insist on buying used, they can download an online pass for upwards of $10. So let me get this straight, let's say I buy the game used at a meager $5 discount from Gamestop, I have to go online and pay an extra $10 just to play online? First I give you the cake and then you come back for the crumbs? Sorry, but I don't agree with this at all.
For their part, EA has attempted to soften the blow by saying that this allows them to offer "premium" service and "bonus content", but these are very broad terms and amount to little more than corporate window-dressing to justify overcharging for both their games and then finding a way to get even more money from the consumers. Now don't get me wrong, I don't mind paying $60 for a game I really want. It's a lot of money, yes, but I carefully consider these purchases and I have rarely been disappointed at the end of the day. If it's a game I eventually want to get used, I shouldn't be punished for this. Someone bought that game at some point, so EA isn't losing any money despite their claims. This is a kick in the pants for gamers and a reason why consumer confidence is on the decline. Sadly, I see other companies doing the same thing.
What EA says:
"We actually view the second sale market as an opportunity to develop a direct relationship with our consumers, and with Online Pass everyone has access to the same premium online services and content regardless of how and where you buy the game." - Andrew Wilson, Senior VP for World Wide Development.
What I say: