EA’s Online Pass. A Line In The Sand.

When I first heard of EA’s “Project Ten Dollar”, I was a little skeptical. Some time has passed since it’s inception, and given the mediocrity of day one DLC and pre-order bonuses, I’ve been less then satisfied with the fruits of the “Project Ten Dollar” tree. It’s completely understandable why a consumer would want to save money by purchasing products used, but at the same time it’s understandable why a business like EA wouldn’t be fans of being excluded from any used game sales profit. EA took a respectable approach at solving this problem by rewarding the customer who purchases his game new with bonus content. This content would be available for download if you did not buy the game new, but at a price. It’s a carrot on the end of the stick. A very easy concept to understand, and what I believe to be totally fair. GameStop underpaying for used games and then overcharging while making 100 percent of the profit doesn’t sit well with me, and it apparently not well with EA.

Now EA has raised the stakes with the  “Online Pass” which is a code included in new copies of EA sports games that unlocks the Online modes. In practice it means that little Johnny saving up his birthday money for a used copy of Madden won’t be able to play the game online without paying 10 dollars extra to unlock the mode. The content is not being added to the game, it is being unlocked. Some people might argue that this is the same strategy as project ten dollar, but that is not the case. It’s different. Instead of being rewarded for buying new, EA is now punishing you for used purchases. The game will include a trial of the online mode, which only lasts for a short while and is certain to confuse the unsuspecting victims. It’s a shootout between GameStop and EA, and you’re being caught in the crossfire. Content that has previously been available in every iteration of a series will be locked out to people who purchase used.  EA would rather lock you out from arguably the main source of content for some games than have you save some money by buying the game used. If there was ever an example to prove to someone that a large company like EA pictures the general public as nothing but walking dollar signs, this would be it. It’s a real shame to see EA burning up the goodwill it has been building up in the minds of gamers over this.

Little do they know..

This means a few different things. It serves to prove that EA doesn’t care about public perception as much as it does profits, and it should also serve to scare the living crap out of loyal gamers everywhere. EA is willing to lock out online play in used games. What’s stopping them from locking out any kind of multiplayer in general, with no option for purchasing it from used products? Maybe it’s portions of the single player that are locked out. Maybe buying a game new at full price will be the only way to play the game at all. How far is EA willing to push this? It’s the shift in attitude that has me worried. It’s no longer about rewarding the faithful; it’s about punishing those who disobey. EA is dipping its toe in some troubling waters with this online pass, and if we sit quietly on the sidelines and watch, what’s stopping them from pushing forward with these sort of ideas?

EA plays the sympathy card well

“In order to continue to enhance the online experiences that are attracting nearly five million connected game sessions a day, again, we think it’s fair to get paid for the services we provide and to reserve these online services for people who pay EA to access them.”

Hold the phone for a second. It’s totally cool with EA if I buy a game new and play it online. It’s totally not cool if I sell that game to my friend and he plays it online because it’s putting extra stress on their servers and they gain no profit? I didn’t duplicate the disc, so really nothing has changed, right? Their is still only one copy of that game. EA isn’t now forced to support me and my friend. The number of people online with that game is not being compounded; only one of us can have the disc and be online at a time! That means that no matter how many times that copy of Madden changes hands, their is never ever going to be any higher an amount of people online because of it! So how exactly are they not being paid?

This also puts the ball in EA’s court for people who are willing to purchase their games new. If the online modes are costing people extra money to enjoy, they better be worth it. EA can’t continue their minimalistic strategy of support, shutting off servers only a few years after a games release. If I’m going to pay for the right to play a game online, they better make it worth it. If they can’t, then their might be real problems. Luckily EA recognizes this fact.

“This is an important inflection point in our business,” said Peter Moore, president of EA Sports. “It allows us to accelerate our commitment to enhance premium online services to the entire robust EA Sports online community.”

Competition for the market still exists, meaning EA can’t afford to burn their fans too much, lest they turn to a different company. Say, like Activision? It’s another attempt from a game company to squeeze even more money from consumers. It’s another ugly side of DLC, which has already made its mark in this generation as being terribly inconsistent and regularly over-priced. I hate every kind of locked out feature on a product I purchase, but this one stands alone. I’m not saying EA has no right to try and see profit from used games sales, but it’s their methods I’m questioning. Multiplayer in sports games can be such a large part of the games life, it’s scary to see EA dangling it as a treat. I just plain don’t like the smell of this one.

The thing I don’t understand about this “Well, we have to run the servers and don’t get paid for the extra strain used game sales put on them” is the question of who is going to be using these servers. EA makes it sound as though the number of users online is being compounded with each used game sale, when really only the person currently in possession of the disc would be using it online. If I sell my copy of Madden to Gamestop and Jim Somebody buys it to play online, he will be the only one playing it online. The servers won’t have to deal with Jimand me, because he has my copy and has taken my spot on the servers. That means no matter how many times a video game is sold and re-bought, the same number of people are using it online at a time.

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