Electronic Arts is in the headlines again, for its new Online Pass system. Many of its new sports titles will require a registration code for online play. This code will be included with new retail copies of the game, or can be purchased for a fee (set at $10 initially, under their Project Ten Dollar initiative). So, is this really as evil as some gamers and commentators are portraying it?
The first sin that many see the Online Pass committing is reducing the value of used games. The publishers and developers argue that this takes revenue away from them, the consumer complains that new games are too expensive. There are also those that see the shops that stock secondhand games as being evil in and of themselves. We are lucky to be able to find such bargains on the shelf, and it is important for the industry to have a presence on the high street and in the malls. Plus the majority of that money then comes back into the industry – people trade in old games towards the purchase of a new game or console, after all. And even if you do pick up a secondhand game that requires an Online Pass, you can still buy one. This sin is absolved.
The second sin is that this is a restriction, and that paying extra for online play in this way is wrong. How many times have you heard people complain about server problems, or servers for a game being taken down? Just going back to 2009, the launch of Battlefield 1943 was hampered by the huge numbers of people downloading and playing – so much that EA and Dice had to add extra servers. With more revenue direct to them, EA can afford to have larger server capacity and keep the servers for games online for longer. To use an analogy, we’ve been lucky to get access to the playing fields for so long without paying for their upkeep. And so this is one sin they can atone for with their future behaviour.
The final sin is that this is a punishment for players. The Online Pass will give you extra features, just like DLC. As long as it does not unbalance the game then there is no harm done here. After all, other publishers are running similar schemes; pre-ordering Red Dead Redemption from various online sources will give varying bonuses. EA should say six Hail Marys and ensure any content is a genuine extra, not just unlocking something on the disc.
Perhaps there is something inherent in the gamer that wants there to be a villain. EA has been a part of the industry for many years, and was founded with the intention of celebrating the creative people behind its games. Early games came with designers’ notes and fancy gatefold packaging, the programmers and designers explaining the theory behind their productions. And while not everything the company has done has been perfect – Dante’s Inferno, I’m looking at you and your portrayal of Hell – there has been innovation and many highlights along the way. The games industry needs to find a way to keep revenue coming in to fund the high cost of developing for the current (and future) generations of console. This may not be a perfect solution, but to call it evil is a gross overstatement.