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Thursday, 13 May 2010

Feature- EA announce "online passes"- acceptable or one step too far?

Project Ten Dollar”, as it is affectionately known, was a way of curtailing the second hand market that we keep being told severely detriments a number of game companies and market shares. Such triple-A releases such as The Sims 3 and Mass Effect 2 have already featured a one-off code within new boxed copies that grants the bearer magical gifts in the usual form of a future DLC package- effectively punishing frugal gamers whose only source of games is their local second-hand retailer! It marks a frustrating time in the gaming sphere, where companies are looking towards outlandish and over-thought, nonsense strategies to halt the second-hand market and the burden of piracy that is still strife all round. Ubisoft started the “always online” format of DRM management- their games on the PC now require the user to be signed onto their on-line service as its legitimacy is constantly checked, meaning the game is, in effect, useless off-line. I'm all for stopping piracy and the like, but come on! Surely upon purchasing a legit copy, gamer's can choose to play that game on-line or off, why limit the end user? Even off-line games such as Assassins Creed II require the use of the system which is just baffling to say the least.

Project Ten Dollar” was met with similar scepticism although it can be understood- it's neither invasive nor absolutely required. DLC should be used as an extension to a complete game in which development was required outside of the full development cycle (there are exceptions, I'm looking at you; Resident Evil 5 and Bioshock 2, but don't get me started on those!) Thus, the way in which gamers are granted access to 'extra' content for buying the game full price makes certain sense, rewarding and not hindering, first-time buyers. And if you do pick it up on the used shelf at the local store, the DLC is still available for $10 if you so wish to play to purchase it, meaning the publisher still gets its fair slice of the money pie, as it were.

Activision's rise to its status as behemoth publisher (and consequently a growing of an abnormally large head from its leading figures) has seen EA shepherded into a more comfortable position. Activision's constant aggravation towards gamers have made EA's previous grievances seem tame in comparison. But alas, EA couldn't resist and have taken an extremely annoying step towards, supposedly, curtailing the second-hand market even further. The news from earlier in the week that EA were now to use “online passes” in their 'EA Sports' games is a punch to the stomach for gamer's such as myself. Yes, I enjoy a game of Fifa as much as the next person, but now I'll have to pay for my on-line service from Microsoft, and a new copy of the game (or $10) to enable networked features within the game. Really, when is it going to stop!? For one, the online integration is already there, available on the disc and ready to use. I can understand that the addition of extra DLC requires extra work on behalf of developers, thus costs need to be covered. But to need use of a one-time code to simply “allow access” is beyond a joke in my opinion. EA are proving once again, sheer greed is the aim of the game. This isn't a step towards rinsing the proliferation of the second hand market- the 'EA Sports' brand is one of the most successful brands in gaming, year on year delivering huge sales figures. The giant seems to be taking a bite of Activision's apple, delivering radical steps to the detriment of core gamers because they both know how successful these brands have become and people will pay for content, regardless of their thoughts towards it. The casual market is also going to take a massive hit- much more susceptible to buying second hand copies of games. It's going to be a shock when they get home, put the disc in, and are told another wad of cash is required for online play.

Ultimately, it's us as consumers that are getting the hard deal. Such games are now going to be worth much less value if you wish to trade or sell and the code has already been scratched off. I can't see the lower value being transferred over to the next person somehow, instead I expect further exploitation of the trade-in market that can only harm us in the end.

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