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The death of used video games?

Posted by on October 20, 2011 – 10:59 am

EA Sports Online Pass

When I was a younger gamer I had a hard time getting new games. I had to rely mostly on birthdays, holidays, and the kindness of my parents for new games to sink my teeth into. I had one saving grace though. One tool at my disposal to get a new game that I wouldn’t other wise have had the means to obtain: used game stores.

Like millions of other crash-strapped Americans, being able to trade in my old games for shiny new ones has been a real money saver. Not everyone sees that as a positive thing, though: Game publishers would rather this system of trading in used games stopped. Publishers have started implementing a system call “online passes” to put a stop to our money-saving ways.

The basic premise of the online pass is that every game is shipped with a different code that must be used in order to play that game online. When someone goes out and spends $60 on a new game, this code comes with that purchase — but if they were to buy the game used, that code would no longer be valid and you will need to purchase an online pass for another $10-15 if you want to play online. In some cases this would negate any money you saved.

Why do publishers feel they have the right to charge you more money? EA has been at the forefront of implementing online passes. Their website states: “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.”

In short, someone who bought the game used didn’t give them any money so they shouldn’t be allowed to play online. The problem with EA’s argument is that they were already paid for the use of the online system by the original purchase. If purchasing a game reserves a space for that game to be played online, then how does selling the game negate that reserved space?

I’ll give you a hint: It doesn’t. Buying a used game does not create a new space that needs to be reserved for online play, it’s the same space that the original purchase reserved. EA just wants to be paid to use the same reserved space again.

The rest of EA’s argument is that they need the money to continue to “offer industry-leading online services.” This argument doesn’t hold too much weight, either. Publishers are already making more than enough money to support online components of games through downloadable content, also known as DLC.

Look at EA’s game Mass Effect 2, which shipped with a sort of online store called the Cerberus network. It lets you buy everything for new missions to weapons and armor. With the success of Mass Effect 2, the Cerberus network has to be a major source of income for EA. The popularity of DLC is on the rise and easily covers the cost of a game’s online maintenance. Publishers like EA should just be up front about why they use the online pass: They want more money.

What it all really comes down too is that publishers want people to buy new games because that is where they make the most money. They’re being shortsighted though, because the used games market helps sell new games. Customers take the store credit from selling old games and use it to buy new games. Eliminating this market would inevitably hurt publishers’ bottom lines.

This growing trend of online passes concerns me. At the moment, only players who want to play online have to deal with them. The player still has a choice — but what concerns me is when I see the passes restrict content in the single-player arena. A few recent titles have begun to experiment with this. Look at Batman: Arkham City: If you don’t buy the game new you will have to buy the Catwoman sections of the game separately. Those missions are a sizable chunk of the game and help the plot make a lot more sense. Forcing players to pay more money for something they already bought is just wrong. If you were to buy a new car and learned that in order to use the radio you had to pay the manufacturer more money, you would be outraged. This is the same basic principle and it shouldn’t be any less outrageous.

Used games are an important part of gaming culture. They help players buy more games — and whether the publisher’s realize it or not, that will help the industry grow. But what can we as the powerless consumer do? First, complain bitterly about it. Let the industry know that we don’t like being taken advantage of. Second, we can never buy an online pass — ever. If publishers are not making any money off them they will stop using them. Of course this does result in some sacrifice on our end — but in the long run, it will be worth it to protect our beloved used games market.