A source of controversy throughout what was an otherwise strong year for video games in 2011, was the commonplace usage of Online Passes attached to new copies of video games. The concept is simple: gamers who purchase video games new receive a code that allows them to unlock all of the game's features, most often, it's required in order to play multiplayer. Those who acquire the game used need to purchase that code separately.
Electronic Arts is the most vigilant user of this strategy and all of their major console releases have it, even single-player games. In the case of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the code is required to unlock the game's full campaign, not unlike what we saw from Warner Bros. Interactive with Batman: Arkham City and the infamous Catwoman DLC. To no surprise, another one of our most anticipated games of 2012, SSX, will also make use of an online pass.
Like overpriced DLC, online passes are another negative mark for gamers that came out of the current generation of online-connected consoles. While we understand the desire for publishers and developers to earn money on secondary sales of their products - especially since the used game market has proved lucrative - it's caused endless consumer dissatisfaction.
With EA's Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a lot of negative buzz was born out of the news that its online pass is required to play seven of the in-game quests. It blew up on the official forums and Curt Schilling, Major League Baseball pitcher and founder of 38 Games, responded in the thread not knowing about the Online Pass or how it works. That thread currently sits at over a 100 pages and so Schilling (who goes by the handle Ngruk) apologized for not being informed, and explained the Online pass situation. Here's a snippet from his full post.
"DAY 1 DLC, to be extremely and VIVIDLY clear, is FREE, 100% totally FREE, to anyone that buys a new copy of Reckoning, ANYONE.
If you don't buy new games you buy them used, and in that case you will have to pay for the Day 1 free DLC content the new copy buyers got for free.
It's clear the intent right? To promote early adopters and MUCH MORE IMPORTANT TO ME, REWARD fans and gamers who commit to us with their time and money when it benefits the company.
Every single person on the planet could wait and not buy Reckoning, the game would hit the bargain bin at some point and you could get it cheaper. 38 Studios would likely go away.
That's just how business works. We MUST make a profit to become what we want to become. THE ONLY way we do that is to make games you CANNOT WAIT TO BUY! If we do that, and you do that, we want to reward you with some cool free stuff as a thank you.
You can TOTALLY disagree with this and I am sure many do, so we'll agree to disagree. This is not 38 trying to take more of your money, or EA in this case, this is us REWARDING people for HELPING US! If you disagree due to methodology, ok, but that is our intent.
I said earlier I did not know, truth is after a day of soul searching I do remember conversations I was on the cusp of but I, ME, never followed up and didn't ever pursue them. But damn, if EA and EAP don't step in and bet on us it would have never mattered and this game would have never been made.
The industry is in a very odd place. The data coming in on used game sales is not saying the things many thought it should, or would. But companies are still trying to figure out how to receive dollars spent on games they make, when they are bought. Is that wrong? if so please tell me how.
Again, you can argue with methods, or process, and you absolutely can bitch and gripe about ANY DAY 1 DLC you are charged for, because I think I agree with many on that, but we are trying to create something here, product and company wise, and it takes dollars to do that."
On the sports side of things, SSX joins Reckoning as another one of Game Rant's most anticipated games of 2012. It, unsurprisingly, will also ship with an online pass as another EA product and again, gamers are rightfully unimpressed. However, EA clarified with Game Informer the details regarding SSX, revealing that it's not as restrictive as some would expect in that not having the SSX online pass will not prevent players from being able to enjoy the game's multiplayer modes.
As you know, all EA Sports games for the Xbox 360 and PS3 have included a game-specific EA Sports Online Pass since June 2010. This is a one-time use registration code with each unit sold new at retail that allows access to online services and features, as well as bonus game content. Once activated, additional passes will be available for $10. Thus, all new copies of SSX will include a code for Online Pass. EA Sports has made a significant investment to offer immersive online services and features. We want to reserve these online services for people who pay EA to access them.
In SSX, players without an Online Pass are able to compete and play in both of SSX's online game modes, Explore and Global Events with no restrictions. In Global Events, the top finishers from each event are awarded with in-game credits. These in-game credits earned during play will not be awarded to the player if they do not have an Online Pass; these credits will be stored so that at any time, if a player redeems an Online Pass code, all the credits that they had previously earned in Global Events will be immediately awarded to them.
Economy balance makes it possible to unlock all available content and allows you to participate in all event drops across both Explore and Global Events, with credits earned solely in Explore.
That sounds like a more reasonable compromise. If players buy the game used, they shouldn't be blocked out from playing all of its modes or content. The idea that publishers now have even more incentives (on top of DLC) to restrict/remove content and charge for it separately is a terrible one and we're afraid of the precedents these are setting for the future of video game releases.
Finding a way to reward early adopters and buyers of 'new' games is important, and it's no easy task to balance that against retailers like GameStop earning big of used games without the publisher getting a share, but it's the consumers who often lose in the end, having more steps required to play their game, and most costs associated with buying older/used titles.
What are your thoughts on EA's online passes vs. what other publishers do?
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning releases February 7, 2012 for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. SSX releases February 28, 2012 for PS3 and Xbox 360.
Follow me on Twitter @rob_keyes.
Sources: Curt Schilling, Game Informer