In Electronic Arts' and Starbreeze Studios' upcoming futuristic first-person shooter Syndicate - a revival of Bullfrog Studios' 1993 third-person shooter of the same name - mega-corporations are taking over the world. Consumer freedom is being shanghaied as these "syndicates," who control all of society's digital information, require individuals to purchase biological implants before they can access necessities like housing, healthcare, schooling, and more. The catch-22 is that the syndicates now have universal control over the consumer's life. They own you.
Though not quite to a Syndicratic extent, EA's use and recent abuse of the online pass has lead some gamers to draw parallels to a company that's overstepping its bounds - requiring a code for access to key components of products gamers would still have to pay for. It would be fitting, then, for the upcoming Syndicate and its publisher to be two peas in a pod when it comes to this business model, but that's where the story just got interesting.
Speaking to Eurogamer, EA Partners executive producer Jeff Gamon announced that Syndicate will be waiving the traditional online pass requirement. He said that EA Partners' games (even though Syndicate is an IP owned and published directly by EA) aren't mandated to feature the pass and that they were able to squeak through the cracks because online co-op comprises such a large portion of the game.
"We want as little resistance or barriers to entry as possible. The co-op is equal billing in this. We wanted everyone who owns a copy of the game to have access to the entire product.
"Under normal circumstances it would have had an online pass, but because it didn't have competitive multiplayer and because we wanted as many people as possible to be playing co-op, we got away with it."
What's key in Gamon's interview is that the decision seems to have come from Starbreeze and the EA Partners publishing arm as opposed to the powers that be at EA itself. The news is an inherent win for gamers, but it now throws a wrench into the standard being used for controversial online passes.
Another EA Partners game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, recently stirred up a firestorm over its decision to include the pass - the anger (and confusion) stemming from the fact that it has no mulitplayer component whatsoever; the online pass was an obtrusive strategy to bolster day-one sales of the game - and yes, 38 Studios founder Curt Shilling made the poignant defense that studios like his can't survive by losing revenue to used-game sales. That said, the online pass is still a rather sloppy method to go about it. It's detrimental to the ease of access that can also propel a game's success and subsequently doesn't leave consumers feeling pushed around.
The online pass can also serve as red flag that a publisher isn't confident about new copies of the game staying in disk trays for too long. In what could be good news for Syndicate fans, Ganon addressed this in his comments and stated that he has high hopes for the plethora of content - online and off - provided in the game. As always, we hope he's right and that Syndicate does turn out to be a fun shooter, but we can't shake the nagging feeling that EA is going to notice theses online pass incongruities and start cracking down with a universal policy - EA Partners included.
If you want to check more of what Syndicate is planning to offer, and perhaps get a look at the 4 player co-op Gannon was mentioning, check out the recent dubstep-addled trailer we posted.
Syndicate releases February 21 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.
Follow me on Twitter @Brian_Sipple