Yesterday news broke that kind of shocked a lot of people, after introducing the concept of online passes in 2010, EA announced that they would be discontinuing the practice of using online passes in all future games. At that point, I spoke briefly about what that might mean for the practice in the industry as a whole and I wanted to talk a bit more about that.
At a high level, I don’t see any way that other large publishers like Ubisoft and Activision in particular can continue the practice now. When they originally started to implement it, many of them hid behind the fact that EA had done it first but with this about face from EA what is there excuse now. The whole idea behind online passes has always been ludicrous to me. In fact the only thing more ridiculous is timed exclusivity, but that’s a whole other topic. As I’ve said before, we pay hundreds for the consoles and $60+ for the games, even when they are used and fairly new you can still pay $45+. With everyone looking for ways to save money, that’s still no trivial amount of money. Then after all that, you expect players to pay an extra fee just to get online and play with friends, give me a break. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that developers don’t get a cut of the used game sales and they feel that might be costing them money. That may in fact be true, but coming up with erroneous fees isn’t the way to fix it.
As I’ve always said, publishers and developers often times incorrectly assume that if it weren’t for used games, they would sell a lot more new games and that’s just not accurate. The truth is that people would just buy a lot less games, if forced to pay full retail without the ability to trade in old games and get credit to put towards new copies of games, people would just buy less games overall. I mean think about it, people would still pick up games like The Last Of Us and Grand Theft Auto V but do as many people take a chance on the surprisingly good Metro: Last Light? Probably not. So what to do then?
I’ve always thought that this was a fairly easy problem to solve for publishers and developers if they had some imagination. People use things like Gamestop and Glyde because they are trying to offset cost and save money. The success of the used game business has proven that this in fact an unmet need on the consumer side. If devs and publishers wanted to combat it, they’d only need to come up with a program structured to give players some kind of value back. I mean loyalty programs exist in almost every other genre but not really in the gaming industry. For instance, at Gamestop you can usually buy a used version of a relatively new game for $54.99 a week or so after release. Why not drop the price of the game down by $10 after the first month to $49.99? This would drastically undercut Gamestop’s pricing model and be a compelling reason for people to buy the game new. Sure the publishers and developers are giving up $10 off the top, but 5/6 of the original purchase price back to them vs 100% back to Gamestop and similar services has to be considered a win. It’s not only doable but consumers would go for it. The gaming industry could also create their own Glyde like service to give consumers more options while at the same time improving their ROI.
But I got off topic there a bit. The major question that still needs to be answered is whether or not other major publishers will finally see that online passes aren’t the way. For as creative as Ubisoft and Activision can be with their games, it amazes me that they can’t come up with compelling ways to meet consumers in the middle on overall and resale value while creating a model that funnels more revenue back to them. But that’s just what we think, what we want to know from you is do you think that Ubisoft, Activision and other major publishers should follow EA’s lead and give online passes the boot? Hit up the comments and let us know.