The Punishment of the Online Pass
I think of myself as a gamer. I love playing games and I often do so at the expense of other things in my life. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve suddenly realised that it’s four in the morning and I really should be going to sleep, but there is this really tough boss fight on BlazBlue that I definitely have to finish… or I can stay up for a couple more rounds of Gears of War 3, or just get to the next save point on Final Fantasy.
Most of my spare money is spent on games, but I can’t really afford to buy them new. I’m currently at University and my money goes towards food and shelter. I do everything I can to save a few pounds here and there, but I never have much in the way of spending money. I should clarify that I don’t go out drinking and the money I spend on food in a month would barely buy me one game on release day. At the time of writing, I’d been scrimping for weeks so that I could afford to pre-order SSX and will still be saving for a few weeks more to be able to do so. I can’t afford to buy games new, especially games that I’m not sure about.
Does waiting to play them make me any less a gamer? Does buying them second-hand mean that I am in some way a lesser player of these games? Does paying less for them make me any less loyal? Companies such as Ubisoft and EA would have me think so.
I was incredibly excited about playing Assassin’s Creed Revelations. I have long been a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and I’ve enjoyed my journeys as Ezio; I’ve followed his life since the day he was born, and I was present at some of the most pivotal moments of his life. In some ways I’ve been a father to him. Brotherhood is one of my favourite games of all time, and the online mode was a crucial part of that. When Revelations was announced I quite literally jumped for joy. I followed the development eagerly. I salivated over the hookblade. I mooned over Constantinople.
When November 15 arrived I had been at University for just over a month and had just about enough money to buy instant noodles and not much more. As much as I wanted to buy Assassin’s Creed, I just couldn’t; I told myself that it wasn’t the end of the world. If I just waited a few months then it would be affordable second-hand; in a few months and I could have my fill of leaping assassinations and sly stabbings. I couldn’t wait.
Then my brother got the game and, being the kind soul that he is, let me play it. I made my way through the early stages of the career and then, thoroughly sated, attempted to log in to the multiplayer for a couple of rounds before bed… except that it wouldn’t let me log on. I needed a code, or I needed to pay.
Instantly my bliss evaporated, replaced by a deep and abiding sense of betrayal. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I had been loyal to Ubisoft for years. I had bought their games. I had loved their games. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time still holds a special place in my heart as the first console game I ever completed. Yet now, in my time of need, they were turning their back on me.
I understand their argument. I realise that buying games second-hand doesn’t help them and that they have to make a profit somehow. I realise that they need the money to make new games for me to love. I understand that. But I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I couldn’t afford to buy the game new and now they were punishing me for it.
The idea of rewarding gamers for buying their games brand new is a wonderful one. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is gives those who buy the game new a code that unlocks extra missions. I think that’s fantastic; give them something that they would otherwise have to pay for, make them want to pay that little bit extra and get it new. What Ubisoft did is, in my mind at least, something completely different. They had taken a part of the game that was integral; a part of the game that they had given away free in the past, and a part of the game that was advertised as part of your purchase, and taken it away.
I’ve gone shopping for games since November 15. I’ve picked up Revelations, more than once; I put it back down every time. The pain of that betrayal was still fresh and, since then, new games have come along and caught my fancy. Revelations is no longer at the front of the list, and I doubt I’ll ever buy it for myself. In doing what they did, Ubisoft may have earned themselves a little more money, but they have also lost a dedicated fan. I’m not saying that I’ll never buy another Ubisoft game, but if I do I’ll do so cautiously. I’ll never do it on day one.
There are still games that I’ll buy brand new, however. I mentioned SSX earlier; it’s a brand that I am faithful to and I want to support and so, in order to do so, I’m eating a little less and saving a little more. As I write this in, there are rumours that SSX will have an online pass, and that seems to be the trend. I’m not saying that they are a bad thing by any means, but I also believe that developers need to be careful how far they take it.
I can’t afford to buy every game I want to play brand new, as much as I would love to. I also don’t want to have to pay to play online with every game that I buy second hand. Fair enough, reward those who have the luxury of buying the game new, but don’t punish me for my inability to do so.
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