The Punishment of the Online Pass

You, soldier, are NOT dismissed.

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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6 Comments

  1. Ste says:

    Project 10 Dollar or whatever its called really pissed me off when I first heard about it. At the time I had moved away from my PC gaming roots and wad playing a lot more console games. I too bought alot of second hand games but mainly due to the fact that I refused to pay the stupid prices console gamers pay for their new games.

    I was going mad because you wouldnt expect to buy a second hand book that had some pages missing or a second hand car with no seat belts. Its madness. (Not the band)

    Whilst I have come to accept project 10 dollar a bit more, mainly because I dont really play on consoles anymore, I still think its a kick in the nuts for people like yourself who cant always afford to buy new. Especially when I dont think it really costs that much to keep a server online nowadays. Yes, it can be argued that people buying preowned ultimately means that a server needs to be kept running abit longer than what it would have been but I also argue that there will also be day 1 purchasers within that number of people too so surely the publisher should be keeping the server open for them anyway?

    Perhaps there is another way forward? Real world, in game advertising maybe? I personally wouldnt mind seeing more of that. Admittedly it could break immersion in some games like Assasins Creed but I definitely think its a viable option. Perhaps an article for another day.

    Anyway, I could argue about this topic all day but I’ll stop now. Good read.

  2. MarkuzR says:

    I really am in two minds with this whole thing, to be honest. As someone who actually develops software, albeit outwith the gaming industry, I know all too well the perils of having someone use your work and you gaining nothing from it. It’s horrible, because you put so much time and effort into something and then others get to use it and you’re not rewarded for your efforts which, in turn, makes it more difficult to continue with the development as there’s less financial support than there should be.

    The online pass serves as a way to extend the amount of money being made available to the developer (assuming the developer get any and it’s not just the publisher than benefits) so that someone buying a pre-owned game will still be supporting the ongoing development from the originating studio. As you know yourself, buying something pre-owned simply means that the retail outlet themselves walks away with 100% of the revenue and there’s nothing given back to the publisher, distributor or, most importantly, the developer.

    I hate the pre-owned market. So much so that I actually stopped buying anything that wasn’t brand new, and if I can’t afford to buy it (which is pretty much everything that ever gets released, as anyone who knows me will attest to) then I just go without. I’d rather go without than be one of those who lines the pockets of the high street retailer, hellbent on taking as much as they can, as often as they can, with no thought for the talent and hard work behind the game itself.

    That said… I DO actually agree that it would be best to reward the buy-new people rather than punish the pre-owned buyers. But not entirely. If buying pre-owned simply meant that you didn’t get to use the AssBlaster 3000 rifle and the FudgeTunnel Heavy Armour then it’s not much of a reason for the pre-owned buyers to dip into their pockets and help out the developer so there DOES need to be some sort of tangible penalty. Perhaps removing entire areas of the game is a tad harsh, but that section of the game was still created by the same team who see nothing in return from the retail outlet selling the pre-owned copies, so it makes perfect legal and moral sense to do so.

    Ultimately, the gamers need to respect the developers and understand that without the buy-new market, there will be no developers. The online pass is a great way to ensure that the development continues, but there is probably a better way to go about it so that everybody wins rather than someone always having to lose out. Right now there are only two scenarios:

    1. The gamer and the high street retailer win with pre-owned, and the developer loses out.
    2. The gamer and the developer win with buy-new, and the struggling gamer loses out.

    We need a win, win WIN situation!

  3. richie says:

    The problem here is that the evil is gradual.

    I can deal with online passes as we can easily get games cheap if we wait a while and it saves us going into the pre-owned section in GAME without having our shots but then EA take it further with the special edition DLC on Mass Effect 3 etc etc. It will always escalate.

    I’d meet EA halfway if everyone agreed the terms. Online pass. Fine. Day one DLC sold seperate. Not fine.

    Selling advantages to players on online games. Not fine.

    EA. Cunts.

  4. Adam L says:

    I buy all of my games new but I don’t mind it to be honest. It’s putting more money back into the developer. With trade-ins and the like the same game can be experienced by maybe 4 or 5 people for the price of 1 initial sale from the publisher. Would it be right if your friend bought a cinema ticket, and you each took it in turns going in one after the other throughout 5 different screenings on a day, each giving the person before you a quid to compensate for the initial purchase? Probably not!

    My thoughts, anyway.

  5. Edward says:

    I like to buy all my games new, only doing otherwise if I literally cannot avoid doing so (say, if the game is unavailable or priced fucking ridiculously), so I don’t so much have a problem with this. I think it’s right for the companies to do what they can to recouperate money, but my real problem with it all is that it just betrays how buggered the pricing system for games is at the moment, that we have to be in a position to struggle to afford new software and cripple our experiences when we’re not able to shell out. Also, it makes getting into the game that much longer. Who can honestly admit they’ve been MORE excited for a game after having to type out a 25 digit code, wait for something to download and the game to reset?

  6. Lorna says:

    I’m inclined to think that the online pass is fair for reasons others have also stated. Games cost money to make, and servers cost money to upkeep. That is the bottom line. There needs to be some sort of financial compensation for the money lost through the sheer volume of pre-owned stuff being sold… after all, someone has to pay for the services and development, and why should that burden be shouldered by the ‘buy new’ market, while eveyone else coasts along on their shirt-tails. If I bought a car, I wouldn’t want someone just hopping in the back every morning while I was going to work, just because I was going there anyway. I’m paying the car payments, MOT, fuel, tax, insurance… they’re paying nothing. As with piracy, it makes me a touch bitter.

    I can understand the frustration if you can’t afford something, and I have been (and am) in that position myself, but I just don’t end up buying much, or I wait for a sale/price drop/shop around. Yes, the online pass may be shit because, in essence, they are selling you access to something that was advertised as being a part of your game – I had never considered it like that before until you mentioned it – but I can’t honestly blame them for wanting to recoup some of their losses. If it wasn’t the online pass, it would be something else… perhaps this is the lesser of the known evils?

    I had never considered your idea of rewarding the new buyers, rather than punishing pre-owned players and it gives much food for thought – it is a good idea, but still bothers me a little, I guess. I suppose I think it is a sad day when devs/publishers have to bribe people to buy their game new so that they can actually make a profit on it – what happened to the game being enough?

    I think that while part of the problem is people’s finances, and other folks’ self-entitled attitude that they shouldn’t have to pay much or anything for something anymore (hence so much piracy), the main culprits are stores like GAME, who have actively encouraged people to buy pre-owned over new, even badgering people at the checkouts. Not only that, but it seems like everyone has their finger in the meaty, 100% profit pre-owned pie… HMV for a while, Tesco, Argos, etc… it was getting ridiculous. When publishers are pushed too much, it is to be expected that they will, ultimately, push back, and this was the result.

    I still always buy new when I can, as, to be honest, in stores like GAME, there often isn’t a great deal of difference in price anyway, and I love brand new stuff, not games that have dog-eared manuals and look as though they have been raped with wire wool. Also, I am a perverted manual sniffer and nothing smells as sweet as a new manual. Except ice-cups or fizzy cola bottles.

    Great article by the way :) Welcome to the site!

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