Game Buzz is a weekly opinion column designed to take an irreverent look at one of the biggest news stories to break in the past week. Every Friday we’ll be bringing you another slice of reaction to topical gaming news, and inviting you to agree, disagree, shout assent, vent rage, scream and complain to you heart’s delight. This week, we take a look at the recent industry comments around pre-owned games, and the policies being implemented to generate lost capital such as EA Sports' controversial Online Pass.
When The Saboteur first arrived, gleaming in its pristine wrapping all safely sealed and shining in its newness, I tore off the packaging to find that EA had included a little code promising me some nice little extras for getting a brand spanking new copy of the game rather than nabbing a used version of the game. I got rather excited about all of this - a sneaky little trick to make me feel like I was getting more than what I paid for and was therefore some kind of 'premium customer' - and felt a bit special as I entered in the code upon starting up the game. Of course, the free DLC for Pandemic’s swansong only really resulted in a variety of virtual peepshows and the removal of tassles from the breasts of Sean’s female counterparts, but it’s the thought that counts.
Free DLC is just one of the ways in which games publishers have been trying to coax the paying public to buy new rather than used, particularly EA who have utilised their Ten Dollar Initiative to provide DLC codes bundled with games such as Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2 that allow the downloading of content that would normally retail for around $10. For the most part these have been little extras that have no fundamental bearing on the main game and have therefore been pleasant asides rather than must-have additions.
It’s not really difficult to see why the industry would be looking to protect themselves and encouraging people to ‘buy new’, although DLC is still viewed with no small amount of scepticism by many, particularly launch DLC, as an underhand method of squeezing profits. There are, however, two sides to every story. Speaking to Develop this week, Blitz Games Studio’s co-founder Andrew Oliver stated that rather than piracy, it was in fact the second-hand games market that posed the greatest threat to the videogame industry due to lost revenue:
'Arguably the bigger problem on consoles now is the trading in of games [...] I understand why players do this, games are expensive and after a few weeks of playing you’ve either beaten it, or got bored of it so trading it back in to help pay for the next seems sensible when people are short of cash.'
But the difficulty, he goes on to say, is that with figures suggesting games may be traded in as many as four times, royalties are effectively quartered. ‘So while retail may be announcing a reasonable season, the money going back up the chain is a fraction of what it was only a few years ago. This is a much bigger problem than piracy on the main consoles’.
You can see where he’s coming from to a certain extent, but so often an idea conceived out of idealism can snowball into something rather more sinister. Enter EA Sports and their announcement this week of the Online Pass. Soon to be parachuting into FIFA fanatics’ and Madden maniacs’ homes everywhere, the online multiplayer of EA Sports’ games will now need activation via a code that will only be provided with new games......or can be bought for $10 to those buying the games second-hand.
Seems a bit like daylight robbery at first glance – taking away traditional functionality and then charging people to take it back. Of course, EA think it’s a great idea. But then, they would.
‘We think it’s a great idea, we think it’s going to build our business, and we think it’s a positive consumer experience,’ said CEO John Riccitiello. ‘Invariably, the consumer is getting a boat load more content to experience than they otherwise would. We used to literally pull our teams off of a game within four to six weeks pre-ship and they’d go work on something else because the game was done [...] Our teams are being held in place up through and beyond ship to continue to create content to entertain the consumer with the franchise they like best.’
These words imply extra longevity, that EA Sports titles will be expected to go a little further and last that bit longer. But considering the annual cyclical nature of these titles it’s a little unlikely. EA will argue that it’s really the merchants they’re after, and the high mark-up prices of pre-owned games on the high street lends some weight to that reasoning. It is to be hoped that the initiative will drive the prices down of used titles , EA Sports ones at least, to accommodate the new fee.
But this poses difficult questions as well. As Rob Fahey at GamesIndustry.biz queries, what will this mean for console owners already paying a premium for online gaming such as Xbox LIVE Gold Membership? The precedent it sets is even more worrying, with snowballing likely should the scheme prove to be a success, which in business terms it probably will. How long before more and more publishers start looking into this model for more mainstream titles? If profit is there to be made, not long at all.
Personally, I think that there are certain positives to this and that whilst all of the comments and backlash will be against them for this move, and let’s face it there’s no altruism here so that will be fair enough this is all about profit margins, it ignores the bigger issue: new games are still too expensive. The burgeoning second-hand market wouldn’t be an issue if game prices weren’t so high to begin with and if the model of a main game supported by long term DLC persists, with that DLC being sold at a premium rate, it’s surely only natural to want to see a decrease in price point for the base game.
Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen, meaning that as much as Riccitello would like us to go along with all of this, schemes such as the Online Pass will probably only succeed in hardening hearts against the industry.
What are your views on the whole situation? Let us know in the comments box below.