About half-way through last year, publisher Electronic Arts introduced the Online Pass system into its sports titles; Tiger Woods PGA Tour was the first title to ship with it. Online Pass means that any person who picks up a copy of a game second-hand has to pay a fee in order to access the online features. Anyone who has played an EA Sports game knows that online is an important part of the overall package.
New copies ship with a once-off access code; this same model has been applied to other EA titles that don’t necessarily fit the EA Sports label, such as Mass Effect 2 and the more recent Alice: Madness Returns both of which included downloadable content for first-hand buyers.
It’s a tactic aimed at recouping some income from second-hand game sales; a transaction from which publishers and developers see no returns. Forcing second-hand purchasers to drop an additional $10 to access the online portion of the game at least secures some form of income for the companies responsible for the making the game possible to begin with. Ever wondered how much this tactic has earned EA in the past?
Speaking at the Citi 2011 Tech Conference this week, EA’s Chief Financial Officer Eric Brown admitted that the Online Pass has not generated vast amounts of money for the publisher: “The revenues we derive from that haven’t been dramatic. I’d say they’re in the $10-$15 million range since we initiated the program”.
Naturally, Brown made no reference to Online Pass being a response to the loss of income due to second-hand game sales. Instead, he made mention of how charging second-hand purchasers $10 to access online features was a way for EA to cover costs incurred by gamers who traditionally “consumed bandwidth for free”. In other words: it costs EA money to have online features in their games and the Online Pass program ensures that those who didn’t pay the full retail price for a new copy, will end up giving EA some form of monetary compensation for online play.
The counter to this argument is somewhat obvious: if the initial purchaser of the game has sold their copy, then they are no longer an online player costing EA money. Why should the second-hand owner need to pay for something that was surely covered in the initial purchase?
Sure EA, keep telling is that moves like Online Pass and Project $10 have nothing to do with recouping lost revenue from second-hand game sales – I’m sure we’ll begin to believe you eventually. Incidentally, I have no problem with EA charging second-hand buyers a little extra in order to unlock content or gain online access, but that’s because I buy my games new.