EA Sports may have to change its "It's In the Game" slogan to the more appropriate "It's in the Game (if you bought it new)." While some publishers and game developers continue to talk about how to deal with the used games market popularized by retailers like GameStop, publisher Electronic Arts is firing the first shot with EA Sports Online Pass. The company announced this week a new system that - it hopes - will compel consumers to buy its sports games new. But this new scheme doesn't target retailers like GameStop - it puts a bull's-eye on consumers.
EA Sports Online Pass will be a part of all future EA SPORTS simulation games on the PS3 and Xbox 360 beginning in June with Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 11. Each new game will come with an additional code for online play that will give you access to various online modes, content and more - but here's the catch for consumers who buy the game used: you will have to pay $10 to access all the online games modes and additional content by buying a new code in-game, through Xbox Live or PlayStation Network.
Microsoft and Sony are playing a part in facilitating this additional cost to consumers who don't buy EA Sports titles "new" by allowing EA to sell the Online Pass on its services. This is on a per-title basis, so don't think you'll be buying a subscription to defer any of the costs.
Using the upcoming Madden NFL 11 as an example, a new copy of the game should cost $59.99; the average discounted price of a pre-owned game is $49.99. If you buy the game used you will have to pay an additional $10 for online play. That gives EA an additional $10 in revenue (before any costs it might have in running the program) on a game it already sold once and it puts the price of the game back up to what a brand new copy of the game retails for.
This is just an opening salvo in a war against the used games market; but the reality is that it is a win-win for retailers who don't incur any additional costs from EA's newest scheme (and are perfectly comfortable with selling new games), while consumers are caught in the middle. Expect other publishers to adopt this new pay to play scheme and prepare for other EA titles to include the same kind of restriction to access (edit - I forgot to mention similar efforts in other EA Games like Mass Effect 2, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and The Saboteur)
EA's Online Pass site offers an answer for those consumers willing to listen:
Is this intended to combat second sale?
We actually view the second sale market as an opportunity to develop a direct relationship with our consumers, and with Online Pass everyone has access to the same premium online services and content regardless of how and where you buy the game. In order to continue to enhance the online experiences that are attracting nearly five million connected game sessions a day, again, we think it’s fair to get paid for the services we provide and to reserve these online services for people who pay EA to access them. In return, we’ll continue to invest in creating great games and offer industry-leading online services to extend the game experience to everyone. I don’t think even the harshest cynic can argue with that and instead I think fans will see the value we’re committing to deliver when they see all the services, features and bonus content that is extending the life of their products.