EA Online Pass – The Painful Truth.

EA Online Pass hasn’t been the shocking brilliant commercial entity that EA had originally planned, it would seem.

“The revenues we derive from that haven’t been dramatic,” CFO Eric Brown said at the Citi 2011 Conference (Gamasutra). “I’d say they’re in the $10-$15 million range since we initiated the program.”

That said, Brown has claimed that this number is in actuality “found revenue” from those who previously “consumed bandwidth for free”.

The reality of the situation, though, is perhaps altogether more commercial.

Okay, so let’s get real here. I’m a gamer, and I buy some games second-hand. Not because I particularly want to save money, but sometimes it makes me more open to the title in question (which is how I got into Assassin’s Creed II, after the painful original). Sometimes, the games are really just not on sale (Infinite Undiscovery, a great little JRPG that I missed first time around). And sometimes, it’s nostalgia – I’ve already played Tomb Raider: Anniversary on the PS2. But now I have a 360 version, because my PS2 is relegated to gathering copious amounts of dust in my cupboard.

That said, I go to a small specialist shop for my gaming purposes, both brand new and second-hand, and I’ve become very good friends with the two guys who run it. Truth is, the little shops haven’t really caused this – it’s the big ones, like GAME, Gamestation, Argos, HMV et al.

What these stores have been doing is keeping the RRP in firm place for extended periods of time, and when someone trades in, say, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, they are offered £8 for it. That second-hand copy is then sold on marked “As New” for £27.99, when a brand new copy is £29.99.

It’s the flagrant dishonesty that has made developers and publishers alike have a very hostile working relationship with the big retailers – the two sides need each other still, but another painful truth is the two sides are, behind each others backs, slagging each other off and trying to make us all feel sorry for them. And we just don’t care.

That said, let’s come back to that quote, to the bandwidth issue.

Okay, so let us say User A owns a game for a year, uses the online pass, and enjoys it. User B owns the game, uses the pass but plays for three months before selling on. User C buys that copy, and has to pay EA £10 for online play – which he (User D) too plays for three months before handing it to his friend, who also pays £10 for a new online pass. Three months later, he hands it back, and his friend sells it on eBay and User E also has to buy a new online pass.

In the latter example, EA hasn’t used any more or less bandwidth than in the case of User A, because this is the same time period. But they’ve made £30 MORE on the game than from User A.

And suddenly, the reality of the Online Pass system is exposed – it’s not to combat second hand sales. Quite the opposite actually, this system too is designed to EXPLOIT the second-hand market, the very one EA continues to slag off regularly, the very market that developers and publishers are accusing of ripping them off – when in fact, they’re ripping us, the consumers, off even more.

So, the question remains “What are you REALLY angry at?”

Well, it’s hard to tell. As the publishers and retailers continue to try and outdo each other in the worst relationship in the known universe, the real losers at the end of the day are the consumers, the gamers, the people on the ground buying these games – either new or second hand – who are paying for a war being waged that most of them don’t know about, care about or even want any part of.

The Online Pass system is a fantastic ploy, really. It’s a guilt trip to consumers who would dare buy a second hand game – but at the end of the day, the consumer isn’t the one at fault, as they are being taken for a ride by EA as much as any retailer selling a second hand game.

It’s brilliant. But this is Evil EA, the Evil EA of old, and I for one find their disappointment at the extra revenue – which they don’t really deserve any more than the next publisher – offensive, as that money has been exploited from gullible gamers.

EA should be ashamed. But then, we, the consumers and gamers, need to wise up to this as well… because at the end of the day, it’s OUR money. Even if we cannot win, we should at least make a stand on this part alone…

We shouldn’t let ourselves be exploited so much.

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