Citing “player feedback”, EA rids itself of online passes. A win, or does everyone lose?

Electronic Arts is dialing back its controversial Online Pass program, whereby players needed to spend a fee to access multiplayer content on used games. Serving almost as a ticket of purchase, new copies had a pass inside. The gimmick was meant to deter used game sales, a bane for most of the industry, and an arena wherein GameStop makes about 70% of its total revenue.

EA senior director of corporate communications John Reseburg confirmed the news to VentureBeat: “Yes, we’re discontinuing Online Pass. None of our new EA titles will include that feature.” Over three years, EA implemented online passes for Battlefield 3, Dead Space 2, most EA Sports titles and the DICE-developed multiplayer component of the rebooted Medal of Honor.

Lasting three years, the program was discredited as being anti-consumerist and flatly illogical. Many complained they can’t afford the high selling price of every single new release, so they rely on used games as a way of still enjoying the medium. Just doing a Google Search for “online passes” brings up the third option, “online passes are bullshit”, sandwiched between mentions of Battlefield 3 and FIFA 13.

First introduced with the monetarily inspired name “Project Ten Dollar“, the initiative polarized the community. Some saw it as obstructing their right to purchase games as they see fit. Others believed it was a positive thing so long as the cash went back into game development. The greedy, tyrannical image of EA overcame some, them accusing the publisher of trying to blatantly dismantle GameStop and the retail market, even though GameStop agreed it was a great idea.

But a company’s positive image can fundamentally change how people view it. Around that same time, either serendipitously or by design, Activision had sacked Jason West and Vince Zampella, the creative force behind Call of Duty, and EA snatched up their new studio’s first game. This act gave EA the “good guy” image for some time, and critics largely let online passes slide. Minor stirs followed when the program expanded to Battlefield 3 and the monopolized collection of EA Sports games, but not until Jim Sterling for GameFront wrote “Why Every Defense of Online Passes Has Been Bullsh**” was when the frenzy ramped up considerably.

And now, EA has gutted online passes due to “player feedback”. It is in a sense relieving, as online passes did deter some used sales, but not so much that it affected EA’s bottom line. But the use of online passes continues to be a misread by game publishers, because there are more logical and efficient ways to monetize a game. For instance, cutting the standard cost from $60 (at least in North America; I feel for my Australian readers) to $40, encouraging people to buy more. Or letting consumers buy a game in parts: single-player campaign for $20, multiplayer for $20, etc.

The one takeaway from the news, though, is EA finally listened to its audience. Declining sales must have been affecting the company decisively to do so, but it did, and just maybe EA might heed more advice. Someone has to play the optimist.

To the readers: What do you think of EA’s plan? Did EA ultimately listen or is this just a corporation fumbling to prosper?

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  • http://chalgyrsgameroom.blogspot.com/ Chalgyr

    I suspect ti’s probably a few things. A bit of positive PR in the wake of lots of bad PR lately, plus they probably feel they can recoup those costs in microtransactions. As I’ve never been a big fan of the online pass, I can’t say I’m sad to see it go.

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