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EA Sports Introduces 'Online Pass' For Premium Content, Online Play
EA Sports Introduces 'Online Pass' For Premium Content, Online Play
May 10, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

May 10, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC

In an aim to incentivize players to buy its games new rather than used, Electronic Arts says it will offer one-time codes for online content with each of its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sports titles bought new at retail.

The "Online Pass" for EA Sports titles will let users enter in a code for "premium" features and content -- but those who purchase an EA Sports title second-hand will need to pay $10 to purchase the Pass for the same content.

According to EA, the content can include anything from title updates and downloads to features like online leagues -- and even online gameplay and multiplayer modes. An official site has been established to address user questions about the Online Pass.

EA will offer 10-day trials of Pass content so that users can see what they would be getting. So far, EA seems to be limiting the premium add-on experiment to its sports portfolio.

EA Sports boss Peter Moore commented: "This is an important inflection point in our business, because it allows us to accelerate our commitment to enhance premium online services to the entire robust EA Sports online community."

The company's apparently gained the support of retailer GameStop, which has been watching with a close eye efforts on the part of publishers to discourage its thriving used games business.

According to the retailer, encouraging premium content add-ons still benefits GameStop, since it sells PlayStation Network and Microsoft Points cards. It praised EA's Online Pass as "forward-thinking."

"This relationship allows us to capitalize on our investments to market and sell downloadable content online, as well as through our network of stores worldwide," said GameStop president Dan DeMatteo.

Added EA Sports' Moore: "We’re delighted that GameStop is offering their support of this program as a place for gamers to purchase points that provide access to downloadable content from EA at their stores and through their website."

[UPDATE: As an official EA Sports weblog post specifies: "With your Online Pass, you’ll have access to multiplayer online play, group features like online dynasty and leagues, user created content, and bonus downloadable content for your game including, for example, a new driver in Tiger." Gamasutra has confirmed that if you don't have an Online Pass, you will not get access to any online modes.

In addition, EA Sports SVP Andrew Wilson comments of the change: "When we see how many people are playing all of our games online, consumers are telling us that competition is endemic to sports in a way that most people don’t get just by playing a game alone on their couch. As a result, we’ve made a significant investment to offer the most immersive online experience available. We want to reserve EA Sports online services for people who pay EA to access them."

Countering claims that the move is purely over used games, Wilson adds: "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."]

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Ryan Dormanesh
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Are publishers really that afraid of brick and mortar stores they are going out of their way to mention they approve this? I guess thats why I can buy Street Fighter IV digitally but for Super Street Fighter IV for an unspecified amount of time I have to get a physical copy.

Brad Borne
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Might force GameStop to drop used game prices more than just 5 bucks less than a new copy. I guess the only thing that I hate more than extra game content that feels like it should have been part of the game in the first place is the absurd price of used games.

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Good thing I don't like Madden. Though this will probably apply to NHL :P

I am a game programmer and I buy used. I don't mind if the consumer does. Really, it's overplayed. I know a lot of fellow developers that don't care how they get the game so long as they play it, because usually they'll buy the sequel.

Lo Pan
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I agree with Brad, used games prices are horribly high. I think EA needs to fulfill their end of this deal by providing a lag free and amazing online experience. I don't want to go into MP in Fifa 11 and find the same issues as Fifa 10.

Matt Ross
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I remember the good old days. where if you bought a game, and it was shit, you could sell it again. or even return it for a refund.

so I will say again: EA: maybe you should focus less on stopping people buying games second hand, and instead focus on why people are selling them in the first place!

because all I see all of this stuff doing is making it so if people buy a crap game, they are stuck with it. that doesn't bode well for the quality of games in the future...

honestly... and they wonder why there is piracy!

Amir Sharar
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I find this an odd approach to Sport titles, though I'm sure that EA has done the required market research here.

I say this because I almost always buy these sports games when they are first released for a few reasons. They have very active online communities during the first few months, and these sorts of games are ones I highly anticipate. Also, to get the edge over my friends, I like to have as much playtime as possible before we play each other.

Secondly, I keep these games for a long time after buying them because they usually have great multiplayer. Unlike single player games, these have infinite replayability through local and online multiplayer.

I have bought around 20 used games last year, none of which are sports titles.

By the time the new iteration comes out (which, as I said, I buy on day one), the trade in value of the current iteration is next to nothing and I don't bother (though I can understand people wanting to clear up shelf space). In fact I believe I still have all EA hockey games I've bought (the only ones I didn't buy were the 2002-2006 titles, as during that phase the 2K games were superior). Still have their Genesis hockey titles to boot.

Now, I could represent the hardcore sports fan that EA isn't worried about, but to me it seems that sports games present less of an issue than most other titles. For example, I've bought both Mirror's Edge and Dead Space used (both EA titles, by the way). Oh, and recently Mass Effect 2 (I've only now realized they have some DLC tied to a new purchase of the game).

Sports games sell gang busters initially and don't necessarily hold a "long tail" due to their annual iterations. I also see places like EB Games cluttered with copies of Madden 07/08/09 and I think they realize that most sports gamers prefer the newest versions despite the higher cost. So while I'm sure EA has done their research on this issue, colour me a puzzled Sports gamer.

Eric Gilbert
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So for Xbox 360, not only do I have to pay for "premium" online capabilities for Xbox Live, but now I have to pay for "premium" online capabilities on a per game basis on top of that?! This is going down a bad road...

And I don't mind paying the "premium" for Xbox Live. It's been a great service. But I draw the line at games trying to double dip for online stuff. I already didn't buy Army of Two: 40th Day because I had to create an EA account to play online...and it was free. I won't support this kind of business model.

Benjamin Berlin
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If this becomes a big trend, it will kill the rental industry. Having worked at Blockbuster, the only games that get rented with any real frequency are big releases like Halo or GTA, and sports games. However, no one will want to rent a game if they're unable to access half the content.

Jake Romigh
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What is to stop people from buying a new game from Wal*Mart, using the code, and returning the game and then buying a used copy?

Whether they are fighting pirates or used games, in the end, the consumers always lose.

Bob Stevens
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@Benjamin, great point. Publishers are so busy foaming at the mouth over used games that they aren't thinking straight. Taking major features away from players of preowned games will hopefully not catch on... whereas bonus first-sale content to users is a great way to do it (extra weapon in-game, extra costume, extra game mode, etc).

Zach Grant
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Not to mention EA shuts down their online servers for sports games only a year after release so you have to purchase the next version!!! I'll bet good money that they won't be extending this even though you pay extra.