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."
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."]