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Opinion: EA Sports Online Pass, Entitlement, & Gamer Rage

Opinion: EA Sports Online Pass, Entitlement, & Gamer Rage

May 14, 2010 | By Kris Graft

May 14, 2010 | By Kris Graft
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[Is EA really damaging gamers with EA Sports Online Pass or do they just have a swollen sense of entitlement? Gamasutra senior news editor Kris Graft looks at both sides of the argument.]

EA Sports has some balls.

Electronic Arts this week decided that it wants to actually get paid for implementing online gameplay into its major sports games with EA Sports Online Pass. While some gamers seem accepting of the change, many are crying foul. Or just crying in general.

For the uninitiated, EA will include a one-time use code with new copies of upcoming EA Sports games on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. That pass allows original buyers to access online content and services, including online multiplayer.

If you buy a used copy of the game, you have to pay an extra $10 for this Online Pass, which allows you access to online multiplayer, which up until now has been a standard, "free" component -- an integral feature -- to modern sports games.

My knee-jerk reaction as a consumer of video games is that this is utter bulls***. Greedy EA is essentially holding a built-in feature hostage for 10 bucks, if I buy a game used. For years, I've been getting this feature include "free" with new and used games.

EA and Epic are two companies that have practiced this new-game-incentivization method. It's one thing to exclude a couple maps, an RPG quest or some armor from my used game, but to take out an integral part of the game that's been included in sports games for years, that's a new low.

I cried a little.

On the other hand, I've only heard a lot of knee-jerk complaining, and no good argument as to why EA shouldn't do this. Honestly, I can't think of a great argument as to why the publisher shouldn't have done this at least a year ago. Online is a key component of sports games, sports are EA's biggest business, so why should the publisher support people who buy used games, sales from which EA doesn't see a penny (directly, anyway)?

It's just another reason why consumers should begin to loosen up on these tightly held expectations of how they are to experience and buy games, because these days, the only thing we should expect is change. And it's big companies like EA that are going to be driving these sweeping business changes. Online Pass is just more evidence that companies are adopting games-as-a-service business models that are meant to strengthen the direct financial relationship between the consumer and the game publisher.

As gamers we have a certain sense of entitlement that has built up during the years of this young entertainment medium. Only in the gaming industry would the term "horse armor" become such a pervasive metaphor for screwing the consumer.

We complain about no LAN in StarCraft II, no dedicated servers for Modern Warfare 2, the loss of the "Other OS" option on PlayStation 3, the fact that we have to pay for Xbox Live, $60 PC games and how we need to shell out cash for virtual items. (Notice here that most of these examples are of PC gamers getting "screwed" by game companies. OOOHHH!)

I'm not sure if we're complaining about these specific instances of change, or about change itself. I suppose if I'm being honest, most of the times it's not about change, but having to pay extra for something.

It's kind of like when I have a dollar to by a soda, but when I get to the same vending machine that I've used for the past year, I find out that the price went up from $1 to $1.25. I'm either annoyed because I only have a dollar in my wallet, and I'm a measly quarter short, or I'm annoyed because I'm going to end up with three loose quarters that I'll most certainly lose in the laundry. In my mind, even if I have extra money that I'm willing to spend for a product I'll be happy with, I'm still getting screwed.

There are people that will still buy a used sports game plus a separately-sold Online Pass at GameStop, which is one reason that the retailer sees this as a revenue opportunity, because if there's one thing that GameStop needs is more revenue opportunities. EA even made it a point to have GameStop comment on the Online Pass press release as a way to say, "Look, we're not trying to curb used game sales -- even GameStop thinks Online Pass is the bee's knees!" (not a direct quote).

Worst case scenario for GameStop, people will stop buying used copies of Madden NFL at a 50 percent profit margin, and instead the retailer will have to live with the 20 percent margin on new game sales.

Or, most likely, GameStop will just give customers less store credit for used EA Sports Online Pass games, and sell them at a lower price point to compensate for the missing $10 worth of features. Used game margins stay the same, and used prices are still attractive to the consumer, many of whom don't have any use for EA Online Pass. Another point is that EA Sports games lose store value very fast anyway because there are a bajillion of the games in inventory and they're annual releases.

Do I want to pay more for video games? Do I want to get less store credit for trade-ins (which as some point out could affect new game sales)? Do I like paying for Xbox Live and Online Pass? No. I want my soda for $1.

The only thing that people can do, as always in a capitalist economy, is vote with their wallets. If you're a video game sports fan, it'll probably be tough to boycott EA Sports. But while there is an uproar right now, people will get used to these business practices. We'll get over it and I really believe the financial benefits for EA will more than make up for any corporate image damage.

Sports games are the biggest part of EA's business. The publisher says that it's "fair to get paid for the services we provide." As concerned as I am as a consumer about where business models like Online Pass may lead, until I see EA Sports games tanking on the sales charts because of Online Pass, I really can't think of a good argument as to why EA shouldn't have done this a while ago.

...other than the fact that I feel like I'm getting a little screwed.


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