As first reported by Venture Beat, Electronic Arts has decided to pull the plug on its controversial “Online Pass” program. No longer will each new EA game come with a pack-in code that requires entry to access the online portions of the game.
Speculation runs rampant regarding the legitimate reasoning behind the move. A large contingent are too busy celebrating the demise of an anti-consumer mechanism to really think about it. Some (myself included) assume it was, as it is so often with Electronic Arts, a financial move. Printing out millions of codes and packing them in with the game is costly, and that only accounts for the launch sales. Maintaining the ability to generate codes on-the-fly as sales fluctuate over the course of the game’s lifespan had to be even more costly, along with the various tech support involved with such a system.
Worse yet, the process drew little to no profit; anyone who purchased the game new at any price point received a code for free. The only people actively paying for the “service” were those that purchased the game after the code had been used and chose to partake in the online system through a $10 fee, or those who changed/lost their XBL/PSN accounts and wanted to start fresh, only to discover the new paywall between them and their online gaming.
Others fear it is merely a harbinger of things to come with the next console generation; after all, why should EA spend time putting in measures that curtail used games if the Xbox 720 or PlayStation 4 will do so for them? In that case cancelling the Online Pass system gives them positive publicity (for once), saves them a ton of money and headache in continuing to develop and support the system, and yet Sony and Microsoft usurp the throne, as it were, as the real “bad guys” adding additional charges to “used gamers” by delivering essentially the same restrictions.
Personally, I feel as though used games will never be so curtailed, so long as more than one console exists in the battle for the living room. The reward of additional developer support for restricting used game usage would not be worth the risk of alienating the customers who both hardware and software developers rely on. Basically, if one console goes anti-used, the other will naturally go pro-used to market to the consumers rather than the developers and trust that pro-consumer developers will outnumber those looking to improve their own bottom line by wiping out the used game market for their products. As a result, I really don’t think the third “consoles take over anti-used-game marketing” option is very likely at all.
So that narrows it down pretty handily. The Online Pass system just wasn’t doing what EA expected it to do: pay for itself. The vast majority of their online users were buying the game new and bypassing the $10 “entry fee”. Everyone else was just bypassing the online access. With the advent of the Ultimate Team (and the vast income that garners; FIFA and Madden alone account for around $300 million, as per this Pasta Padre article regarding the new NCAA Football version) it makes no sense to put a pay wall between any user and the money-making power that is Ultimate Team.
Once it’s out of sports games, though, it becomes extremely difficult to justify leaving it in any of their other games, so kudos to EA for wisely connecting the dots and getting rid of the entire mechanism rather than piecemeal removal and two-faced talk where “it doesn’t work” in the sports genre and “It’s a key aspect of our business model” for the Battlefield series. It’s a step in the right direction; the pro-consumer direction, and EA should be as applauded for taking this step forward as they have been vilified for their numerous backsteps in recent years.
Photo courtesy Hector Alejandro