EA Sports Online Pass Thoughts

Posted May 11th, 2010 at 1:20 pm

The announcement of the EA Sports “Online Pass” has resulted in a fairly mixed reaction. Some are understanding of the situation in which this was born out of while others are taking offense to the idea in general. I’ve put together some various thoughts on what the “Online Pass” means and where it could lead. Feel free to continue to leave your thoughts in the comments!

The industry has been headed this direction for some time
Used game sales have cut into profits so severely that gaming companies have resorted to pre-order incentives, downloadable content, and packed in codes to compensate. EA Sports has used the code in new copies tactic in several of their games the last couple years, though it has been tied to individual online related features and not all of online. Other companies, such as Activision, have discussed similar possibilities and gone as far as to suggest they may go to a subscription method for online play.

The end to Gamestop pre-order incentives?
How does EA now justify having a course that is exclusive to Gamestop pre-orders for Tiger 11? That had been in place for a a while, so from here on out we may not see those Gamestop pre-order incentives tied in with EA Sports games.

The “Online Pass” is described as offering access to bonus content. The examples listed so far include an advanced driver in Tiger 11 and Teambuilder slots and Dynasty reports for NCAA Football 11. Those are items that would typically fit as pre-order tie-ins. EA now has a built-in buy new incentive, so anything further would be completely ridiculous and favoritism towards a single outlet.

Rentals become true rentals
Gamefly has provided the opportunity to rent a game and keep it for as long as desired. Gaming companies are not making money off those consumers. It is one thing to rent for what amounts to a trial period, to judge the game and see if it is worth buying. However many have just rented and used that as their ownership period. EA Sports is providing a seven day online trial period with each game. So a rental is now an actual rental, with gamers having the ability to try out the complete set of features for a week at no cost.

It isn’t going smoothly for anyone who rents movies from outlets like Netflix (which uses a similar structure as Gamefly) and Redbox. Studios have instituted a month long wait period before copies of the movies can be rented. That month is then used to try and push sales. At least, for the time being, everyone will have access to rentals as soon as the games come out. There could be the day where that happens to the gaming side of rentals too.

Consumer awareness should be high
While used games theoretically should have had lesser value since EA has been tying features to codes in new copies, Gamestop being the biggest culprit never felt inclined to communicate those details. They continued to sell used copies at $5 less than new, knowing that consumers would get the games home only to find out they need to pay more for certain features.

Now it will be unavoidable. Gamestop or anyone selling used copies will need to communicate that online play would cost an extra $10. They will probably then use this as an opportunity to sell XBL/PSN cards to make up the difference. EA Sports has, at the very least, been up front with this initiative and wants full awareness of what it means.

Attempting to build on sales
Theoretically consumers who rent or buy used are seen as potential sales for the future. Some might think this alienates them and makes them less likely to buy. I just don’t think that is the case with gaming. Renters rent and used game buyers grab used. NCAA Football is the only yearly series from EA Sports that has seen sales dropping, but the other titles are not growing at the rate expected based on increased user base for the consoles.

Increased ease of rentals and purchasing used copies is certainly a factor in that. The question is whether those people care enough to buy new copies, or if online is important enough to them to shell out the $10.

Resale values will drop accordingly
Knowing that it will cost $10 more to get online play with a used copy of the game, those copies will end up selling for less than they would have in the past. So, those who want to pick up the game used will be spending approximately the same amount that they always have. The difference is $10 will be going into the pocket of EA and not the store or individual seller. This does affect those who buy the game new though, as when it comes time to sell it they will be getting less back for it.

Paid DLC becomes tougher sell
The “Online Pass” is being touted as providing access to all online related features and bonus content. That will make it more difficult to explain off charging for downloadable content. The AFL DLC from Madden 10 is a good example of something that people would now be rightfully expecting to get for free. That being said, I don’t see this being the end of paid DLC. They will just have to be more creative with what is offered.

Could possibly discourage cheating
If EA Sports were to monitor cheating and intentional disconnects they could ban “Online Pass” accounts. That person would then need to pay another $10 to get online. Obviously EA would have incentive as this would make them money. At the same time that could benefit gamers if cheaters realized their actions could cost them. This of course would depend on EA taking hard action against those responsible, which is something that has not been done well in the past.

Entering a code for every game will be annoying
Anyone who puts in codes on the 360 knows what a tedious process that is. Make a mistake on one letter and it becomes an investigation to figure out what is off. It only takes a minute or two sure, but it still is an extra step for consumers that they haven’t needed to take in the past.

The big concern: roster updates
EA does make mention that non-Season Pass gamers could have “some online features available”. Hopefully roster updates will fall under that umbrella. They are too much a staple of sports gaming to restrict. If roster updates are not offered to everyone then backlash would certainly be justified.