Starting with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, players will need an “Online Pass” to enjoy the game over Xbox Live or the Playstation Network. These passes are included with new copies of the game, but used buyers will have to purchase another pass for $10. All EA Sports games for Xbox 360 and PS3 will require an online pass from now on.
Sony did something similar with SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3, including a voucher for online play in the retail packaging and charging $20 for replacement vouchers. Sony said it was only trying to stop piracy, but EA doesn’t hide its disdain for used game sales. “We want to reserve EA SPORTS online services for people who pay EA to access them,” the company said in an Online Pass FAQ page.
EA previously experimented with innocuous ways to encourage new games sales. New buyers of Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2, for example, received free bonus content that used buyers had to purchase separately. Online Pass promises bonus features for new game buyers as well, but it takes the idea one giant leap further by withholding a core part of the game.
The writing’s on the wall: Gradually, publishers will begin locking up more of what’s on the game disc until there’s no advantage to buying used. It started with bonus content, now it’s multiplayer, and pretty soon it’ll be the whole game. EA’s justification for Online Pass — that it deserves to be paid — really applies to all game development, so you’re kidding yourself if you think the trend stops at online sports games. Want to play the final chapter of your second-hand first-person shooter? There’s an access code for that.