Warner Bros. may be the next video game publisher to show its disdain for used games by punishing the people who buy them.
A memo from Warner to retailers, leaked to Joystiq, says Mortal Kombat will require an online pass to play over Xbox Live or the Playstation Network when the game launches on April 19. The pass is included with new copies of the game, but owners of used copies will have to purchase passes for $10, the memo says. Warner may also require an online pass for F.E.A.R. 3 and Batman: Arkham City, which launch in May and October, respectively.
This isn’t a new idea. Electronic Arts and THQ started requiring online passes for some of their games last year. But Warner will reportedly take a different approach: Instead of warning buyers about the online pass requirement on the game box, Warner is simply informing retailers of the used version’s limitations in hopes that retailers will pass that information along to their customers.
If true, it’s a subtle but important distinction. With the onus on retailers to tell players about the online pass, buyers may feel pressured to buy a new copy or the pass itself at the cash register. This wouldn’t surprise me, given my experience with paywalls while renting EA’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Dead Space 2. The two-day online trials they offer are ineffective lures, because you’re playing on EA’s time instead of your own, and the whole transaction comes across as a cold-hearted shakedown for more cash. Warner, which will also reportedly use a two-day trial within its games, would do well to encourage more sales up front.
That’s not to say I like the online pass concept. I prefer incentives to buy a game new than disincentives to buy it used, but publishers, it seems, are growing impatient with pre-order bonuses and free downloadable content. The online pass is sticking around for now.