The act of charging $10 to play a used video game online is slowly spreading through the video game industry, with Ubisoft becoming the latest publisher to sign on.
Starting with Driver: San Francisco, Ubisoft will require a voucher, cutely called a “Uplay Passport,” to play its most popular new console games online. One voucher is included with each new copy of the game. Buyers of used games will have to pay $10 for a new voucher.
This trend began with Electronic Arts, which started requiring “Online Passes” for some of its games last year. THQ quickly followed with its own $10 voucher program, and Warner Bros. started requiring a $10 online pass with the launch of Mortal Kombat in April. Sony took a different approach with SOCOM 4, charging used game buyers for extra multiplayer features, but now plans to launch its own $10 voucher program, called PSN Pass, with the launch of Resistance 3 in September.
The rationale from publishers is clear: If you buy a used game, you enjoy the benefits of an online service without paying a dime to the game’s creators. An online pass is one way for publishers to recoup costs from used game sales.
Still, I’ve yet to see any evidence that online vouchers are money makers. Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter has said that GameStop hasn’t seen any impact on used game sales. EA revealed last August that 60 to 70 percent of EA Sports players redeemed their Online Passes, but hasn’t said how many used game buyers are spending $10 for new passes. If this system is successful, publishers certainly aren’t bragging about it.
On Twitter, my fellow games writer Peter Skerritt had a theory: These online vouchers are just the first step toward charging a recurring fee (say, semi-annual) for online multiplayer. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.