Back when Electronic Arts started charging used game buyers $10 extra to play its sports games online, I figured that was just the beginning. Sure enough, over time the “Online Pass” concept has spread to multiplayer gaming in general, and to several other publishers.
Now, EA is taking the idea one step further with the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, an upcoming RPG that’s getting a lot of hype. People who buy the game new will get a voucher to download seven additional single-player quests for free. Folks who buy a used copy will have to pay extra for those quests.
Curt Schilling, head of Amalur developer 38 studios–and yes, also the former Major League Baseball pitcher–defended the online pass before a mob of angry forum posters, calling it a reward for early adopters instead of a punishment for used game buyers. He seems sincere, but regardless of how the news is spun, the end result is the same: If you buy used, you get an incomplete game. (Also, if you buy new, but don’t connect your console to the Internet, you get an incomplete game.)
I’ve seen no evidence that publishers’ crusade against used games will stop here. In the future, we may see meatier portions of single-player games withheld from people who buy used. We are, at most, a couple steps removed from having a game’s concluding chapters held at ransom.
This issue will eventually resolve itself, as future gaming systems emphasize downloadable or streaming games over disc-based content. But in the meantime, it’s going to get ugly.
Funny, though, how Schilling seems to understand the pointlessness of Online Passes, even as he argues in their favor: “We MUST make a profit to become what we want to become,” he wrote. “THE ONLY way we do that is to make games you CANNOT WAIT TO BUY!”
Bingo. Do that, and the Online Pass becomes irrelevant.