Well, the Online Pass is no more. EA finally listened to us, right? It’s because of feedback from the gaming public that this lame business practice has been put to rest, right? It must be because their staunch fans really didn’t like it, even though it’s taken a good few years of steady complaints before the practice was canceled. It’s probably not because they’re branching out into new and exciting ways to pry our wallets open, dabbling in microtransactions while they wait for a certain console to apply online passes wholesale (although if Microsoft couldn’t be backpedaling any harder from most of what it said yesterday). Honestly, when EA tells me they’re changing a policy because it wasn’t popular with its customers, I start wondering where the knife is going to go next.
EA is a company that’s willing to try just about anything to make some money off of us, so when they cancel the Online Pass program I wonder what they’re really up to. Part of me thinks it’s possible that the program wasn’t making as much money as they thought it was going to. I’m not really surprised. I know a lot of people buy sports games in order to play them online against other people, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are a lot of customers out there who just can’t afford to buy these games new. Forcing them to buy them new to play online is a nice idea for EA, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is a large customer base that can only afford used. You can get mad at these guys as much as you like for not supporting the developers and publishers, but they just don’t have the money. Also, they’re just as entitled to play games as the rest of us.
If used games had never existed, I wouldn’t be playing video games now. I won’t argue that places like Gamestop haven’t taken the used market and run it into the ground, but there is still, and always will be, a place in the market for used games. This isn’t exactly a hobby that many people start off as an adult, after all, and not every one of us had parents that were willing to buy the newest game on the shelves. Most of us had to save for entire summers doing yard work just to buy one brand new game, so if an option came along that let us buy more games for cheap then you can believe we hopped on board. Right up until I hit the job market, it just wasn’t practical for me to buy a new game when I could buy four to six used ones.
It’s funny, because that ended up creating a long term investment for many of the game companies I support now. I never would have bought the last three Devil May Cry games if I hadn’t picked up someone’s old copy of it for ten bucks a few years ago. Even funnier is that I can’t say if I would have bothered with it if there had been features that were locked out by some online pass. I have a huge problem with buying games that are functionally incomplete, so knowing going into it that I was missing something might have stopped me from bothering with the franchise and therefore cost developers three new game sales.
I’m wondering if that’s a part of what has happened here. Has the advent of Online Passes meant that a whole section of used game purchasers just aren’t seeing the value of buying games from EA anymore? Sure, they went in knowing that they were buying copies that lacked online features, but the memories of playing those incomplete games is what remains. If our only experience with a game is in constantly feeling like we’re missing out on something, that’s what we’ll think about when picking up the game again. If looking at an EA title just makes me think of the days when I wasn’t having much fun with my game back when I bought it used as a kid, it’s not making me want to open my wallet to buy one when I can afford it.
So, with Online Passes you end up with the newest generation of gamers thinking about how they’d been screwed over for buying things used. Maybe some of them will buy the new games anyway, knowing that they only lacked features because they bought used, but maybe there’s another group that doesn’t have enough good memories with the franchise to bother wanting to pick them up. Maybe this group has no memories of having a ball playing a game of Madden online. Maybe when they think back to the franchise they’re just indifferent. That complete used copy could have gone a long way to creating some good memories in a young player with little cash; maybe turning that player into a future customer. EA’s concern with the short-term goal of forcing more people to buy the game new has torpedoed that possibility, though.
That line of thinking continues with microtransactions, always seeing what can be cut from a game and sold later rather than thinking about how more value can be added. Customers want to see value in their purchases, and constantly reminding them that they bought an inferior product that’s being sold to them piecemeal isn’t going to accomplish that. I don’t know how many people are starting to feel this way, but I imagine if EA is willing to cancel a policy that they’ve admitted was making them money then something noticeable must be happening.
EA is pretty short on good will from its customers right now. It won the honor of being the worst company in America for the second year in a row, its Online Passes and microtransactions are constantly being harped on by people like myself, many gamers outright despise Origin, and the SimCity launch of a little while ago was a complete disaster. This is not a company that has ever shown anything but contempt for its customer base, treating us like the inconvenient by-product of being in the game industry. We’re a group to be controlled and monitored, not one to be catered to. It might seem like dropping the Online Pass is their way of showing us that they’re changing, but I have a hard time believing it.
The past few years have shown me that EA absolutely does not care about its customers. That’s a proven track record that’s downright undeniable, and I don’t think they’re quite ready to learn their lesson yet. What they are probably learning is that maybe, just maybe, being hated by everyone who plays games (and with good reason) is not a good way to conduct business. It’s not quite the same as caring about the customers, but it is enough to make them think that they have to at least act like they care. So, what do they do? Maybe take down one of their more unpopular policies, letting it fall by the wayside for a couple of months while all of the new consoles make their appearances. Let the excitement over the new systems blow away any existing bad press for a little while, and then maybe throw in something to add value to a new game that’s coming out. Once the internet’s fickle attention is the other way, then you can get right back to business as usual.
I could be completely wrong, though, but I doubt it. EA has been spearheading most of the anti-consumer items I’ve hated most in this console generation, so I don’t quite believe it when they started supporting their customers. It strikes me more that the policy wasn’t working or that this is just a quick PR stunt, nothing more. This is one of those things that time will show us the truth on, though, but in the meantime I’m going to enjoy the fact that someone buying a used game is going to get a complete copy for a change. Maybe, just maybe, someone in the company will notice a sales spike a few years down the road and think about all the gamers it impressed by trying to appeal to them for a change.
A man can dream, can’t he?
Images courtesy of destructoid.com, ign.com, knowyourmeme.com