EA came up with an idiotic idea to raise a little money for server costs on their sports games: they’re going to charge $10 for a “one-time pass” into the multiplayer portions of the titles. People who buy the games new will get a one-use code that lets them in, but anyone buying the game used will have to pay an extra $10 on top of that for online gameplay.

EA’s case for this sounds somewhat legit: online costs have gone up, they’re doing things like constant team updates and regular online events in addition to regular online multiplayer, and they need some way to keep that going. Additionally, given that these sports games are released yearly, there’s a huge amount of back catalog used sales that they’re not making any money on, and charging for this pass is designed to let them do that. Plus, let’s be honest, they need the money. EA isn’t the company it once was, and games are more expensive than ever.

So why is this a bad idea?

It hurts used game buyers. Bare minimum, there’s a $10 fee that anyone who buys a used game has to play if they want in on the multiplayer, a feature that they used to get for free. And it’s not just Gamestop — if I trade games with my friends or pick them up on Craigslist, I have to pay that fee as well. I follow games, so I already know this fee is coming, but imagine the customers who have no idea about this change, pick up Tiger Woods from their friends for the $30 they have to spend on a game that month, and come home only to find that they can’t play a tournament online because they have to pay another ten bucks. That’s a bad customer experience, and especially if EA is talking about standard online features that most games these days come with, it’s a ripoff.

It hurts new game buyers. Obviously used owners are the ones targeted by this fee, but if I buy a game new, it hurts me, too. The second I use the code I get with my new game, it’s worth at least $10 less than what it would have been. And if I happen to have two consoles in the house (maybe one for me and one for the girlfriend or my son), we have to pay an extra fee to go online with the same game. I was planning on buying Tiger Woods 2011 this year, to play it with my friend online. And now, I won’t: buying an EA game that requires this pass will cost me money later, and could cause headaches right now. What if my code doesn’t work? What if their servers go down? What am I getting for my money?

It’s desperate. EA needs to raise money? Fine, raise it on features that are new, not features that we’ve had for years. Come up with something worth charging for — Mass Effect 2 already did this (and it’s actually kept me from buying that game so far), and instead of marking it as a must-pay fee, they’ve turned it into a way to release new free content. Almost all of the DLC items so far have come out for free, making that $10 that I would pay with a used game actually worth something. But just charging $10 to play online, something that we’ve already had for years, is dumb.

And if EA needs to charge for money for the same thing because they’re not making enough on their yearly sports rehashes, maybe they should invest their money more wisely.

Does any of my complaining matter? Probably not — people who buy Madden new will still buy it new, and they’ll never see the $10 charge (they’ll just put in their pass and go). Sports is a weird genre in video games, too — for all I know, most of the people who buy used EA games never bother to play them online anyway, so maybe they won’t even bother paying the $10 fee even if they’re asked to. I’m sure there are guys who buy last year’s Madden who don’t ever bother to play it online, just want it for a few football parties with their friends at home.

In other words, this will probably work (and like Mass Effect 2, we’ll see it implemented on more EA titles, and even other companies’ games in the future). But as always, I’ll vote with my wallet — if you don’t think EA should pull stuff like this, you need to make the choice not to buy their games and not to give them money. Companies keep doing what sells, so if you’re angry about a decision made by a game company, you need to look at your library first and see how much of your money they’ve made. I’m not organizing a boycott or anything — you do what you want to do, and if this type of thing flies (ie, people pay the fees), it’ll keep showing up. But I pay money for games and deals I think are worth it, and this isn’t one of those.

Posted on Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 at 3:07 am. Filed under general.
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