2011: The Year The Publishers Fought Back

The first thing that hit me as I entered the South Hall of Los Angeles’ Convention Centre at E3 this year was a gigantic screen showing footage of FIFA 12, accompanied by ridiculously loud music atop a stand that must have (literally) cost tens of thousands of dollars to build, nevermind staff and maintain.  And sure, the video migrated elsewhere as part of its raucous, dominating loop, but the segment that blasted out snippets of EA’s football game seemed ultimately pointless.

Personally, I could only wonder why?  The game wasn’t playable, at least not in any public capacity that would warrant such brutal exposure, few details were known about the game and – most crucially of all – a few yards to the left began the queue for a sneak peak at Battlefield 3.  Moments after E3 opened its doors that line of people was already offputtingly long, the initial stampede seemingly targeted solely at DICE’s admittedly rather impressive first person shooter.

[drop]The point, in retrospect, of this ballsy, expensive gesture was to show everyone that walked into the South Hall (which, along with the West Hall made up for about 80% of the show) that EA have all bases covered.  They’re prepared to not only shout about it, but also make sure that everybody listened: FIFA makes serious money, and it’s a good job, because this, along with pretty much everything else in downtown LA for those few days in June, must have cost an absolute fortune.

And so as the gaming industry manages to spend more and more on itself to attract more and more potential buyers of whatever this year’s big thing might be, so it must try new things to rake that expenditure back in.  Let’s make no bones about it – publishers aren’t your friends: their roles may vary from company to company, project to project, but if the end goal isn’t to ensure that their game gets onto the shelves and sold, in high numbers, they’re probably doing something wrong.

I’m not just referring to online passes, either, before you decide you’ve heard this one before.  The concept of paying an extra (for argument’s sake) £10 to get the most out of a game if I don’t buy it new (and having the potential resale value of anything I did buy new reduced) bothers me, by the way, but we’ve been over that before here.  I’m more interested in a rather more general look at what publishers are doing differently this year, and whilst this newfangled trend of codes-in-boxes appears to be taking hold like nothing else, it’s certainly not the only craze to stumble out of a boardroom.

It’s not the worst, either.  I’ve already voiced my concerns about what Capcom have done with the recent 3DS Resident Evil title (and voted with my wallet by staying well clear) but the apparent acceptance of this practice by all retailers bar a select few shows that not everyone feels the same way.  Does the general public appreciate that by buying Mercenaries 3D they’re showing the publisher that it’s alright to lock out the ability to clear the on-board save game, or will that realisation only take effect once they try to trade it in and realise it’s (potentially) not worth as much as they might have hoped?

Certainly, it doesn’t mention anything on the box, and the GAME I entered recently proudly had the game featured all too highly in their chart section.  The odd thing, picked up during the vitriol of the whole thing when it came to light a fortnight back, was that Capcom weren’t the first to do this – SEGA’s Super Monkey Ball 3D does exactly the same thing.  Nobody really seemed to care about that instance, though, and it seems that now any issues with either have been swept under the carpet.

[drop2]Of course, certain publishers are also keen to come up with ways to add extra value to their flagship games.  This year both Activision (with Call of Duty Elite) and EA (with Battlefield 3’s Battlelog) will try to ensure their games aren’t piled up in the pre-owned bins by making the online sections ‘sticky’.  By providing detailed, multi-game statistics tracking and the ability to keep up with the games on mobile devices, players will – hopefully – want to keep their first person shooter of choice and buy into long-tail DLC and subscription fees.

And speaking of DLC, this year saw the ‘freemium’ model turn into something that didn’t just populate Facebook.  Countless iPhone games have released with in-app purchases – the likes of Tiny Tower lets you play the game entirely for free, but at a much reduced pace than if you were to turn real cash into Tower Bux to accelerate various steps in the game.  Console DLC was once a laughing stock (anyone remember Oblivion’s horse armour?) but it’s now part and parcel of almost every game you buy, with many publishers holding back content so they can sell it on weeks and months after release.

But this wouldn’t be a comprehensive review of the changes publishers are making this year without looking back to the whole online pass situation.  It’s clearly there to reduce the second hand market, regardless of whatever PR line spouts forth, and on the whole it’s something I personally don’t really find much favour with.  It’s not just about having to pay extra if I rent a game, or buy it second hand, it also – on a few occasions – makes reviewing games considerably more difficult if a) we don’t get an online code pass or b) the Store isn’t up yet to buy our own.

But with publishers on the surface not making anything from the sales of pre-owned software (despite subjective opinion that suggests such a market keeps the industry buoyant and retailers in business) the concept of online passes is here to stay.

EA might have been the first out of the gate with ‘project ten dollar’ but they’ve been swiftly joined by other publishers (Codemasters went a little further than just locking out multiplayer – codes for DiRT 3 also included a car pack) and last week’s arrival of Sony to the scene cemented the notion firmly: online passes are going to be the medium-term future of the industry, and if you don’t like them there’s very little you can do apart from deciding not to buy any games sporting the system second hand.

Which, of course, might be exactly what those pesky publishers wanted.


  1. I don’t buy used games or anything, but having to pay an extra 10 is ridiculous just to get online. Maybe instead of forcing to pay for a part of the game, they make u pay to get some extras, or VIP stuff like in BFBC2

  2. Arc System Works and Konami also used the undeletable save thing. Can’t start fresh on BlazBlue Continuum Shift II or Pro Evo Soccer on the 3DS. Only reason why they haven’t gotten heat is because they didn’t tell anyone about it.

    >_> whoops, accidentally typed Fifa. ;P

  3. The thing that annoys me primarily is not the additional cost to me if I buy pre-owned but the depreciation of the game trade in price once I’m done with it. To be perfectly honest all the game tax does is make me wait a couple of months to buy a game when it’s price has dropped to less than the £10 they are charging to go online.

    • Buy new then everyone happy and enjoy your gaming!

    • and what about when we want to exercise our legal right to resell our games, they’re deliberately devaluing them.

      there’s got to be a law against that.

      and don’t say you don’t do it so it doesn’t matter, you’re not everybody.

      • Couldn’t care less about laws or fighting the power……you might wanna speak to anonymous about that!

        also as I said before that LEGALLY Sony are entitled to put a complete ban on resales as it say in there legal bounding t and cs that resale is prohibited…and a company like Sony will have every corner covered when it comes to legal battles not just your assumptions on hoe the legal system works

      • and it’s been shown to you that they don’t.

        there are signs in shops that say they don’t give refunds, but they know they cannot deny the customer their statutory rights, in fact, unless the law has changed, those signs are illegal i think.

        and are you really trying to defend this illegal war by saying you don’t care about the law?

        ok so given that the law states it’s not legal to take your stuff without permission, you would have no problem with somebody doing just that?

        you know you remind me of somebody, he used to be on the forums before he got banned for pointing out what a two faced sleaze MB was.

        he used to come up with the most ridiculous arguments to support his view that sony can do no wrong.

        i remember one occasion where he equated the relationship between sony and the customer like being lovers.

        anyway, here’s a little light reading.


        you may not care about the law, but the authorities do.

      • Fatty if Sony were to put in the T&Cs that by buying Uncharted 3 you agree to become slave, would they be able to force you to become their slave. No, they wouldn’t as slavery is illegal and no contract can ever overide the law in this country.

      • Hazelam, you’re missing a vital point in all this.
        You’re not buying, you’re selling. You’re not the consumer, the shop is.

      • i don’t get your point colmshan, my point is not who’s the consumer, but that when we buy a game, we become the owner and we are legally entitled to sell that copy, i should set up a some sort of macro for the explanation of that fact because i feel i have to keep repeating it so often.
        which i would say implies i’m fully aware that the consumer would be the store, or in the case of an private sale it would be another person.

        if you were referring to my linking the pages about the law, well that was me pointing out that that so called legal warning in the game manuals might actually be illegal, in that they’re claiming something that is simply not true.

  4. I do agree that the publishers are doing more then ever to try tone down the preowned market but retailers are also pushing preowned more than ever too.
    I personally always buy new and was in GAME the other day buying a new controller and Brink. The clerk offered me a preowned controller instead and a preowned version of the game. Then as i was leaving reminded me that I could trade the game back in when im done with it. It happens every time and its getting irritating… i know they are only doing their jobs but please

  5. Not a big online player so if this means pre-owned games are going to plummet in price after a few weeks then this is fantastic news for me. Will this mean your pre-owned copy of Fifa 2012 is worth more on Ebay/Game with an unused online code. Time will tell.

    Also, now Sony are doing this have Microsoft made any whispers on this, EA are doing it wholesale, must be a matter of time.

    • i think ms are in the unique position that they charge for online play anyway, so they don’t really need to.
      and they would be absolutely crucified if they introduced some sort of online pass.

  6. I don’t like where they could go with this, and it’s not only to do with games as it sets precedents that others will follow if successful.
    If they’re losing money it’s not from the development or publishing of the games, most of it will be down to marketing spending.
    Also the server/licence thing is a fallacy as the ownership is transfered, so it’s not like every 2nd hand copy sold adds another player to the pool.

  7. I barely touch the online mutliplayer of my games except for the odd meet. I always take advantage of a good deal but sadly retailers never seem to do a deal for new copies of games. I buy a lot of my games preowned due to how cheap they can be and if they are part of a deal.

    If they damage the preowned market,they could risk damaging themselves as i think 50% of tradeins are to help cover the cost of the newest game. Due to the reduced trade in value,there could be less sales.

    I do wish publishers would add an incentive to buy new other then online multiplayer. Such as free DLC.

    I really hope the Console games won’t end up with PC DRM as that has reduced the PC gaming market to where it requires either Steam or an online connection at all times.

    • And where did you get the 50% Mark from exactly?

      people who trade in…..more than likely buy more 2nd hand games as there cheaper…. It’s not rocket science!

      • where did you get the 9 to 1 ratio of how many times a game will be resold against how many times it’s bought new?

        and so what if they buy preowned with their trade, that’s their legally protected right to do so.

        the videogames industry however has no right to any money from preowned sales.
        and no right to prevent them.

      • The percentage of trade-ins that finance new purchases is actually usually estimated to be much higher. And people who trade-in are anecdotally thought to be more likely to buy brand new on launch weekend than those that refuse to trade in because they have more cashflow and value the objects involved in buying a game less and the immediacy more.

        Trading in and buying pre-owned are very different consumer tactics and as such, assuming they’re performed by the same people is very naive. Of course, the study of consumer behaviour is, by its nature, not very specific in localised instances but there are several generalities that it’s important to recognise before you begin to argue a point.

      • Hazelam it was an EXAMPLE that I clearly made up for the point I was trying to make AT that present time!

      • Colassalblue – would be interested to Read the sources you gathered you’re information from,

      • it’s funny how it’s ok when you do, but not anybody else.

        you skew the figure ridiculously upwards, and if anything steven skewed it downwards.

        and anyway, even if 100% of the people buyed preowned with their trade ins, they have the right to do so.
        just as they have the right to sell their games.

        even if the preowned sales didn’t benefit the publisher in any way, and that simply not the case, there is still nothing they have any right to do to prevent it.
        they got the fair share that they’re legally entitled to.
        and that’s all they have a right to.

        they can try to do deals with the retailers if they want, but they’re under no obligation to give them penny one.

      • @fattyuk, It was an example. I don’t know the actual percentage but as Peter said,it is usually estimated to be higher. I could have asked you the same on where you got the 9 to 1 ratio but i knew you were using an example.

        I agree with Hazelam on the publishers contacting the retailers bit. If they want the extra change then why not sit down with them and try to negotiate a deal. EG.5% cut of all preowned profits made. IMO at the rate the preowned market and companies focus are going, we are going to end up with DRM that limits the copy to one user. It has started to happen the DRM and has already punished the consumers. E.g. RE:M, the DRM in that has punished the gamers as they can’t start a new game or delete the current game. If PC DRM starts to appear then the console gaming market will suffer a lot. The preowned market would be destroyed by

      • @fattyuk, It was an example. I don’t know the actual percentage but as Peter said,it is usually estimated to be higher. I could have asked you the same on where you got the 9 to 1 ratio but i knew you were using an example.

        I agree with Hazelam on the publishers contacting the retailers bit. If they want the extra change then why not sit down with them and try to negotiate a deal. EG.5% cut of all preowned profits made. IMO at the rate the preowned market and companies focus are going, we are going to end up with DRM that limits the copy to one user. It has started to happen the DRM and has already punished the consumers. E.g. RE:M, the DRM in that has punished the gamers as they can’t start a new game or delete the current game. If PC DRM starts to appear then the console gaming market will suffer a lot. The preowned market would be destroyed by that and would affect the industry as everyone would wait for the price to go down or not buy the game at all.

  8. “… offers up a detailed, persistent statistics system as part of a subscription service.”

    This is actually free. The majority of Elite is free with some added subscription features offered for those that want more.

    I know I may sound like an Acti shill these days but, really, Elite is free with some paid extras. Not a subscription service with a smattering of free stuff.


    • Exactly, and Battlelog isn’t a subscription service at all, so the point made in the article about people being encouraged to buy subscription services and DLC because of stat-tracking isn’t entirely accurate.

      Sorry for the run-on sentence :P

  9. Good they deserve it the amount of hours I enjoy from my hobby is worth the money I invest!

    • Don’t like it don’t buy, or buy it an enjoy it……. That’s what life is about!

  10. 2013, the year one of the big publishers goes bust. When people don’t have the safety net of trading a game they dont like they won’t take as many risks and buy fewer games, without the ability to trade towards the cost of a shiny new title, people will buy fewer full price games and wait for price drops. High street stores will close, people will lose their jobs and will buy fewer games.

    The pre-owned Market is a necessary evil, the sooner people realise this the better, before the only games released in 2014 are COD, FIFA and Zumba fitness returns.

    • And then the big publishers go bust and no good gaming and the the pre owned Market moans.

      I’ll stay on my high horse and give my money to the devs who produce quality goods for me to enjoy!

      • I think you have difficulty differentiating between developers, who make the games you play, and publishers, who manufacture, market and distribute them.

        The greater portion of profits from online codes /probably/ go to publishers, with salaried developers seeing very little, if anything of the extra profit.

        Of course, there is an argument to say that if a Publisher doesn’t make profit, it goes bust and takes its studios with it – putting developers out of work. But that’s a difficult argument to substantiate with so much self publishing and digital distribution making developers increasingly more and more money.

      • if the publishers needs to break the law to stay in business, then they deserve to go bust.

      • you’re right collassalblue if Ik being truthful, what’s you’re thought on it all though? do you buy new or pre owned or do you think its a good or bye idea?

Comments are now closed for this post.