Guest Writer: Online Passes

Unless you’ve been completely avoiding the Internet recently you can probably tell that some people aren’t all that happy about online passes and first purchaser codes. Of course this typically comes from the consumer point of view. In this guest piece hotpotgamer takes a look at it from the retailer’s perspective.

Working in retail I have to put up with things I wouldn’t usually like. I have to stick up for products or services that, outside of work, I might not be interested in. One of the main things that seems to annoy myself and other people more than most at the moment is the Online Access Key or Online Pass. It’s called many things by many different publishers, but it all boils down to the same thing. If you want to play that product online, you have to pay for the privilege. Whether it be through buying the product brand new, or by purchasing a code for your pre-owned copy, it’s going to cost.

Its obvious that it all came about to stop the pre-owned market. Straight away it wasn’t an endearing decision from the customers or even the retailers points of view. As a customer it meant you were having to buy games brand new, when perhaps you used to wait a few weeks for a cheaper second hand copy. Alternatively you still got the pre-owned copy and then had to fork out another fiver for the online pass. It also meant that you got less on your game when you went to trade it in; stores know the game uses a code, and don’t want to pay as much for a game which might not be able to be played online.

As a retailer you have to take a position that makes you look like the bad guy, as the customer always seems to blame the retailer. I work in a store, and as the face of that store you have to take the brunt of it. It gets easier over time, but it’s difficult to explain to different people every single day. You just have to tell them the situation and offer them the PSN card, or the Xbox Live points so they can play online.

[drop]At the end of the day I have always felt that the approach that’s happening nowadays from the publishers is hurting the customer more than the retail sector. It was obviously aimed at the retail sector in the first place, yet as usual it’s the working man that gets hit in the pocket. The retailers aren’t going to let it cost them money, and that is what was always going to happen. The structure has changed so that the customer has to make the choice whether or not they want to fork out that extra money.

Recently it was announced that in Batman Arkham City, you couldn’t play as the promised Catwoman character without the one off code. Yes the code comes with a new copy, but Catwoman’s still has to be downloaded. It wouldn’t be so bad if this character hadn’t been promised for so long, just to be snatched away at the last minute.

What about the loyal customers who aren’t online? And there are plenty, trust me. How are they going to get the stuff that was promised to them for all that time? Publishers seem to be forgetting the offline community. I rarely sell any special editions to those customers any more, and they are getting more and more disillusioned with it all.  I understand that it’s done to get people to go online, but there are many people like those in the more rural areas that simply don’t want it, or cannot generate the internet speeds to make getting a console online worth it. They are the ones who should be able to trade their games in for more, as they haven’t used the online key, yet they are being made to suffer as they won’t get the better price.

At the end of it all, I am selling more new releases. In that respect it has worked. But I am also trading less things in, and ultimately selling less second hand stuff.  Yet what most people seem don’t seem to realise is that there is simply no profit in new release products. People moan about going into places and being sold extra products, but that’s due to having to sell the higher margin products to get the money in to buy more copies of new releases. Pre-owned always has been and always will be the main money maker for the retailers and, sooner rather than later, the chain of events will lead to retailers putting prices up more and more.

We recently saw Asda slightly change their pricing structure for new releases, as they have suddenly realised people aren’t going in and buying a game with their weekly shopping, they are just going in and buying a game and going. Obviously this was costing them money, and now the prices are more in line with the High Street retailers.  I don’t really know where it’s going to end, and it’s obviously worrying from a career point of view, but for the most part, I just want the customers to be able to buy what they want without being punished in the wallet.



  1. Good article. Sadly it looks like these passes are here to stay & I wonder if the publishers realise they’re harming the shops that actually sell there games? Or is that what they want? Interesting point about special editions selling less as half the contents are redeemable codes.

  2. The lower my trade-in value the less likely I am able to afford a new game.

    • If people trade in their second hand games to buy even more second hand games then only the retailer wins. I hear this argument so often but publishers and devs don’t get a cent if that trade in goes towards a new copy which is what people are most likely to get if they already have to rely on trade ins to afford their gaming.

      • new copy = used copy in last sentence…

  3. Interesting article. I too have various thoughts about online passes but I still slightly disagree with the idea that customers could wait a few weeks and buy the same game second-hand cheaper. Second-hand pricing is messed up at many high-street stores, and has been long before online passes were invented.

    I remember questioning the staff at GAME when CoD4 had been out nearly a year, new copies were £39.99, pre-owned £44.99. That made no sense whatsoever and only served to put customers off buying second hand, you can see it for yourself today – last time I was in Deus Ex ltd ed was £19.99 and the pre-owned standard copies were £24.99. If the profit margins are so much higher on preowned why don’t they push them? Nowadays most customers are waiting a week or two and getting the same game brand-new much cheaper.

    Online passes are an annoyance in many ways and the argument supporting them, whilst it sounds straight-forward is flawed. If 1,000 people buy a game I have to ensure my servers have capacity for 1,000 this isn’t free and comes out of my development budget. Pre-owned players shouldn’t get a slot as I haven’t been paid for it. Really? Are you sure? If 500 people sell their copy to 500 new people do I suddenly need 1,500 server spaces? No. Why? Because the original 500 don’t have access anymore. I still require 1,000 server slots and I’ve been paid for 1,000.

    I understand the rural argument and these people don’t need online passes as they won’t be playing online, I completely disagree with locking single player content. Maybe publishers should do a small run of ‘rural editions’ lmao.

    • Free Catwoman DLC with every tractor?

    • You would need 1,500 server places for those 1,000 discs.
      Why? Because that’s how many online profiles there would be.
      EA can’t differentiate between whether I sold a game or left it on my shelf, therefore they can’t delete my account if I stop playing.
      If I go back to the online over a year later (and I have done) I have to be able to continue from where I was.

      • But the infrastructure wouldn’t need to support 1,500 simultaneous players would it? Profiles are one thing, actual matchmaking servers etc are entirely different. Online passes exist on 360 and ps3 too so the free provision of online play doesn’t affect the passes value. Plus when I go back in a year, won’t I have had to buy yet another copy that someone else is no longer playing?

      • how much space does a player profile take up anyway?
        so, are players paying for ea to save their game for them then?

        and if players are in effect paying for access to that server, why do they never reimburse players when they shut the server down or they can’t access them.

        and i’ve read about player profiles being gone after not accessing the servers for a few months.

        anyway, assume for the sake of argument you’re right, tell me, what justifies a pass for single player content when the developer/publisher is no longer providing any kind of ongoing service?
        and no, hosting the content is not a valid reason, giving you a way to get the content you paid for is not a service they’re providing, it’s an obligation they owe to you.

        why do they feel they have a right to profit from preowned sales in that instance?

      • Dude, EA don’t have to hold accounts if they don’t want to. It is their choice to, and if they wanted to optimize their servers they could even get rid of any game specific accounts when the game is owned by another person, or after a specific period of time. Additionally, the cost is incredibly small. It’s not about servers, but pre-owned sales.

      • Colm that’s just funny mate. If you’re going to be an apologist for this stuff at least try to build on a solid foundation. Server space is a very different thing to a database of player profiles.

    • It works the same for single player too. If 500 sell their copy they are no longer able to enjoy playing the game. It’s like the publishers think we just want to own the games rather than play the things.

  4. Absolutely superb article. It doesn’t offer any real remedies (and I appreciate that wasn’t your goal) but what it does provide is a completely different perspective and one I’m genuinely grateful for.

    This year’s “tactics” have ranged from “meh, I could deal with that” to “you have to be fu**** kidding me!” and it’s the latter that drives me away from gaming.

    I’m not a hardcore gamer but I love my games. I’m the right age with the disposable income and Sony (as well as devs) need to pay attention. I didn’t buy the PS3 at launch because it was too expensive (for me). I’m sitting here without a preorder of Uncharted 3 and I really don’t know when I’ll get around to it. That simply isn’t “me” talking and the online pass situation has truly started to change my attitudes to it as an enjoyable pastime.

    Once again – great article. Thank you.

  5. I do find it interesting when these discussions occur, they focus on only two options : buy new full price, or wait and get second hand cheaper but get stung for an online code.
    There’s a third option – wait and buy new, cheaper.
    Yesterday I picked up Driver SF for £25. It’s only a month or so old, yet I still get my online code. Retailer still gets their cut, everyone’s a winner ;)

    • That’s generally my decision nowadays.

    • It’s a great point. Vote with your wallet and don’t buy at launch. If they see more and more people waiting a month or two then they’ll need to rethink their strategy to get us to buy their games that much sooner.

      • It is a good point, but I can see the downside of this being that new games will start to hold their price better, and won’t come down so quickly. Hopefully I’m wrong tho as this is how I get most of my games now.

      • Yea, I see what you’re saying and I agree. However, the price of games drop rapidly at the moment partly in order to compete with the pre-owned market (and new titles obviously, but they dont come along as regularly).

        But if this practice continues and they manage to reduce the pre-owned market, there is no incentive for price drops to occur as quickly. Again, a win/win for publishers.

        Either way you look at it, it’s us the consumer that ends up paying the price in the end.

    • assuming the game is still supported and the content is still available.
      now that’s not likely to be an issue for this game but it will for some.

      and no matter how much you pay if you buy it and it promises certain things and you don’t get them you’re still getting ripped off.

      • and that doesn’t change the fact the publishers think ownership only applies to them.

        they need to learn they’re in error.

  6. Agreed. Interesting article Hotpotgamer. It is certainly ineteresting to see the argument from a retailers perspective as we normally only see it from our side or the publishers side.

    Coming to contribute on a dedicated gamers site, I would imagine that many of us here realise that the retailers are the ones who are stuck in the middle of all this. Can I ask if you are part of a chain store or an independant seller? As always it will be the independants (who I try to support as much as I can) who are least able to absorb any changes in the cost of doing business.

    Ultimately, it’s the nature of the media that allows this kind of practice to exist in the first place. i.e the on board memory storage of consoles themselves. It comes down to publishers wanting to charge everyone who uses their products, in contrast to EVERY other industry who are only able generate income from those who buy their products directly.

    It wouldn’t be so bad if consumers actually had some choice of where and how they could obtain this additional content. This would at least generate some form of competition, which would affect pricing. As it stands, we are forced to pay the price publishers demand, and there’s not a damned thing we can do about it. It’s this more than anything else that rubs me the wrong way.

    Still, I thank you for your input. Hopefully it will generate some interesting discussion.

  7. Great article and nice to hear a different perspective. At the moment it’s the customers who are getting the worst deal out of things but i think that ultimately it’s the developers and publishers who will suffer in the long term… at least i’m hoping it’ll come back and bite them on the ass.. :)

  8. there was always the argument with online passes that they were to support an ongoing service the developer/ publisher was providing as they were for the online portion that needed servers, even if they were only matchmaking servers and all the games were player hosted.

    maybe they have a right to put online passes in games, but then i have a right to refuse to support games that have them.

    but with this latest thing, there is no ongoing service they’re charging for, their work is done, and they’ve gotten paid for it when the game was bought new.
    nobody has yet explained why the publisher deserves to keep getting paid despite not doing any more work.

    people say they just want to make some money from preowned sales, but they always neglect the fact that they have no right to.
    they got their recompense for handing over a copy of the game, that copy now belongs to the person who paid for it.
    no, a license agreement doesn’t invalidate our statutory rights.
    so long as we stay within the law we’re under no obligation to give the original creator a penny.
    they were justly rewarded when we bought the game from them in the first place.

    and this “it’s pure profit for the store” line people use is guff too.
    they have to give us something in return for us giving them our copy of the game.
    the stores have to buy the game before they can sell it.
    that is not pure profit.
    it’s probably more than with a new game but it’s still not 100% profit.

    if the stores don’t give the previous owners enough, and i know that happens, then that’s between the customer and the store, it has nothing to do with the publisher, they can’t suddenly be concerned for us only when it suits them.

    and given the short sighted greed the publishers never take into account the benefits of the preowned market, that has run alongside gaming for most of it’s life and i have no doubt helped gaming become the behemoth it is right now, outmatching the film and music industries.

    like trade ins usually going towards new games, and preowned sales profits subsidising new games selling for less than rrp.
    i don’t know, but i doubt the publishers are taking the reduction from the rrp out of their cut.

    if they got their way, we wouldn’t be able to trade old games and new games would cost more.
    the end result, less new games sold.

    if they want to profit from the preowned market the only way they have any right to so is if they buy back the games themselves and sell them on.

    another thing i hate about this anti preowned war the industry is embarking on is that it will destroy the history of gaming for the future.

    i love that i can dig out my NES and play super mario bros, or dig out my megadrive and play sonic.
    or my ps1 and play ff vii.
    that’s the history of gaming there.
    imagine 20 years from now people want to try the games from this period.
    from the start to the late naughties would be there but then everything will be a blank until the a year or two back from whatever the year is then.
    nobody has any idea how they got from what we have no, to whatever they’re playing then.

    can you imagine how much poorer culture would be if the same thing happened with music or films or books?

    no Shakespeare, no Mozart, no Chaplin.

    anyway, i’ve gone on enough, i’m gonna play some minecraft.
    a game that bucks industry trends and not only gives buyers the whole game they paid for but actually more, and it’s true add on content, not just what was chopped out sell later or removed to profit from our property.

    oh, one last thing, i thought i wouldn’t be able to find the link before i posted this but i did.

    my respect level for rocksteady went down a further few notches with this news.

    “A number of Batman: Arkham City users are reporting that they are suffering from corrupt DLC error messages on both Xbox 360 and PS3, but Rocksteady Studio’s Sarah Wellock says this new problem is on Microsoft and Sony’s side, not the developer’s.”
    they support the buyers not owning their purchases but now they’re abdicating responsibility when people even get the content at all because their game doesn’t work properly.

    no matter what happens, any future batman games from this studio and this publisher is automatically on my list.

    ok, that really is the end this time. ^_^

    • Never thought of the impact it would have on the retro market of the future. Eventually these publishers will stop producing codes for the games, or they could close down. How would we get to play the games then?

  9. when do we get to see the results of TC’s massive poll anyway?

    i can’t believe i just typed that. O_O

    • I’m a little shocked… Oo

    • Can’t quite believe I’m gonna say it either:

      I want to see the results of TC’s massive poll too!

    • Haha

    • i really hope TC is happy now, everybody is obsessed with his poll. o_O

  10. Do you get asked about Online Passes a lot?

    • I assume they do, which must get preety frustrating for them.. But then again it’s part of their job I guess? It’s unfortunate that these online passes are here to stay, really not a fan of them.

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