Online Passes and what now?

The gaming industry has an ongoing fight against it’s own customers. It also splits the customers into two camps, and when someone mentions the issue, there’s a good chance the debate gets really heated.

Online Pass: enclosed with games sold by stores, however limited by a one-time use. Sold directly to gamers via digital stores for those who decided to buy the game second-hand.

Season Pass: more often than not, not enclosed with the game. Offers a pack of DLC for lesser price.

Why did they introduce Online and Season Passes?
The issue is piracy. Some gamers are for various opinions on the game series or even the developer refraining from supporting the game by not buying it – yet wanting to play it. Other’s think the game is too expensive and don’t want to wait until the game hits a price they’re ready to pay. Others use piracy as a demo and support the developer later on when the game reach a price they think is fair.

On the game developers and publishers side, every game file copied are most of the time considered as a lost sale. While I tend to disagree, as the gamers who don’t want to support the developer just wouldn’t play their game, and the gamers who use piracy as a demo just would wait, maybe even longer, to buy the game, I kind of understand the developers and publishers sentiment. Sales the first month are crucial for the industry to earning the money they need to make the next game in line. To keep above red numbers. In todays gaming industry this is getting harder by the minute: Pre-orders on games aren’t needed (unless it’s collectors editions) and are even under fire for pre-order incentives in different retailers. Not to mention the growing competition by smaller studios – though this is a debate for another day.

When having internet in the home (and on home consoles) got the norm in most of the developed countries, two things happened. Developers pushed the game out a bit faster, to patch the game via updates later on. The other was an opportunity to earn a bit more money on the same game for a bit of work by making more stuff for their game after people have bought it.

Then the re-sale industry began to hurt the income. After that the economic crisis came and the gaming industry as a whole began to panic. The idea for Online Passes arose to do two things; to discourage consumers from buying games from re-sellers, or to buy the Online Pass in the digital stores so the developer could earn some money on each re-sold game. The developers and publishers simply can’t just boycott Gamestop, they need the exposure on street level.

Why gamers spoke up
Let’s start with the first and foremost, but also most childish, reaction. Money. Everyone wants stuff for free so you can spend your money on something else. In a perfect world money wouldn’t be needed and we would all work not for the sake of money but to help others. That’s not the case here. You need to earn money to make a living, to buy food, clothes, entertainment and a home. This goes for game developers too.

Some developers implemented Online Passes, while others saw the idea and awaited the reaction from consumers. The initial reaction was bland. Some did not care, as they already bought new games, so the Online Pass would be included anyway. Some – I’d go as far as to say the most core gamers out there – was yelling their lungs out online. Many of these gamers are playing games to a huge extent – to such a level, that it’s easy to argue that they were not working, or maybe only working for limited hours – to play games the rest of the time. Not working means less money, so many of these gamers would be using rental services or buy used and trade in the game when done with it. Online Passes meant they weren’t getting the full experience, they had to invest more money in the game as the first owner most of the time would redeem the Online Pass.

So the developers decided to retract Online Passes
Some developers decided to try something else, and introduced gamers to a new deal; Season Pass. This Pass would (and will for future games to come) include a bunch of DLC for the game. More often than not, all (or close to) DLC that would release the first year after the games’ release. That seem to fit more well into the consumers’ agenda and opinion of most gamers. Most games would not include Season Pass when buying from new, but this Pass would be cheaper than buying the DLC individually. The difference between these two Passes would be non-vital functions in the main game behind a paywall and additional content in one package for a lesser price than buying them one-by-one.

I was one of the few cheering them on about the Online Pass project as this would probably had been the savior for the gaming industry. If it weren’t for the pressure gamers put on the developers and publishers – and I wouldn’t be too surprised if Gamestop were in talks with them too – the extra money and the pressure on the used game sales industry (gamestop and publishers could probably had made a deal so Gamestop could slip in unused Online Pass codes with used games) would have had helped the gaming industry a lot in economic crisis.

In the end, developers and publishers as a whole, decided to close down the Online Pass project. Some, if not most or even all, did even make the download free or patched the game so it didn’t need the Pass and then removed it from the digital stores. There were a lot of cheering going on from gamers, however, I am sure the board meetings were less of a festive experience.

So what now?
So with Online Passes killed off, several CEO’s promising that they won’t be doing Online Passes anymore, and Season Passes supposedly sprouting up with every big game release, the game companies are still looking to increase their income. At this point I really can’t tell what it should be, not after Microsoft tried to implement a more controlled system (which, when I truly got to know the details they released after the facepalm inducing Xbox One reveal, I began to support) to help developers getting the money they deserved.

Season Passes are fine, a win-win situation. It commits the gamer to the game, to get back into it when new DLC (which the already own through the Pass) arrives, and it makes more people get more DLC, which in the end makes the developer and publisher earn more on the DLC side of things. Thinking about future possibilities, I can’t shake the feeling that they will push it as far as they can with as much redundant DLC (vehicles, clothes, skills, weapons) in the Pass as possible and make more interesting (missions, modes) DLC outside of the Pass.

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Remastering recent (up to 5 years old) games might be the new thing. But that can only last so long, as we’re getting more far from the new gen consoles release date by the minute. And you can’t (obviously) release the same game on the same console, and the consumers opinion and impression about game companies will also start to put pressure on stopping re-releases with minor improvements at some point. I am not supporting, neither against these remastered titles, as so many gamers out there was announcing that they were gonna change brand with the new generation, based on the failure the Xbox One reveal was. Some gamers was saying they were gonna get back into gaming after jumping one console generation (people got kids, decided they didn’t had time for gaming, but kids grow up and now they have more time on their hands) and that this new generation was alluring enough for them to try and invest in.

Publishers reacted to this and prepared for making some of the most popular titles in the last generation for the new generation consoles. And according to feedback, there’s no incoming shitstorm – yet.

It’s quite clear we’re leaning towards a digital-only distribution as every disc-release now gets a digital release on the same day, if not a day or two before. That will effectively kill off the used games market and also cut the costs of shipping. Those costs could go towards the digital distribution such as servers and internet connection.

Now, the big problem is the promotion of the games; it would easy for me to say that gaming and tech websites should be sufficient enough, but I know that would be wrong. I know that not everyone is following gaming news, even if they’re playing games every day, so there has to be an alternative way of reaching these people, and that would be television and newspapers. Both of those are quite expensive and suffers from the internet take over as well.

Now what? What will be the next step, the next initiative, from developers and publishers?

Written by

Getting sucked into games by Super Mario as a kid, gaming got on hold during her teens. Lured into gaming with the 7th generation by GTA IV, and a few years later intrigued by reviewing games, and now she's running gamingirl since 2009.
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