October 14, 2011, 22:00

‘Online Passes’, You Have Gone Too Far

By David Howard, Editor-in-Chief and Founder

Picture this if you will. Having parted with your money for one of the hottest releases of the year, you slide in the disc, hit the start button and begin your adventure. Only it’s not the complete adventure. Why? Well, because you didn’t enter you “First Purchaser” code. Oh, not to worry. As a first-time purchaser the code is sitting peacefully on a slip in the box. You grab the glossy sheet, go to type in the twelve or twenty digit code depending on your console of choice, only to then remember that you don’t have access to the Internet. What a rarity you think, someone without a connection to the world-wide web in this day and age – especially considering you own a current-gen console. Then you remember that like there are another half a million students attending University for the first time in the just the UK, the majority of whom won’t have the ability to connect their beloved consoles to the Internet whilst in student halls. Bugger.

The actual volume of people this will directly affect aside, the new “First Purchaser” code for Batman: Arkham City crosses a line. Whilst we’re well into a phase where online passes and activation codes for online portions of the game are becoming commonplace, the notion of having to unlock a section of your single-player campaign is outright disgraceful. You have already parted ways with the sum of more than six-and-a-half hours of minimum waged work, you should expect to get one hundred percent of what you’ve paid for, not ninety percent – as is the case with the exclusion of Catwoman from next week’s Arkham City release.

Online Passes, You Have Gone Too Far

When they were first introduced, online passes were disguised under the thin veil of ‘additional costs’ for maintaining servers and whatnot – something that was rather transparent, given that for someone to purchase the game second-hand in the first place, someone else must no longer be playing it and therefore not using that particular online space. However, we’ve recently seen them become almost a staple part of releases, with it now more unlikely for a game not to have one.

“If you are unable to access the entirety of your legally bought and paid for game whilst offline then there is something fundamentally wrong with the way in which this industry conducts itself and treats its gamers.”

This is where it gets tricky for me personally, see, I don’t buy pre-owned games. No idea why, perhaps it’s an intrinsic nature of enjoying something new, who knows. This means that the ‘online pass’ issue is one I’ve rarely come to horns with. That said, I’m still not their biggest fan. I understand developers and publishers frustrations at the pre-owned market, however, taxing the consumer is not a conducive avenue to go down. The complaint, which is by all means perfectly valid, is that the retailer actually gets a bigger cut from a second sale than they do with the first. So why then are publishers and developers not finding more effective ways of combating that, rather than taking the easier route at charging potential customers.

There’s a financial angle to this particular scenario as well. As a ‘pass’ that ‘unlocks’ access to a portion of the game that is “approximately ten percent” of the overall campaign, as claimed by the developer, why is the price not comparable? Why, when even when comparing the recommend retail price – which no one in their right mind would pay, is the cost of the pass not also ten percent? Really, if all we’re doing is ‘unlocking’ content, then the pass should be no more than £4.99, not the £7.99 that it will actually set you back.

If you are unable to access the entirety of your legally bought and paid for game whilst offline then there is something fundamentally wrong with the way in which this industry conducts itself and treats its gamers. Granted, I don’t mean to generalise as this is only an isolated incident so far – unless you count the withholding of certain cars from DiRT 3, or the multiplayer bonus that Mass Effect 3 is set to bring – but, as with online passes themselves, it only takes one. The first one to set off a chain reaction in which other publishers and developers will follow suit.

Online Passes, You Have Gone Too Far

“Somehow it is us, the customer, who is getting shafted every which way, and it has to stop.”

This is model that punishes only us gamers. Second-hand buyers, those than rent games, and even a selection of first-time buyers. Somehow it is us, the customer, who is getting shafted every which way, and it has to stop.

It’s a shame for Arkham City as despite being one of the biggest, and probably best, releases this year, it will forever be tarnished with this unsavory brush. However, this argument goes far beyond the simple notion of who should receive the money of a secondary sale. Until developers are liable to fix games if they are broken or unsatisfactory, what right do they have to claim additional revenue from something that would become almost unique to this industry. I have the highest respect and sympathy for developers, especially as many of them are close friends, however, if they want more revenue then increase the asking price and let the market decided what is a fair price.

The gaming community is often called, and often quite rightly, greedy and self-entitled; how disappointing that this is no longer a one-way street.