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Gamereactor UK

Weekender: The Online Pass

Used game sales, online passes and the future of gaming are all coming together as we ponder on what's next.

A couple of weeks ago we heard rumblings of the demise of GAME, and while it seems a bit premature to call in the priest to read the troubled retailer its last rights, times are dire. The lifeblood of GAME and their competitors Gamestop (in certain markets that is) has been used games for years. Poor margins for new games, consoles and peripherals, have made the used game market a very tempting proposition for retailers. Sure there is a risk in buying back games from consumers, but with a healthy margin you can afford to off-load games that don't sell on the cheap after a year or so on the shelves.

The backbone of GAME's business has been used game sales for many years.

Naturally, the publishers aren't too happy about this. Instead of each player buying a game of their own, some games may have 4-5 owners in its lifetime with the publisher only making money of the initial sale. When GAME and Gamestop were growing and reporting record profits, this was something that didn't go down well with the publishers and strategies and actions were implemented to hinder or discourage used game sales. EA have been at the forefront of this and online passes that come free with purchase of a new game are common place today. It's a bit like adding a fine to players who buy a used game and want to play it online, and it makes buying used game less appealing to casual as well as hardcore players.

But unfortunately for GAME I'm afraid this is only the beginning as the games industry is slowly starting to realise that the future is digital. One interesting thing of note is that while Gamestop in America has pretty much stopped stocking PC titles, Steam is growing stronger than ever, while EA are making giant strides with their service Origin. Less money goes through traditional retail, and the PS Vita is probably going to see a majority of its early games being sold digitally as Sony takes an important stand as they make digital copies cheaper than their physical counterparts.

Co-op in Syndicate requires no online pass. A rare sight from EA these days.

Given all of this is comes as a bit of a shock that Syndicate, a high profile release from EA, does not come with an online pass, in spite of having a rather substantial co-operative campaign. Maybe it is due to EA's deal with Starbreeze Studios, or maybe the publisher just didn't see the point in including an online pass for a game with multiplayer restricted to co-op. Perhaps, it's meant to measure the effect on sales and used game sales of the product, data EA can use to improve their system in the future. Who knows, but it got me thinking of what the next step of used game prevention could be. After all, only a portion of gamers are interested in online multiplayer and it is far from a fool proof system for preventing unwanted used game sales.

I think the future may see us owning only a portion of a game while paying a fee to access the rest of it whether it be by streaming or perhaps DLC packs. The days of buying a complete boxed experience once and then own it for all times are probably going the way of the dodo. A future where our online accounts, whether it be Sony Entertainment Network, Xbox Live, or Apple-ID, is going to allow us access to games we pay for. The best way of discouraging piracy and used game sales is by providing consumers with value, the second best way is making it difficult for those who chose to pirate and by used games. Hopefully, the future will see publishers focusing on the former.