This latest few hundred words of early-morning, blurry-eyed ranting may come on the back of Sony’s confirmation of the PSN Pass. But it’s not aimed at Sony. Well, it is, insomuch as it’s aimed at absolutely every publisher in the industry.
There are divisive opinions about what has become known as the Online Pass. You might know it as Project $10. It works by including a one-use code in the box of some new releases. Those who buy such games then use said code to either download or unlock additional in-game content online.
That in itself is fine. The implication of this, of course, is that anyone who buys the game second hand will not a find a code in the box and will therefore not be able to access this content.
The good news, though, is that these said consumers can access the content if they buy another Online Pass from the publisher either over Xbox Live or PSN. They can cost anything up to 10.
My gripe here is the purely reasoning behind the Online Pass and the messages that publishers have put out about it.
Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong for publishers to monetise pre-owned game sales. Far from it. Games cost A LOT of money to bring to market. If I were the boss of EA it would probably give me sleepless nights worrying about the number of sales I lost to the pre-owned market.
Because after all, all the money from a pre-owned sale goes to the retailer. None of it filters back to the publisher and in turn the developer. Well, unless you factor in all the new sales that wouldn’t occur if gamers couldn’t trade-in their old titles that is.
But that’s another debate. And one that both ruins publisher’s arguments and indeed distracts from the main trust of this very piece. So let’s set that aside for now.
What does bother me is the lies. The bare-faced lies peddled by publishers about these Online Passes. "People see it as a plus," EA Sports boss Peter Moore told MCV last year. "It’s a way for us to frankly bring more digital experiences quicker".
"Added value". That’s another one you hear. "Enhances the online offer". Or as Sony put it this morning, its PSN Pass "is an important initiative as it allows us to accelerate our commitment to enhancing premium online services across our first party game portfolio".
Let’s just be honest. Online Passes are designed to allow publishers to make money from pre-owned games. Simple. And probably fair. But certainly simple.
10 is approximately the amount a publisher would make from the sale of a full-price vanilla standard edition new release after everyone else in the chain has taken their slice. It’s a good business move.
But it’s not about "added value" is it? How does me buying a new game and having to input a dozen-digit number into my console "add value" to my experience? It doesn’t. Is that an ‘O’ or a ‘0’? I personally thought my experiences were more valuable when I could just put the disc in the console and play.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find any publishers who’ll own up to this, though.
In fact, to its merit THQ is the only company to speak with any level of honesty about the situation.
THQ’s WWE creative director Cory Ledesma was the first to speak openly about it, saying in August last year that: I don’t think we really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset they don’t get the online feature set I don’t really have much sympathy for them."
Doesn’t get more honest than that.
This was followed the next month by THQ boss Brian Farrell saying: We work with all of our retailers and we understand their business models. Our point is that we are making these huge investments in project developments, sometimes in licences and marketing, and we need to make sure we capture that value chain.
We are not trying to push retail aside. We are saying we need to monetise as well because it is our investment. We will work with our retailers but it needs to be more of a give and take."
Sadly Farrell stands alone on this subject as the only exec brave enough to be straight with us.
So why the deception? It’s because of the exact same reason why getting a straight and honest answer out of any publisher exec is like getting blood from a stone. PR. Honesty is often politically undesirable. Yes, that’s probably at least the media’s fault anyway. But it’s the sad truth of the situation.
I think the huge amount of cynicism that still surrounds Online Pass scheme would be significantly reduced if more publishers would be upfront with us.
We all grew up with Tony Blair. We saw Chemical Ali on the TV during the Iraq conflict. The public can’t be as easily manipulated today as they once could. Publishers might just find that a bit of honesty goes a long way with us. I dare them to try it.