Are Online Passes Actually A Good Thing?

Are Online Passes Actually A Good Thing?

Today, commenter Odin plays devil’s advocate, explaining how online passes may actually help the industry. See what you think of his argument.

So I want to play devil’s advocate here. Or you know I would be playing devil’s advocate if I didn’t actually agree with the position I’m taking.

I want to talk about something that has been brought up a lot, but often only to criticise or condemn. That’s right; I’m talking about online passes. There’s been a lot on the subject of why they’re bad, but very little on why they can be justified. It’s important to note I’m not writing this to defend the practice; this primarily goes out to those who act like there’s absolutely no justification for this system. I also want to address the incorrect assumption that this is just about used games sales.

Firstly, you have to understand that what you buy a game, it is a product. You can then resell it, loan it, or do whatever you want with it (maybe even play it). But when you play a multiplayer game you’re not only using the product you own but you’re also using a service provided by another party. That’s the key thing to remember, multiplayer (at least that which uses centralised servers) is a service.

One thing we’ve taken for granted for many years is that the right to access that service is transferable in the same way that our product is. While it may annoy us that it’s now being taken away from us it’s important to note that it’s not something we’re entitled to. We own the product and access to the service is included when we buy the product new. But we don’t own that service.

Unlike the product it costs the publishers/developers money to maintain multiplayer service. Servers cost money, and as long as they’re running they don’t stop costing money. This means that companies can only afford to run these servers for a limited time before they stop being profitable. It’s why you see multiplayer servers for older games just wink out of existence. The servers can only be maintained as long as there’s revenue coming in, and the ones maintaining them only get revenue from new sales of a game.

But wait, I hear you say, surely when one person sells their game they’re no longer using the multiplayer service so the net amount of players remains the same. While this is true, it assumes that server load is the issue. It’s key to remember that while the maintenance cost doesn’t increase, it does stay the same while the publisher’s revenue (for that particular title) decreases over time. As such it’s not entirely unreasonable to limit access to the service to those that have directly contributed to maintaining those servers.

What many people fail to consider properly is how this affects us, the consumers. A lot of used-game purchases just see that an online pass costs $US10 and complain because they’re going to have to pay extra for their used games. Yet it’s the used-game customer who’s probably affected the least in all this, in fact it’s most detrimental to retailers and those who buy their games new and trade them in.

Online passes will actually bring down the cost of used games because retailers will now have to take into account the cost of an online pass when pricing them. Retailers have to price their used games at a price that’s attractive to the customer. Which means for online pass games they have to include the cost of an online pass when considering what that attractive price might be.

For example, they couldn’t price an online pass game at $US45 when it retails new for $US60, because with the cost of the online pass factored in most gamers would just choose to spend the $US5 extra to buy the new copy. Retailers are far more likely to bear the bulk of the cost of the online pass than the used game purchaser is. However, this will also mean retailers will also probably decrease what they offer for trade ins on games using the online pass to maintain their profit margins.

And another thing people don’t consider what the benefits of an online pass could be. With an additional stream of revenue publishers could afford to maintain servers for games for longer than it’d normally be profitable for. After all, it’s in the publisher’s best interest to keep the servers running so that people will continue to purchase online passes. This is beneficial to both new and used gamers alike. After all given the option would you rather pay $US10 to access the multiplayer or never get to experience it because the servers had been shut down?

I guess the TL;DR of it all is that online passes, while not great, are by no means the devil everyone is making them out to be. However, stunts like the Catwoman DLC, something that should be part of the product and doesn’t cost them anything to maintain? That’s just a greedy, completely arbitrary tax on used games sales and a practice that SHOULD be condemned.


  • It’s not greedy, because first of all, you don’t have to buy it if you don’t want to, if you did, then you obviously felt there can still be enjoyment to be had, and the only reason you are bitching about it is because you have the internet. Second of all, even from a perspective of principles, you buying the game used means you are not contributing to the economy that exists between the people that created the game and you, the consumer.

    What you are doing is buying from the retailer (Gamestop, EB etc.). They keep all that money you give them. The publishers and subsequently, the developers of the game DO NOT see a cent from that.

    This continual problem within the industry is exactly what led us to Online Passes in the first place. Problems creating more problems creating more problems. People’s basic lack of understanding isn’t helping the issue. Any complaints/debates directed at any other facet of this problem is akin to watching someone cut off one Hydra and believing they’ve won.

    That’s it. Full stop. And I only needed what, 3 paragraphs.

    • Yes the retailer gets all the money on used sales but this is a business relationship problem between the publishers and the retailers. Retailers already help the publishers (and therefore the developers) by advertising their games.

      Used game sales can also lead to people playing a game they otherwise would not and then buying a sequel for full price later. We all know how much the industry enjoys sequels these days and they often sell more than the previous. Possible explanation: used game sales.

  • The fee that was required to run Multiplayer services is not continually charged to the original owner of the game, therefore that fee was paid when the full price for the game was paid and so an Online Pass is not paying for any service use. It’s only an additional amount of money. Because the service has still been paid for by the original owner, the original owner paid for it, is not using it anymore so the new owner should not have to pay extra.

    • Why not? You are essentially pirating their game, except without the annoying copyright law violations that make piracy illegal. It’s still lost profits for the developer and publisher every time a used game is sold.

      One point I will have to dispute in the article is that what you are buying is NOT a product that is whole in and of itself, unlike say a car or a toaster. You are in fact purchasing a LICENSE for the game software, in addition to the game software itself. Included in that license is the commitment to support the purchaser through online servers, customer support, etc. When you purchase the license second hand, you are essentially purchasing the software for the product without actually paying for the license itself. And this is where it starts to hurt the developers and producers, as they are then not seeing a cent of the profit made by the store from the new owner of the software, whilst being forced to provide the full benefits of the license due to the expectations of the law (something that is NOT expected from any other industry – see limited-term warantees)

      • “You are essentially pirating their game”

        I had to stop there before my rage counter exploded.


        The access to a service is transferable. The developer and the multiplayer services are paid for BEFORE the game is released. Software licensing agreements are bullshit.

        Go ahead everybody, bend over and ‘support the developers.’

  • This online passes thing is a slippery slope.

    Does anyone honestly believe that online passes will mean game facilities will be provides for longer?

    Nope, they’ll shut it down, because they want you playing on their new systen, their new game every 12 / 18 months.

    It’s really only been gaming where I’ve seen producers whine about not getting their share on used sales. I can’t think of any other industry that does this.

    • Film, music and print media have all screamed blue murder at second hand sales throughout their lives.

      One of the reasons iTunes has been so accepted by the music industry is because it negates a lot of the appeal of resale.

  • An online for pass for multiplayer is one thing but I don’t like games like Arkham city and mass effect 2 where portions of the single player game are blocked simply because my xbox is difficult to connect to internet in my house.I know I could buy a wireless adapter but I have no interest in xboxlive and it really annoys me to have to jump through hoops just to play the game I already paid for.

    • IN the case of Mass Effect 2, it was a full game already. Nothing was blocked off, they only offered new characters and weapons, which while cool, did not add to the story in such a way that their abscence would kill you.

      As for Arkham City, yeah it sucks that Catwoman isn’t included on the disc, but the Catwoman episodes are really a side story type deal. If they didn’t announce her as a playable character before they announced the online pass it would be better.

  • Im happy with this and its what Ive been saying for a while now.
    But, when they start charging an online pass for new games. . . then Ill be pissed!

  • I usually get uppity about everything, but not this. I think Online passes are a fair deal, and Mike Fahey made a compelling argument to support that.

  • I think you raise a interesting point – but I think its a limited viewpoint.

    Game ‘servers’ used to be able to run by anyone, and were included in the ‘product. As such they were picked up by the community and ISP’s at no cost to the publisher. We pay monthly fees for internet access, and it made sense for certain ISP’s to ‘value add’ by providing game servers. ISP’s already have datacentres in place and fulltime admin staff, so the cost increase is smaller for them and differentiates them in a competitive market.

    I appreciate you providing a devils advocate position, but ‘server maintenance’ does not justify subscription fees. Take a look at Quake 1 and 2 – they are STILL being played online today, at no cost to iD.

    The gaming public needs to realise these publishers are pushing beyond reasonable boundaries to screw every dollar out of us. I’m looking at you EA and Activision.

  • I don’t feel the cost of multiplayer services is as high as we might be lead to believe. Publishers are not ones running the PSN or Xbox live and those services likely the ones providing the actual service.

    Do they pay for such service? Sure they do. But I suspect they’re not bearing the brunt of the cost at all.

    The debate first started in regards to used game sales. Retailers pushed used game sales because the margins are better for them. Publishers got grumpy they weren’t getting a slice of that. It was never about covering the cost of servicing their multiplayer. That’s a cop out.

    Blizzard still maintains classic support and they were doing it long before they had the revenue from WoW…

    No offence to anyone, But folks need to have a bit more cynicism.

    Some folks make it sounds like we should feel guilty that we’re not ‘supporting the developers’

    Are you a customer buying a product or are you giving charity?

  • How can we ever argue that games are art, if you need to pay more to access sections if the game. What happens if you can only ever get these games second hand in the future and they’ve shutdown servers.

    Take for example if someone bought Shadow of the Colossus second hand, but you only could only access the giants with if you had a code which you had to redeem online, but the servers are now gone. How would that be?
    This is the slope we’re heading down.

    Used games are not evil and publishers attempt to get rid of them is disgusting and whats worse they’ve convinced people thats its actually right. Its not the equivalent of piracy, its not bad and anyone who tells you otherwise is complete and utter moron. There is no question about that and all you’ve done by supporting these decisions is lead to crap like always online, intrusive DRM and these shitty online passes

    • I don’t think the model necessarily invalidates the concept of games being considered as art. Paying an extra amount to watch a film in 3D doesn’t make the film itself any less intrinsically “artful”.

      With regards to the original article, on the 3rd paragraph with regards to the game being a “product” and the multiplayer being a “service”, I would perhaps argue that a slightly more accurate description of the game itself as a “licence”, given that is the language that is typically used by publishers and that online passes appears to be how publishers seem to be enforcing the idea that you don’t own the game, but are buying permission to play it.

  • I am biased since I am a single-player-more-or-less-exclusively guy, but the article has a point.

    Multiplayer with centralized servers imposes marginal costs (server upkeep) on the publisher. The customer SHOULD pay the marginal cost some way.

    On the other hand, there is a reasonable argument, “slippery slope” style, and seeing single-player content locked out of the game until an online pass is purchased does strike me as a significant danger… it might result in a “paid demo” situation for used game buyers that play single-player only.

  • I’d like to question the point about retailers reducing the price of second hand games… they’re still at the same price as new games at retail here.

  • It’s bad on the PS3, especially ones that are tied to a single account. Living in Japan with an Australian main account I have to import my games as US versions, so I’m still paying full price and getting a code for a valid pass. Due to PS3’s DLC being region locked, any pass that’s locked to one account screws me over

    • I can relate to this, and the pic for the article. I am all for Online codes to prevent piracy, but if you buy a second hand game, the retailer should have the right to issue you a new code. Developers charging more for online, (and DLC for that matter) is just an excuse to make more money on a game that has already been paid for (and in DLCs case, content that should be included with the game).
      Getting back to the pic in the main article, having imported Mortal Kombat 9, I am unable to play online, as the Online code is not accepted by PSN Australia (I guess because it hasn’t been released). This to me is unacceptable – Regardless of where I purchase a game, I should be able to access all parts of the game, and in this case the online code system fails.

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