(This is another edition of , a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
The online pass scam has found itself quite a few white knights lately, with high profile pundits joining developers in demonizing the used market and exonerating lazy, slapdash, methods of tackling it. While everybody is of course free to have their own opinions — and I have no burning issue with those happy gamers who don’t believe online passes are that big of a deal to them — I am certainly concerned by just how shallow, simplistic and limited the arguments in favor of online passes have been. They seem to focus on the single issue of used consumers lacking the right to complain — and therefore paint opponents of online passes purely as people upset that they cannot buy games used.
If it were true, I think online passes would be a lot easier to defend, and it might be why the defenders are choosing to focus on one thing, rather than looking at the bigger picture. Fact is, online passes have the potential to do long-term damage to the games industry while gamers, developers, and publishers spend all their time worrying about the short term.
A few weeks ago, I produced a video for The Escapist as part of my Jimquisition series, explaining how online passes are bad for everybody — whether you’re a used gamer, a new gamer, a studio or a publisher. Whether you rent games, borrow games, play multiplayer OR single-player, the online pass impacts the industry in a variety of negative ways. Those who choose to defend online passes by tackling just one portion of the argument — that used gamers don’t deserve to have a say in the matter — are quite cleverly obscuring 90% of the reason why online passes are a bad thing.
Feel free to watch the video above, or not. In any case, it details several reasons why online passes are bad for everybody, not just GameStop and its customers. The video — which I assume many online pass defenders have not watched — debunks almost every argument you could have in favor of the codes, so I certainly don’t need to repeat myself on that matter. What pisses me off is that most of the arguments in the above video have been ignored in order to focus on one thing that even I agree with — developers of good games deserve compensation, and used gamers don’t have much of a right to complain about a publisher’s treatment of them.
I agree with that argument, I definitely do. I agree that GameStop’s customers are GameStop’s customers, not EA’s, or THQ’s, or Sony’s. But nobody ever addresses the fact that brand new customers are expected to waste their time putting bullshit codes in (sometimes having to quit the entire game to unlock a multiplayer mode, as they did with Resistance 3). That’s honestly bullshit when you consider how other entertainment mediums have begun to offer instance streaming, one-click purchases, and strive to innovate and deliver entertainment on demand. Success in the entertainment industry comes down to who can provide a better service, and erecting fresh barriers between the gamer and the game they bought is directly conflicting with that time-tested truth.
Nobody ever thinks of less wealthy gamers, who rely on trade-ins so they can buy brand new games. When I was a poorer person, I used to thrive off store credit — trading in games I no longer played so that I could better afford expensive new ones. Hell, it still helps me buy copies of games I need to review when a publisher fails to send me one. For me it’s a good business move. I also consider this a very valid way of supporting the game industry, especially as it allows people who would otherwise be unable to buy any games to buy a lot more of them. One potential outcome of the proliferation of online passes is that trade-ins could be severely devalued as used games become less valuable themselves. The impact this would have on younger and less privileged gamers is something that deserves serious concern. This argument would also extend to eBay, or any other method of a gamer recouping part of an investment to make fresh investments.
Nobody ever talks of the potential benefit the used market has on allowing gamers to take impulse gambles on a series they later end up supporting. I could collect weeks of testimonies from my readers and viewers who have informed they bought, say, Metal Gear Solid or Gears of War used, then went on the buy the sequels brand new. We already know that big-name sequels typically sell better than prior entries in the series. I think the ability to try these games cheaper has had an impact on that. As with so much to do with this topic, getting solid statistics is almost impossible, but I think it’s a prospect worth entertaining.
What about people who rent games, using services like GameFly? What about people who don’t have a console hooked up to the Internet — which is still a significant amount of consumers? Sure, you can say that they wouldn’t be playing multiplayer games in the first place, but we’ve started to see online passes affect single-player products like Kingdoms of Amalur and Batman: Arkham City. Consumers are starting to get punished simply by not getting their machines online.
I am not going to go into the many better ways that publishers could be coping with used sales, nor am I going to reiterate exactly how bad the online pass scam truly is. I’ve done that many times, all over the Internet. However, I want to make it clear that the situation affects many, many more people than have been represented lately. It’s not just about people getting mad that they can’t buy games used anymore. As a reviewer, I get most games free, so this affects me less than most, and I’M still pissed off by online passes. I am pissed off because they’re a bad idea, with many negative implications, and it sickens me how gleefully the white knights have glossed over those implications to focus on the ONE issue that they’re vaguely correct about.
Don’t pretend that all opponents of online passes are angry GameStop customers. They’re f**king not.