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The One Man MMO Project
The story of a lone developer's quest to build an online world :: MMO programming, design, and industry commentary
Offline Pass
By Robert Basler on 2012-01-30 22:59:48
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com

I've been quite disappointed by the big stink being raised over the offline pass for Kingdoms of Amalur. (Disclaimer: I have no inside knowledge of the providence or politics of the online pass from my time at EA - I just made the games.)

I'm a firm believer that if I buy something, I should be able to do whatever I want with it, so I'm firmly behind the people who want to be able to buy and sell their used games. There's a little irony there considering that I also sell software with online activation. (In my defense, I've always been very generous with activations and transfers for paying customers.) But as a customer I've become very selective about the games I buy, making myself aware of any restrictions imposed by the publishers before buying. And some of those restrictions have made me miss out on some really good games. But it has also caused me to buy a whole lot of great DRM-Free indie games so I guess that actually nets out as a plus!

I've been critical of the "online pass" since I first heard of it because it is publishers using a stick on used game players. Pay us or we'll break your game. Publishers attempted to justify the charge by claiming that because it costs money to run the online servers, they need to recoup that through single-use game codes at $10/per. Sure servers cost money, but they cost so little money for most games (there are some exceptions) that this argument is spurious to say the least. A single game server supports at least 1000, and as many as 10,000 simultaneous users. Multiply that by 24 hours for round-the-world players, and there's some serious capacity in just one server machine. Once the servers are installed, the ongoing costs are relatively minimal for a game selling millions of copies.

Now with Kingdoms of Amalur introducing an online pass for an offline game, EA is finally being honest about what it really is - a shot at Gamestop and the used game market.

Gamestop selling used games right alongside new games for a measly 8% off and pocketing $31.99 on every used sale - that's really greedy. If I was a big publisher selling through Gamestop, I'd be choked.

If you think about it, Gamestop is effectively renting games to players for $31.99 with the option to keep it for an extra $23. The movie industry charges rental stores about 4 times regular price for DVD's licensed for rental. I'm not sure if the software industry can change their licensing and pricing to be more like the movie industry, but it would sure fix their bottom line.

I think the real problem here is the failure of game publishers to come to a workable agreement with one of their biggest distributors. They're supposed to be partners, but they're not acting like it. The reason probably has something to do with Steam and Origin. Gamestop can see the writing on the wall. Heck, they bought Impulse to try and get in on the digital download market. But the end is in sight for them, so they're making hay while the sun shines.

I really can't understand why publishers are ticking off the used market instead of trying a little harder to build relationships with their customers. Heard of the carrot people? It seems like a total no-brainer. You have people with money who are already interested in your product - why not sell them more of that thing they already like? I think DLC can be pretty awesome if done right. That said, to date, a lot of DLC has been heavy on price and light on content. The DLC of today is not the add-on pack of yesteryear. The best DLC today is good for a couple hours, where a typical addon pack at twice the price has 5 to ten times the content. I bought all the add-on packs for Command and Conquer, but none of the DLC for Mass Effect 2 (which I totally loved) because they seemed like kind of a ripoff. I finished "The Stone Prisoner" DLC for Dragon Age Origins in just 30 minutes and was like - "What?!?! It's over already?" That's all I get for $15?!

Publishers either need to get onboard with the used game market and embrace the customer as a partner, or just put Gamestop out of business and be done with it. We'd all be better off if there was a lot more carrot.

By Robert Basler on 2012-04-12 14:38:51
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com
This battle just went nuclear, with Gamestop refusing to sell a new game to a customer.

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