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InSephtion: The Online Pass


The InSephtion is a semi-frequent (read: when I feel like it) series of opinion pieces were I attempt to implant, or otherwise remove, a thought or series of thoughts from your mind.

In this inaugural edition of the InSephtion Iím going to cover a topic that is quite familiar with many of you already, the ďOnline PassĒ. If youíre reading this, or simple are a visitor of Destructoid, itís highly likely that youíre already familiar with this entire concept since a multitude of bloggers here, as well as Destructoidís Reviews Editor Jim Sterling, have covered this topic until they were blue in the face. For the small fraction of you who are still not familiar with online passes Iíll give a quick explanation as to what they are.

Online passes are a system implemented by the gaming industry as both a light form of DRM and as well as an attempt to bring in a slight profit from the used game market. How the online pass works is by locking out certain content from the game, such as multiplayer access for example, until the gamer provides an online pass one of two ways; either through a preset code that can be redeemed or through purchasing online pass for, what usually costs, ten additional dollars. If you buy a new copy of the game the online pass is included with the game so you arenít forced to spend more money on the game you just bought, whilst used games will almost certainly have used the ďfreeĒ online pass by then. Obviously, the trick with online passes is to encourage gamers to buy their games new instead of used. Why? The answer to why is that publishers and developers get jack squat from used game market sales.

Iím going to be straight to the point Ė I really donít think online passes are that terrible of a thing and I donít entirely understand why some people freak out like someone opened the Ark of the Covenant in their living room every time someone brings up a new game coming with an online pass.

Now, youíre likely thinking ďBut used sales are a perfectly legal, why punish something that's legal?Ē or "You don't see the film industry trying to snag cash from second-hand movie sales". For one, that comparison between film sales and game sales isnít totally valid since the film industryís primary source of revenue comes from box office sales (when you see it in theaters) not store sales, like video games. Movies have an huge second pool of cash to dip into and DVD sales are generally the secondary source of revenue for major movies, not the primary unless weíre talking about low budget direct-to-DVD stuff. The retail market is a game maker's one and only shot to make profit on a game, so their eggs are essentially all in one basket and they have to make the most out of what they have. Yes, the used item market is a perfectly legal part of how most economic systems work, however, thereís also absolutely nothing illegal about systems like an online pass. If you can use legality as an excuse so can they, itís a two way street.

Another defense against online passes I seem to frequently hear is that they hurt used game sales due to hidden charges. Yeah, I understand that hidden charges can be a pain in the assÖ anybody who has flown on a major airline or bought an Xbox 360 will agree, however, to a certain degree consumer ignorance factors into this problem as well. Weíre in an information age here where the internet is almost constantly at our fingertips. If youíre interested in modern gaming you almost certainly have access to the internet (and if youíre into multiplayer gaming, itís required). Is it really that hard to head over to Google and do a quick search to see if Arkham City or Battlefield 3 require online passes? If the answer to your search is ďnoĒ, then just do some elementary level mathematics people. If a used copy of online pass required game is 45 to 50 dollars the tax and online pass factors are just going to bump you up to the cost of retail copy anyway, meaning just save yourself the trouble and buy the new copy of the game instead. Itíll cost you the same amount of money in the end and then you at least donít have to worry about whether or not your disc was previously owned by some fat guy who smothered his games in Doritos crumbs. That extra minute or two of research will save you a little bit of agitation later on unless those 120 seconds are that desperately important, which brings me to my next pointÖ

People saying ďEntering this online pass code wastes my time!Ē

This is where I stare at you awkwardly, raise one of my eyebrows, and go ďReally, thatís your defense?Ē. It takes about thirty seconds to type in an online pass code, give or take, unless you type something in wrong (which is your fault, not the passes). I want to know what kind of tight knit lifestyle you live where losing thirty seconds of your life is going to ruin your entire day. What else could you be do in that time? Grab a Snickers? Wait for your game to load? Is that one kill (or death) you might miss in Call of Duty that important? Hell, you canít even make a sandwich in thirty seconds unless you like terrible sloppy sandwiches. PC gamers had to enter serial numbers for years and you never heard them bitching about it wasting their time as much as console folk bitch about passes these days. You can preach from the highest mountain about how entering an online pass wastes your time, but you still sound childish because youíre crying that a microscopic portion of your life has elapsed (or that the time you're wasting bitching about it is in fact longer then it takes to actually type in the code). I really donít think I need to explain why you look like a tool and not the publisher any further beyond that.

One point that I donít think gets brought up enough in online pass discussions is this; while used game sales in a roundabout way may help the industry as a whole, they donít directly help the people putting out these games one bit. Yeah, you could buy a used copy of Dark Souls and then tell everybody how amazing Dark Souls was but you still did absolutely nothing to help From Software because you gave them none of your money, you gave Gamestop your money. And while used game sales can create positive word of mouth that would eventually bring about more sales come a sequel the problem is that buying the game used instead of new in fact hurts the likelihood of a sequel ever happening in the first place. Even if the anticipated sequel happens theyíd likely include an online pass system to make up for the money that they lost the first time around.

I hope Iím not in the minority with this, but I believe in giving developers money for making games I like. If Iíve gotten to the point where Iím going to purchase a game itís likely that the game as already done enough to warrant its purchase (instead of say a rental or borrowing from a friend), and I want to give those developers something as a reward for their hard work. If even that tiny amount of money for an online pass goes towards them and I still save money on buying a game used then itís a win-win for both sides!

Now, Iím not trying to turn this into a rant about why the used game market is bad. Itís still a very good thing and it has its place in the industry, if there was no used game market to keep the retailers in check then Iíd be very afraid of retail costs skyrocketing. However I also believe that online passes arenít this giant evil entity that is bred to simply murder the used game market like others feel it is. Is the online pass system perfect? Oh hell no, it can definitely be better. I consciously canít remember the last time a new idea or system was implemented that went off perfectly fine without a hitch. Here are some suggestions I would have for improving the online pass system:

- Make the requirement of online passes more directly present to customers. Personally, I think call game cases should be required to display the inclusion of an online pass. (Iíve seen this on some games occasionally, but it should be universal).

- Break the dependency on a consoles online service for verification. Currently online passes depend on the platform of choiceís online store to verify or purchase online passes. As we learned with the Playstation Network outage last year this is a terrible idea because even after Playstation Network functionality was restored people still couldnít access the store and activate their online passes (Mortal Kombat & Dirt 3 were hurt by this). Online pass activation should be done directly through the publisher and eliminate any middle-men.

- Donít force gamers to quit out of a game and return to their system dashboard/store to renew their pass. While the actual process of entering a pass is pretty quick and painless, despite what some people will try to make you believe, it is annoying to have to load up a game and then quit back out in order to activate the pass. Developers should be kind enough to include a within-the-game method for renewing your pass as well.

- Passes that can expire over a set amount of time are dumb for obvious reasons.

- Cut it with some of the bullcrap regarding online passes and single player games. I don't care if you're going to put a pass on my single player title, but if you're going to please keep the pass restricted to stuff like add-ons and downloadable content. Don't threaten to cut out parts of the actual game, that's just a dick move.

Is the online pass system a perfect goody-goody thing? No, itís not. If someone would say that the online pass system is a little greedy Iíd be inclined to agree to a certain point. Anytime you want more money then you previously had, yeah, thatís being greedy in some (even if itís small) fashion. However, considering that the industry itself has grown a lot over the last decade and development costs have risen up with it I can understand why some people within the industry feel itís vital to do whatever it takes to continue making money. While I think itís silly that major companies like EA, who make more than enough money off of games like Madden, push online passes I can understand why smaller groups like the Ninja Theoryís of the world might feel the need to adopt this system. Iím well aware of the fact that Iím not a business major so I could be unaware of some of the things that go into the industry as well, but this is just my general consensus.

Ultimately the point I want to get into your mind is that we should all chill about online passes for a little while longer, let the system work out the kinks, and then pass judgment on whether or not it is a good or bad thing. If youíre someone like me who primarily buys games new then you generally have nothing to worry about anyway, unless thereís a somewhat rare Arkham City incident were some passes donít renew (which can be attributed to working out the kinks in a system). If you traditionally buy your games used, well, just become a more educated shopper.

The one thing I want to encourage is simple. If you really are against this online pass system then please fight it with your wallet and nothing more. Don't pirate these games in some foolishly noble attempt to "fight the man" or anything stupid like that because stuff like that is what directly leads to things like SOPA, things that hurt everybody including the people who never did anything wrong in the first place.

Want more opinion articles like the InSephtion? Improvements? I donít have any kind of recurring episodic blog, Iíd like to fix that. Let me know in the comments section below. Also, congrats to Magnalon for getting into the fold with Dtoid's staff. As a fan of his stuff for a while, it's nice to see deserving people get accepted and recognized.
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About Sephzillaone of us since 9:27 AM on 07.15.2008

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Who am I? I'm a guy who plays video games, talks way too much about comics and movies, likes Godzilla and Robocop. Why should you read my blog? Because when I write I have fun, make up bullshit lists, and when I do get a little serious with some blogs I try to be insightful and use resources and facts to try and back up my opinion as much as I can. And if you don't follow my blog, I'll send you a picture of a sad kitten who wants some love.

Also, I tend to debate a lot and get up on a soapbox a bit from time to time. I like to debate for the sake of debating and I tend to find it fun to get other peoples perspectives on things, and sometimes I like to play devil's advocate a bit just for the sake of it. Basically, don't take me so serious sometimes even if it seems like I am being serious.

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