Online passes, subscription fees, and charging for CGI… Are publishers out of touch with gamers?

EA say there’s been ‘No significant backlash’ to their online pass scheme, at least that’s according to Electronic Arts Chief Financial Officer Eric Brown.

Eurogamer quote the EA man speaking at the Deutsche Bank 2010 Technology Conference in San Francisco. Mr Brown said:

“We thought about [Online Pass] pretty carefully and there hasn’t been any significant push-back from the consumer, because I think people realise that if you’re buying a physical disc and it requires an attachment to someone else’s network and servers, [those] people realise bandwidth isn’t free.”

“So the fact that we’re diffusing or covering online costs is not viewed to be unreasonable. We’re well into this program and there is no consumer backlash.”

Well, if Mr Brown paid a quick visit to any gaming forum on the internet – perhaps the Train2Game forum– he’d see that gamers are not happy at all with EA’s online pass scheme.

‘Project ten dollar’ was launched earlier this year, with new EA games such as Madden 10 or Dragon Age: Origins including a one use code to activate extra content or online multiplayer modes. For example, if an EA Sports title is bought second hand, the player will have to pay an extra $10 to access online play. This is also linked to the players’ console, so if they took, for example FIFA 11, to a friend’s house or a party, they wouldn’t be able to play it online without paying extra.

Earlier this year, Ubisoft announced they’d be using a similar scheme to combat the impact of second hand sales on developers and publishers.

You can see where the games developers and publishers are coming from when it comes to their views on second hand sales. When a game is bought brand new from a store, the profit will be divided between the publisher, the developer and the retailer. However, when you buy a second hand game, the retailer keeps all of the profit with the developer and publisher receiving no share at all. With the second hand market being increasingly lucrative, it’s easy to see why developers and publishers want part of the profit. After all, if someone was playing YOUR game that you’d toiled over the development of, you’d want some compensation for it, right?

But the consumer vs. developer battle is a hard area to find compromise, after all why do people buy second hand games? Because they’re much lower in price than the £40 it costs to buy a new game. Everyone has a limited budget after all, so surely we shouldn’t be persecuted for trying to save as much as £10 or £20 when buying a game?

Of course, there are other ways publishers and developers have looked into increasing profit from games, none perhaps more infamous than subscription fees for online multiplayer. Back in June, the Wall Street Journal asked Activision CEO Bobby Kotick “If you could snap your fingers, and instantly make one change in your company what would it be?” He replied:

“I would have Call of Duty be an online subscription service tomorrow.When you think about what the audience’s interests are and how you could really satisfy bigger audiences with more inspired, creative opportunities, I would love to see us have an online Call of Duty world.”

“I think our players would just have so much of a more compelling experience.” He added.

Of course, gamers of the internet reacted badly this, many saying they’d stop playing Call of Duty games if they were charged extra to play online. Indeed, many already felt the Call of Duty map packs were already a rip-off, and hated the idea of a ‘pay as you play’ scheme even more.

However, Activision now say there are no plans at all for introducing online subscriptions into their future games. Speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference in California, Bobby Kotick himself said:

“That’s what people are paying their $60 for,” explained Kotick. “They get a game that has a lot of replayability.

“We’ve seen our margins and audiences expand from providing more appealing gameplay. I think why Call of Duty has been so successful is because we’re delivering extraordinarily high quality gameplay, production values and interactivity at great value.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the man that gamers paint as Satan himself has had a complete change of heart where profit doesn’t seem to be the main item on the agenda. In the same conference speech this time, Kotick said:

“If we were to take that hour, or hour and a half, take it out of the game, and we were to go to our audiences for whom we have their credit card information as well as a direct relationship and ask, ‘Would you like to have the StarCraft movie?’, my guess is that … you’d have the biggest opening weekend of any film ever.”

Call me a cynic – or maybe just a realist –  but I don’t anyone would pay £10 to watch a thirty minute cut scene.

Publishers and developers are facing a difficult decision here. On the one hand it’s understandable why they say see second hand games as a threat, because they don’t make any money from them. However, on the flip side, things like online passes, subscription costs or charging for cinematics is just going to be seen as pure money grabbing by gamers.  To answer the title question it does appear that publishers are out of touch with average gamer on the street who has only so much money to spend.

A compromise is going to have to happen somewhere, or both sides are going to be unhappy.

Perhaps new games should cost less than £40 in the first place?

So Train2Game, as future game developers, what are your feelings about these issues? Sure, you may not like paying online fees now, but how would you feel about it in future when games you’ve developed are being sold second hand? What do you think a compromise could be?

And no one would ever pay for CGI from a game, right?

As usual, leave your thoughts here or on the Train2Game forum.

1 thought on “Online passes, subscription fees, and charging for CGI… Are publishers out of touch with gamers?

  1. GGGRRR Paying subscription makes me RAGE!, I would never do it for any game. Ita greedy Publishers that are going to strangle gaming, you buy a game and within 6 months no one will be playing it because the next game is out.
    2nd gaming market is what it is and developers and publishers should butt out because the price of released games is so high people will just wait, bring the price down and they will sell more!

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