Gamers should only pay once

John Becker

As the holiday season rolls around and students begin to buy video games, they may notice some new “features.” These features, however, aren’t the kinds that make video-gamers cackle with delight. These are features meant to inhibit gamers and fatten the wallets of game companies, all while taking a shot at the used games and game rental industries.

Some game developers are using unique access codes to allow only the first-time retail purchaser of their game to access online content. The secondhand games market hasn’t really taken a financial hit from the extra costs associated with used games, but game companies are destined to continue down this greedy path and create further costs for consumers.

Electronic Arts (EA) does this with every sports game they sell. If consumers buy a new copy of the game, they are fine. However, used copies will require that people purchase a $10 membership to the EA Online Pass to play online or get downloadable content (DLC) for every game. EA is a gigantic company that really doesn’t need to take this extra slice off the top, especially when it’s a fee for each game.

Other companies, such as BioWare, maker of “Mass Effect 2,’ built an access code called the Cerberus Network card into its game. If a person buys the game used, they have to purchase this $15 card in order to get any type of DLC, whether the content is free or paid. Customers are already paying for Xbox Live in addition to the DLC they want to buy, and it is unethical to charge them if they want to buy DLC. EA had a similar system with its first-person shooter, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and now it seems that every EA game, sports or otherwise, will carry this extra piece of unneeded inconvenience.

One positive is that companies such as THQ, makers of UFC Undisputed 2010, will charge $5 for people to buy a unique code. However, without a precedent, companies may choose to start charging $20 or more for online access.

Customers already pay Microsoft for Xbox Live, the service that allows customers to play online multiplayer or peruse DLC for hundreds of titles. Game publishers claim they need this extra cash to fund their updates and maintain servers. It costs $5-$15 per person to update sports rosters and provide basic support for glitches that the company failed to iron out the first time around.

GameStop, the leading game re-seller, already made a statement that this relatively new practice won’t hurt used games sales, because customers are more interested in playing the game than paying for extra content. In defense of some titles, such as sports titles that have new counterparts every year, people who want to play online will probably buy new.

The effects of these unique codes on video game rentals are unknown, but I don’t see any positives that could come from this practice. Blockbuster Video is already bankrupt, leaving fewer in-store renters. The online video game rental service, GameFly, has a note on its website with each EA game explaining that there is a seven-day trial of the EA Online Pass for rentals, but one week is not a lot of time for a service that doesn’t have late fees.

These extra fees are wrong, but unfortunately they aren’t going to go away. All gamers can do is game on, and hope that not every company takes up this greedy practice.