Electronic Arts revealed Wednesday during the Citi 2011 Tech Conference held in New York City that its Online Pass system has had moderate success since its inception in 2010, reported Gamasutra.
The Online Pass comes in new copies of several games published by EA. Without the Online Pass players can’t access the multiplayer components in some of those games. If they want to join online multiplayer matches they have to buy an Online Pass first. The online pass system is put in games to discourage used purchases from retailers like GameStop.
Since its start in early 2010, the Online Pass system has made a small profit for EA. Eric Brown, chief financial officer of EA, described the earnings of the Online Pass during the company’s presentation at the conference. He said, “The revenues we derive from that haven’t been dramatic. I’d say they’re in the $10-$15 million range since we initiated the program.”
EA’s Online Pass costs players $9.99 on the PlayStation Network Store or 800 Microsoft Points on the Xbox Live Marketplace.
According to Brown the earnings generated is 100% profit for the company, which he called “found revenue.” Brown claims that used players, “consumed bandwidth for free” and the Online Pass covers those bandwidth costs.
This is one of the first instances where EA has acknowledged its earnings from sales of the Online Pass. A breakdown of Online Pass sales from individual titles or each console wasn’t provided by EA.
To give an example of how many Online Passes have been downloaded, at $10 million profit EA sold around 1 million passes. At $15 million sales players downloaded close to 1.5 million passes.
Putting the Online Pass sales in perspective, EA is expected to earn up to $4.025 billion for the entire 2012 fiscal year, which ends on March 31, 2012. During the first fiscal quarter of 2012, EA generated $999
EA began the foundation of the Online Pass with the release of The Saboteur on Dec. 8, 2009 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. New copies of the game included a voucher code that gave players the downloadable content “The Midnight Show.” If a player bought the game used and didn’t have the code, they could buy the DLC for $2.99 on the PSN Store or 240 Microsoft Points on the 360 Marketplace.
This idea quickly evolved into “Project Ten Dollar” in February 2010 with the release of Mass Effect 2 on the Xbox 360. The one-time code included in new copies of Bioware’s game let players joing the “Cerberus Network” and access to a few free downloadable content add-ons. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 included the “VIP Pass” in all new copies at release which also gave players free DLC. As the name suggests, the code for these games was sold for $10 on the console’s digital store.
In May 2010 EA Sports, a division of Electronic Arts, announced that future EA Sports games would use what the company called the Online Pass. The first game to do so was Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 which released June 8, 2010 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 was one of the first console games to lock players who did not have the pass out of the online multiplayer modes.
The Online Pass eventually spread beyond EA Sports releases. Titles like Dead Space 2 which released in January don’t allow players to use the game’s online multiplayer without redeeming an Online Pass code. However not all EA-published games use the Online Pass. For example, Crytek’s Crysis 2 didn’t use the pass when it released in March.
Not only EA multiplayer games have been negatively affected by the Online Pass scheme. Single player games also use the pass. When Mass Effect 2 released for the PS3 in January, players without the code to join the Cerberus Network couldn’t download the “Cerberus Pack” that included an interactive comic needed to make their own story choices from the original Mass Effect. Players were forced to use a default set of choices for the entire game. These default choices were generally negative outcomes from Mass Effect 1 and lasted throughout the entire experience of the sequel. Instead of the traditional $9.99 fee, the code cost $14.99 on the PSN Store.
The single player game Alice: Madness Returns also uses an Online Pass. Instead of taking away features it gives players a digital download copy of the 2000 PC game American McGee’s Alice, the first game in the franchise.
It’s strongly rumored that the highly anticipated Battlefield 3 being published by EA will use some form of an Online Pass when it releases on Oct. 25 for the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Several other publishers now use a form of the online pass for their games. The online pass has become the industry norm for a game with a multiplayer component. Publishers such as Sony Computer Entertainment, THQ, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Codemasters and Ubisoft all use its own version of the online pass.
Brown said at a technology conference in September 2010 that consumers weren’t that upset over the Online Pass. He said, “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.”
However many are concerned with the trend and how it will affect the future of the industry. Many also don’t appreciate the conceived attack on the used game market by the major game publishers.
Photo by Electronic Arts