EA Sports Unveils 'Online Pass' Initiative: Online Multiplayer Free with New Games, $10 Otherwise

By Chris Faylor, May 10, 2010 1:26pm PDT Electronic Arts today announced an "Online Pass" system that will see future EA SPORTS-branded "simulation games" on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 come with a free "one-time-use registration code for online services, features and bonus content."

Those that don't buy the game new--i.e., those that rent, borrow, or purchase a used copy--will be able to use each console's respective online marketplace to buy a game-specific "Online Pass" of their own for $10. In addition, Electronic Arts will also be offering those that don't buy new "a free 7-day trial to experience Online Pass."

The first of EA SPORTS' "simulation games" to make use of the "Online Pass" reward system will be Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, due June 8. Other EA SPORTS titles that fall under the banner of "simulation games" include NBA Live, Madden NFL and NHL.

"We want to reserve EA SPORTS online services for people who pay EA to access them," explained EA SPORTS' Andrew Wilson, Senior VP of World Wide Development, with the company later noting that, in addition to Online Pass, "multiplayer online game modes require an Xbox LIVE Gold subscription for gamers playing on Xbox 360."

The "Online Pass" system marks the latest of Electronic Arts' initiative to bundle downloadable content with new games, as exemplified by Mass Effect 2 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. According to EA COO John Schappert, the practice is "a great incentive [for consumers] when they first buy the title" as well as "shows [players] that there's additional content online and gets them used to that whole ecosystem."

In conjunction with today's announcement, Electronic Arts launched the official EA SPORTS Online Pass website with some commonly asked questions:

Five Questions with Andrew Wilson, Senior Vice President of World Wide Development, EA SPORTS

What exactly is Online Pass and when does it launch?
Online Pass launches in all EA SPORTS simulation games on the PS3 and Xbox 360 beginning in June with Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 11. It's quite simple - every game will come with a game-specific, one-time use registration code with each unit sold new at retail. With your Online Pass, you'll have access to multiplayer online play, group features like online dynasty and leagues, user created content, and bonus downloadable content for your game including, for example, a new driver in Tiger. If the original access code has been redeemed and fans wish to get access to the online content (for example, if you pick up a used copy), you can access a free 7-day trial or additional Online Passes will be available for $10.

What do you mean by "bonus content"? What type of content will that be?
In addition to Online Team Play, Live Tournaments and other modes and features, we expect every product will include additional content as part of its Online Pass. Access to bonus content is included in the purchase of an Online Pass for a particular product. For example, in Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 11, an advanced driver used on the PGA TOUR for play in-game will be included with the Online Pass. Our goal is to provide value to consumers, and this is one piece of that philosophy.

We've seen a lot of different publishers, including EA, introduce the concept of registration codes. How is this different, or the same, from others we've seen in the past year?
The concept of a code isn't new, and in fact it's something we'e used in recent years with Live Season in FIFA and with Dynamic DNA in NBA LIVE. The Online Pass though accelerates what we've done in the past and is unique in that all users will have access to the premium online services and content we provide. Customers who purchase the games new for the full retail price get access to online services and features, as well as bonus game content; other customers will have access to all the online services and content for $10. GameStop has also offered their support. Gamers will be able to purchase access to the Online Pass and additional DLC from EA at their stores and through their website.

Why charge anything for online access?
First, it's important to be clear that all users have access to premium content. I've been here now for more than a decade, and the investments we're making in developing for digital are profound, compared to even a few years ago. And it makes sense. When we see how many people are playing all of our games online, consumers are telling us that competition is endemic to sports in a way that most people don't get just by playing a game alone on their couch. As a result, we've made a significant investment to offer the most immersive online experience available. We want to reserve EA SPORTS online services for people who pay EA to access them.

Is this intended to combat second sale?
We actually view the second sale market as an opportunity to develop a direct relationship with our consumers, and with Online Pass everyone has access to the same premium online services and content regardless of how and where you buy the game. In order to continue to enhance the online experiences that are attracting nearly five million connected game sessions a day, again, we think it's fair to get paid for the services we provide and to reserve these online services for people who pay EA to access them. In return, we'll continue to invest in creating great games and offer industry-leading online services to extend the game experience to everyone. I don't think even the harshest cynic can argue with that and instead I think fans will see the value we're committing to deliver when they see all the services, features and bonus content that is extending the life of their products.

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20 Threads | 76 Comments*

  • There are a few points mentioned by others earlier and new ones I'd like to summarize.

    First, about this affecting stores such as GameStop:
    This won't. As mentioned earlier, at the very worst, GameStop will sell the game for $45 instead of $55 and offer $10 less on trade in for it. Their profits don't change a dime and the customer gets "shafted" by this new EA pass. It's even worse because there's no way to tell if the code's been used or not so it'll occur with every copy.

    Secondly, I agree with "pigvomit."
    (S)He said "When will it be a $10 feature to save a game?" That's quite a bit drastic but makes perfect sense. Whether this is a success or not, it could lead some place dark. Look at DRM, failing at every turn yet companies are full steam ahead with it.

    Thirdly, EA's failing to admit the real reasons it's doing this:
    It's not to cover server costs for additional sales. When one copy sells, it is always one copy. When the intial owner trades it and someone else buys it, it is still only one user on the server. The initial sale bought the right to play the game whenever and for however long until the servers are taken down. Some have used the "EA expects each customer to play X hours and this is added stress." It doesn't matter. As I said, the initial sale has the right to play as much as they want whenever so even if the system is on 24/7/365 it doesn't matter. This whole thing is to battle used sales and double dip on their purchases. This will not help all that much converting used sales. The majority of people who are buying used sports titles are getting last year's model that's a fifth the price... even with this crap $10 pass, it's still a hell of a lot cheaper for what a large number of people feel is a recycled product.

  • Console gamers want their consoles to be more PC like and online, enjoy it now that you have it.

    For me I plan on and have been dropping out of consoles after 30 years of buying and owning them. To much corporate control for my taste. Every time I turn on my PS3 it boots me directly to the PlayStation marketplace instead of the movie I just put in. Its very offending to have advertisements forced on you from a console I spent hundreds of bucks on. That and they are becoming to PC like. So I'd rather play my PC.

    Thank goodness for the PC and indie game developers. While its being demonized with console ports from the big corps. I can't but help but think indie developers are or should be noticing the lack of quality (awesome) next gen gaming titles. New games that make you say WOW that's fun! Everything is more of the same. We already have companies like Telltale games bringing back the adventure genre. Now we just need some good old simulations that won't work on a game pad. I'm really missing my sim games lately.

    DEVS time to update the classics from the 90s exclusively for todays PC gaming hardware.

    Tie Fighter
    Jedi Knight
    Grim Fandango
    The Battle of Britian: Their Finest Hour
    Planescape Torment
    Wing Commander

    Fingers crossed for some devs to wake up! You make it I will buy it. They must include LAN play! I'll pay $100. ;)

  • This new initiative by EA and other publishers as well to stem their perceived lost profits from the secondary market is more of a bad thing for the consumer than anything else that will be gained.

    I was in the Kansas City area sometime mid Feb when I was in a Gamestop and saw 5 or 6 corporate suits from Gamestop, area managers I assume along with a district manager and one or two from corporate. I purposely browsed near them so I could ease drop in on their conversation about the secondary market, how used games were their top profit earners ( shocked to hear that ) etc etc. The one of them said, we will just adjust, sell the game cheaper but offer a lower price.

    So there you have it. The 15 year old kid who got his parents to spend $75 dollars on some hot new title, no longer get the $35 cash / or slightly more in store credit but instead now gets $15 or $20. The title go backs on the shelf for $40 or $45. Their profits don't skip a beat.

    I don't think Gamestop will skip a beat on what they make profit wise off used games. They aren't going to take a loss, I promise you that. The consumer will. EA or the others want a bit more money fine, whatever. Still, at the end of the day, it's the kids and young people that get shafted.