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

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.

Chris Faylor was previously a games journalist creating content at Shacknews.

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