Ubisoft and the growing ‘online pass’ trend

Ubisoft have announced that they will be following fellow publishers EA, Codemasters, THQ, Sony and Warner Bros in a vain attempt to tap into the elusive second-hand sales market.

The Ubisoft online pass will be coming our way in the form of the Uplay Passport, which will be a one-time code that will come with new Ubisoft games. Second-hand buyers will be able to purchase codes for £7.99 or 800 Microsoft Points. The first game to require the new pass will be the upcoming Driver: San Francisco and it will go on to be included in other big titles from the publisher, in what is for some an unpopular but unsurprising move. As a business model it is very similar to the online pass offered by EA, but as more companies try to regain some income from second-hand sales, can Microsoft continue to charge for the Xbox Live service?

In the defence of the publishers, they are defending their business from High Street stores such as GAME, who are selling pre-owned games and the publisher receives no income from this. GAME in particular have pushed their luck further by instructing staff to buy products on offer at Tesco and then marking up in their own stores. It could be argued that the Publishers and the High Street are involved in a big fight and you, the gamer, are going to be the one that gets hit hardest.

Typically, you could buy a game on release day for £39.99, which includes your online pass. If, after two months and a few items of DLC purchased for around £8, you then decide to part with the game by selling it on an auction site or by trade-in on the high street, you will get a hugely deflated price due to the slowing demand of pre-owned games; all because of the added online pass required to play it online.

So I need a passport to play a game…

High Street stores already struggling to compete with cheaper online stores will slowly lose their more profitable business of selling pre-owned games at marked up prices, and will slowly disappear. Gamers will be out-of-pocket too as the publishers re-gain control.

Over time people will buy fewer games, meaning we will see less innovation and the norm will become the Call of Duty, Battlefield and FIFA cash cows with little else on offer. For those of you that think I am overacting, a quick look at this year’s game market is already showing how quickly games are losing their value.

I remember being at the Eurogamer Expo last October and there was a huge amount of hype for Brink. There was a queue of over an hour-long wait just to get your hands on this hugely anticipated title, and people were walking away very excited. Fast forward to its release in May and a string of poor reviews ensured that the price had fallen to £14.99 within two months. Homefront was another game heavily marketed for months, but is now under a tenner.

All is not lost though, we can fight back. After all, only a huge fan (or some would say ‘fool’) would spend £40 on a game on a second-hand game, when after only two months later, you could buy the game brand new, complete with online pass for between £14.99 and £17.99.

If this happens neither the publisher nor the high street come out of this well and the savvy gamer will be the champion of champions. I fear that even this victory will be short-lived as the next generation of consoles could surely be digital download only, which would allow them to sell games at inflated prices. A quick look at Microsoft’s Games on Demand takes the smile off your face when you see games such as Crackdown 2 can be purchased for £19.99 but can be found for only £5 at an online store.

Will the future see you paying big money for old games?

The biggest fear among gamers is that we are all being treated as mugs and are rapidly being fleeced. We are wise to the fact that despite paying £39.99 a year to Microsoft for Xbox Live, we then could pay £39.99 for a game that is half-completed because several hours of content is held back, just so it can be released as DLC for £9.99. To announce more charges for online passes and bonus material as well? It takes a very mild-mannered person to not get pissed off.

It appears we are caught in the middle of a war that we cannot win. This is a complex issue that is not going to go away, but who is to blame? Are you angry at the High Street stores for encroaching on the publisher’s income? Are the publishers getting greedy? Do you support the publisher’s move?

We would love to hear your thoughts on this hot potato so please post your comments!

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