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Open letter to Sony about "PSN Pass"

Resistance 3 Screenshot

Dear Sony:

I implore you to reconsider your decision to initiate a widespread "PSN Pass" program this fall that would employ single-use licenses tied to a game's multiplayer component. Not only would such a program unnecessarily impede the resale options your customers currently enjoy with regard to successful titles like Uncharted 2, MAG, and Killzone 3; it would likely result in the exact opposite of your intent-in this case, irreparably wounding consumer loyalty, interest in online multiplayer, and the uniqueness of your brand.

The following is a straightforward list of reasons to reconsider the deployment of a PSN Pass program:

1. In a crowded video game marketplace, you must distinguish the online component of your games from those of Electronic Arts, Warner Bros., and THQ titles.

While it is true that Sony has utilized a similar program in the past (e.g., with SOCOM Fireteam Bravo 3), the associated games were PSP titles that were not in direct competition with high-profile PlayStation 3 releases such as F.E.A.R. 3 and Homefront, which likewise use pass programs. As online passes become increasingly popular among publishers, marquee multiplayer franchises are likely to follow suit. In this case, Sony would do well to differentiate itself from the competition by continuing to offer affordable, no-hassle online multiplayer to complement its uniquely free PlayStation Network service.

2. Second-hand sales introduce low-income gamers to a series or brand.

Many gamers who are between jobs or earn low wages rely heavily on the used game and rental markets. Charging an extra fee to enable multiplayer will not only artificially cap the number of gamers involved in an online community; it will also alienate those who may otherwise be inclined to save money towards the purchase of new games in a particular series or from a particular publisher when they first come out.

3. You discourage original owners from trying out the multiplayer component of a game.

If a game owner knows their game will drop in resale value once a license code is redeemed, that will discourage many owners from ever trying out the multiplayer component of a game, further limiting that game's online community and any opportunities for future sale of content (e.g., extra maps) to that player.

4. Such disincentives have not been well received.

Gamers have not exactly warmed to DRM, online licenses, and other similar restrictions of their rights of ownership. For example, Capcom's recent and well documented decision to include a single, permanent save file in Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D led to public uproar that resulted in low consumer scores on online review sites. With Sony's consumer standing already in a precarious state, would it be worth risking additional credibility?

5. If you can't stop the resale market, what's the point?

If the point of an online pass program is to inhibit or halt the resale of Sony-published games, such a program would likely miss the mark. Again, owners are more likely to never try out a multiplayer component so as not to damage resale value, and even if they did, they can still resell the game at a lower-than-desired price point. In other words, if a game is going to be sold, it's going to be sold. You'd likely delay the sale rather than discourage it, and alienate your customer base in the process.

In sum, the recently announced PSN Pass program would likely alienate and infuriate current and future customers, fail to stop resale, and would cause Sony to miss an opportunity to further distinguish its published titles from the competition. Again, I ask that you please reconsider the PSN Pass program.

Sincerely Yours,
Matthew Kaplan

Category Tags
Platform(s): PS3   PSP  
Articles: Editorials  
Topic(s): Business   Piracy & DRM  

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What I wonder is, when reselling a game with a used online pass, surely the box should say "online: none" because technically online is now DLC, and if the box says you get online with the game, you shouldn't have to pay more for it, otherwise it's misleading.
So simply, do the boxes give warning that used games won't have online, because less attentive or serious gamers might not realise they're buying a game stripped of features

Doubting that argument


Gamers have not exactly warmed to DRM, online licenses, and other similar restrictions of their rights of ownership.

I'm doubting that argument due to the success of Steam, App-stores and the Asian market.

The logic behind your points might hold some truth but the only variable that will allow or not allow those passes will be sales numbers.

The pity is there can't be a perfect market research where you can compare two completely identical groups with pass-free and pass-protected release. So publishers can only make future decisions based on the one reality we have. Sales will be affected by game quality, reviews, opinions of early buyers, marketing, price, dlcs, drm, pass(free) and the only result will be sales and so they will make an educated guess.

Games should state on the box

I agree that games should state on the box if online is a 1-time use code. But the major player in the used game space (gamestop), often sells games without the box/manual. And should publishers be responsible for secondary transactions on their product? The used markets for books, music and movies doesn't function with such an implied understanding between content creator and used goods consumer.

In regards to the editorial-

1 and 4) With PS Plus, Sony has entered the pay arena established by Xbox Live Gold. This is their main competitor, not the other publishers. They have chosen to build a paywall in stages. Once the 1st stage took place, later revolting appears less likely. Again, if you want to MP on a console, once Sony charges for it, it's not like you can play for free on the Wii, it's either pay MS or pay Sony.

2) Used games may introduce low-income gamers to a brand. But that's already the roll of platinum/greatest hits/goty lines. You get a relatively new game 6m-1yr after release for $20-30, often with extra content. Still, low income gamers have a huge advantage in price comparison over someone from 10 or 20 years ago. There are hundreds of great games out there for under $10, or often free. PC gaming is also a very good alternative for the budget conscious gamer.

3) If someone is more focused on the resale value of their game than the gaming enjoyment, it's hard to also say that person has the potential to be a vibrant part of the online world. To me, it's either or, not both.

4) Gamers want everything, and they want it for as close to $0 as possible. They want it on every single device, without cd checks, or keys or online identification. And when companies go out of their way to have no drm, they are never rewarded for those efforts. This isn't a flaw with game developers, most of which are passionate about making and playing games. It is a flaw with gamers themselves, who seem more compassionate about complaining and have multiple standards for how they spend money.

5) The resale market hurts the original developer. Once we move to a digital world, the era of used games will be mercifully close. Ideally, there would be a way for content creators to sell to people at the amount they are comfortable paying. Pay want you want schemes do attract considerable attention. But they also attract many, many freeloaders. Which is what the used game market also attracts: people trying to game the system, flip games for profit and generally take advantage of discounts to extreme degrees. If paying for online passes limits those people (and it will), gamers win.

Game publishers are in a tough situation where people complain if a game is too expensive, if it is too short, if a sale isn't good enough, if the patches are too infrequent or not frequent enough, the dlc is on the disc, or the online arena is shut down. And then sometimes gamers actually play the game and complain about graphics, story or controls.

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