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EA Sports locks out online play in used games

Starting next month, if you want to play an EA Sports game online you'll need to either buy it new or be prepared to pony up an extra $10 for an "Online Pass" code that will unlock online features.

Electronic Arts made the announcement Monday via a press release, noting that the program would begin with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, which hits shelves June 8th.

"This is an important inflection point in our business," said Peter Moore, president of EA Sports. "It allows us to accelerate our commitment to enhance premium online services to the entire robust EA Sports online community."

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The Online Pass appears to be part of a grander strategy EA has dubbed "Project Ten Dollar." The program is designed to entice used game buyers to throw ten bucks the publisher's way whenever they buy a game sans wrapper. If you've played titles like Dragon Age: Origins, The Saboteur, or Mass Effect 2, you've likely already seen this program in action via the one-time download codes for extra content that were included in those games' boxes. Pick them up used and you'd need to pay for a new code if you want access to bonus missions, characters, weapons, and armour.

It's no secret that most game publishers think the lucrative used games market, which benefits only retailers, represents significant lost revenue. However, the Online Pass is perhaps the industry's most egregious attack yet on used game sales (and game rentals). Enticing players to buy titles new by offering a bit of bonus content is a classic value-add proposition. Locking out core features, on the other hand, is simply an affront to people who buy games used.

Of course, from EA's perspective, they have little to lose. The publisher wasn't earning any money from used game sales to begin with, so if people stop buying used games due to their decreased functionality it's no skin off their backs. On the contrary; it might even move people to buy more new games, which would be a boon.

You might think this strategy would irk a company like GameStop, which derives the majority of its profits from the sales of large-margin used games. However, Dan DeMatteo, Chief Executive Officer of GameStop, expresses enthusiasm in EA's press release.

"GameStop is excited to partner with such a forward-thinking publisher as Electronic Arts," said Mr. DeMatteo. "This relationship allows us to capitalize on our investments to market and sell downloadable content online, as well as through our network of stores worldwide."

I suppose that means GameStop clerks will soon have yet another way to up-sell consumers.

Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha

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