EA, Sony, THQ, Ubisoft, and Warner Bros. Interactive have all announced plans to start charging for “Online Passports,” which will be required purchases for players who want to play with used game discs. Specifically, these $10 passports will be needed to play multiplayer games (like Ubisoft’s Driver: San Francisco, pictured above), but there’s nothing to keep publishers from using the same policy for singleplayer campaigns in the future.
The basics are thus: you buy a brand new game, a passport code comes with it, which you use for accessing all of the online features of the game. Once the code is used, it can’t be transfered to anyone else. So if the disc winds up in a “used games” bin at a retailer, or even if you just borrow it from a friend, you won’t be able to access any of the online features — unless you shell out an extra $10 for a new passport.
I can understand where game publishers are coming from with this; it’s a means of preventing user abuse of their online services. But it also muddies the waters between games being a tangible product, versus a virtual/digital service. With games starting to occupy more and more space in the cloud, game possession could become a thing of the past. Maybe soon we’ll all be renters, and there will be no owning games anymore.
The music industry tried out that same model a while back with devices like Microsoft’s Zune, where you had unlimited access to cloud-based music for a monthly fee. On the other hand, film buffs have taken to this business model in huge numbers, accessing Netflix’s entire inventory of movies for a monthly fee. The burgeoning digital book industry hasn’t caught onto this notion yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time.
Services like Gamefly are already already offering video game rentals (though this new policy means that playing the online portions of rented games will cost you an additional $10 per game), but are gamers ready for where this road may inevitably end?