The second-hand market is a tricky beast to tackle. On the one hand it's every gamer's desire - and right - to pick up a bargain-priced slice of digital delight. But at the same time second-hand game sales mean than an increasing amount of players' purchases are of no benefit whatsoever to game developers' livelihoods. With game budgets spiraling this generation and game studios dropping out of the industry like rot-riddled teeth collapsing out of a tramp's mouth, loss of revenue is obviously a big problem nowadays.
Rather than try to stamp out the second-hand market altogether, the current flavour-of-the-month strategy within the industry is to monetise online play for second-handers by including single-use online access codes in game boxes. The idea is that when the original buyer has used the code, subsequent owners will have to buy a new one if they want to take their play to the tubes. EA is already using the model, but it could be set to become a much bigger phenomenon. Because Sony has revealed that it's thinking about implementing it too, for its first-party titles.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe President Andrew House has told that the House of Sackboy supports third-party publishers' use of the system and is exploring the option for its own content. However, he also said that a blanket charge for all online play was something that Sony would "struggle with", due its pride in the PSN's free-to-use policy. Sigh of relief.
To me, the online pass idea currently seems the best compromise for all concerned. However much we might not like it, game developers do need to be paid, whether we choose to buy our games at full-price or not. If that doesn't happen, studios disappear. Or games get more expensive. Or both. Whether you balk at the idea or not, I think allowing discounted second-hand sales to go on while recouping a small amount of cash for online features is a pretty fair deal, and realistically, something that's necessary for the health of the industry. And it's infinitely preferable to the hideous Kotick-touted idea of online subscription fees by default. That one would go down like turd-cake on a hot day with already-paying Xbox Live users.
But what do you reckon? Is the online pass idea an insidious money-grabbing affront to a free market? Or a fair compromise for the benefit of gamers and game makers alike? Let me know.