THQ execs are talking about their highly anticipated shooter, “Homefront.” Some are heralding it as a true C.O.D. killer and the latest news may back up that prediction. When Homefront is released in March, gamers will be treated to dedicated servers for multiplayer matches. That means no Black Ops-esqe ”host migration” or “host advantage.” It’s terrific news, at face value. Dig deeper, and you’ll notice a grim trend that’s sure to become a norm in the industry.
The old saying is true. Ain’t nothing for free, baby. Dedicated Homefront servers will provide tremendous gameplay, but they will come at a price. THQ is implementing what’s called a “THQ Pass.” If you buy a new copy of Homefront, the pass comes with the game, allowing you full access to the title’s some 70 multiplayer character levels.
Buy Homefront used, and you’ll have to purchase the online pass separately, which reports are saying will run you about $10. If you decide not to cough up the extra cash, you won’t be able to fully level up your character. The level cap is set at a pathetically low level 5.
Paying for dedicated servers is nothing new. There are myriad sun-deprived, mountain dew guzzling PC gamers rocking older games on dedicated servers right now. They have all paid a few bucks to keep those servers running. It’s standard operating proceedure.
But don’t get it twisted. THQ pass isn’t really about servers. It’s about the used and rental industry. Every time you buy a used title at Gamestop, the developer gets cut out of the deal. The people who made that game see no money at all. It’s in THQ’s interest to sell as many new games as possible.
I’m with that line of thinking. I rarely buy used. I prefer to reward the developer for its hard work.
That said, I don’t buy a ton of games. I, like most people, am not made of money. It’s problematic because I write for this website and need to play a whole bunch of games. That’s where renting comes in.
Companies like Gamefly are perfect for a guy like me. Play a bunch of stuff, write reviews and impressions, then pick up the ones I really like later down the line. It’s a plan that has worked well so far. But if more companies start thinking like THQ, that will change.
If I rent Homefront to review for this site, I won’t be able to tell you guys about the guns and perks you unlock after an hour or so of gameplay. My lack of a THQ pass will prevent me from experiencing the full multiplayer portion of the game.
If I want that pass, I’ll most likely have to buy the game from Gamefly, or just head to the store and grab a new copy. In short, my “rental” will be something like a glorified demo. Sure, I can play the entire single player campaign, but the meat and potatoes, the multiplayer, will be partially locked away until I pay.
Expect games with vast multiplayer experiences to follow in suit. Your rental will only allow you to play so deep into the game. It’s ironic, because Gamefly’s mantra is “Play as long as you want, and return the game to us with no late fees.” If I can only level up to 5 on Homefront’s multiplayer, how long will I actually keep that game? If online passes become a norm for developers, you may ask yourself why you’re renting at all.
You have to feel bad for casual gamers. Just one month into 2011, relentless news of awesome releases to come have produced an internet cacophony difficult to decifer if you don’t really follow the games industry. Everyday, it’s, “Killzone this,” “Crysis 2 that,” “Bulletstorm the other.” The quality games are coming in large numbers, particularly shooters. And for plenty of gamers, renting helps determine which offerings will be a purchase and which ones get passed by.
If developers lock out gamers who don’t give up the $60 right away, will there be a backlash? Will it hurt sales in the end? I’m not sure.
I’ve been very excited about Homefront. It may be one of the best shooters of the year. Will the THQ pass problem keep my from getting the title? Yeah, probably. I’ll most likely wait until the price drops to pick it up. The online pass concept may be necessary, but it just doesn’t *feel* right. Why blackmail gamers? How about developers at large figure out some way to get paid off used purchases?
I don’t like a developer holding back portions of a game just because I want to rent before I buy. Awesome servers or not, my gut tells me it’s bad business. But it’s also the way the business is headed. Welcome to next gen gaming. Give us all your money, or you don’t get all the game.