It seems with new leadership comes new changes. Today, Electronic Arts announced EA Access, a new subscription program for Xbox One. For $4.99 per month or $29.99 per year, Xbox One players get the EA-specific version of an Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus subscription. The primary benefit is The Vault, a collection of EA titles that players can download and play wherever they want. The Vault will launch with Battlefield 4, FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, and Peggle 2, with EA committing to adding further titles in the future. I assume that if you drop your EA Access subscription, you also lose access to Vault titles.
There's also two additional perks to EA Access. The first is you get a 10 percent discount on digital purchases in select titles: Madden NFL 15, Madden Ultimate Team, Battlefield 4, Battlefield 4 Premium, FIFA 15, FIFA Ultimate Team, EA Sports UFC, Need for Speed Rivals, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare, Peggle 2, and NBA Live 14. The second is probably enticing to fans: you can download new EA games like Madden NFL 15, NHL 15, FIFA 15, NBA LIVE 15 and Dragon Age: Inquisition five days prior to launch. The perk works like a demo program, where at the end of a limited period you can purchase the title and pick up right where you left off.
This is a pretty major initiative and one that only really works for the larger publishers like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision. Looking at it from a few angles, it seems to be a positive EA and a certain subset of gamers.
If you're a casual fan of EA's titles - the hardcore will still have to buy the latest and greatest - the Vault is probably a big win, especially at the $30/year tier. You get access to a few of EA's major games for less than a Spotify or Netflix subscription, plus you get 10 percent off any DLC or microtransactions in certain titles. You can already find players who are hyped about downloading their free titles on PlayStation Plus and Games With Gold, games they likely wouldn't have purchased and played otherwise. It's the big FIFA, Madden, and Battlefield players have already purchased those games at launch, and I'm not seeing a significant crossover between those demographics. The strength of the Vault will come down to what else EA throws into it down the line.
I think the dark horse benefit is the five-day early access offering. It operates like getting a book sample from Amazon's Kindle store: you download, you play, and if you decide you enjoy it, you just pick up where you left off in the full version. EA looked at things like Early Access and realized that fans will pay extra to get their favorite games just a bit earlier. Hell, many MMOs offer headstart periods as a pre-order and Collector's Edition incentive, why not extend that to an entire portfolio of titles?
I can see players subbing to EA Access for a single month ($4.99) just to get access to something like Dragon Age: Inquisition a few days early and then letting it lapse until the next game. I could see myself doing that, as EA's games across its entire lineup aren't a huge draw for me. Bioware, Star Wars, and Dead Space titles are my primary areas of interest, whereas EA Sports is mostly a miss. (I would kill for a similar service from Ubisoft.)
Our own Kat Bailey believes the thrust of EA Access is EA Sports titles. The sales of those games are largely stagnant, with the same players who purchased games last year buying this year's iteration. EA Access could push some casual fans over the fence and make them annual buyers or avid Ultimate Team players.
The Xbox One exclusivity is oddly perplexing, as such a service would probably draw users to EA's Origin online service on PC. I would've expected a subscription service to start on PC, but EA obviously has some sort of partnership with Microsoft (possibly stemming from Titanfall's exclusivity deal). I'd expect an Xbox One/EA Access bundle this holiday, possibly with either FIFA 15 or Madden NFL 15. That puts Xbox Ones under Christmas trees, EA Sports titles get a larger push, and sales of the Ultimate Team modes of those games will probably benefit from the 10 percent digital discount. For Mcirosoft, the benefit is pulling the EA faithful into Microsoft's camp for this console generation.
Similar initiatives have been done previously. Sony Online Entertainment has its All Access membership, which provides premium access for Everquest, Everquest II, Planetside 2, and DC Universe Online for $14.99 a month. That's said, I don't think EA was looking to SOE when it came up with this idea. Instead, I think Sony is looking towards what's happening in music, movies, and television.
Instead, this is EA looking at services like Netflix, Spotify, Google Music All Access, Amazon Prime Music, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes Radio/Match. All these services offer a selection of movies, television, and music for a monthly or annual subscription. With the advent of these services, most consumers have found they didn't want to have huge collections of albums, CDs, DVDs, or Blu-Rays... they just wanted their favorite content at their fingertips.
Is streaming or digital perfect? No, but for many consumers it's good enough and convenient. And consumers will pay for convenience. I pay for Spotify and Netflix each month, to the point that I think of those subscriptions like utilities; I just take that out of my budget each month automatically. I still buy the occasional movie on Blu-Ray, but my I haven't purchased an MP3 or CD in years. I switched buying comics digitally on Comixology each week, but I can see the clear benefit of Marvel's Unlimited comic subscription service for readers that aren't hyped every Wednesday. Outside of art books, every book I purchase is on my Kindle Paperwhite. It's all dependent on where your passion lies.
And though games are a passion of mine, I'm finding I don't need to have that passion on my bookshelves for every single title I play. PC, 3DS, and Vita ownership has worn me down on that aspect; I find I get most of my games on those platforms digitally. It's just less of a hassle for me.
Does this mean physical is dead and ownership is a thing of the past? Of course not. I mentioned a number of services earlier like Google Music All Access, iTunes Radio/Match, and Amazon Prime Music, but you can still buy MP3s directly from all of those outlets. Hell, Amazon even offers AutoRip, which gives you the MP3 version of any album you purchase on CD from Amazon. As I said, I still buy Blu-Rays. And yes, certain games I still want on my shelf.
EA Access is just part of an evolution in how we buy, own, and consume games, in the midst of a larger media evolution. It's the acknowledgment that some people aren't passionate enough about certain entertainment to require a physical item. They don't want a huge collection of games, CD, or DVDs, they just want to be able to play, listen, or watch when it's convenient to them. In the past, those consumer were forced have physical collections; now that's not a requirement to enjoy conten and many will pay for that service. The collectors and the physical item fans aren't going anywhere, but the focus of publishers will continue to change over time.
Is EA Access a good idea? I don't know, as there's still a few questions I have about the service (We don't even know when it will launch), but I do know that digital has changed and will continue to change how consumers deal with entertainment. That's doesn't have to be a bad thing.