Subscribe with caution
EA looks to Spotify and Netflix to herald a new way of thinking about how you access games – and that’s scary
Gaming by Paul Taylor
In late July, EA – the company that brings you FIFA and Madden every year with the same regularity of a jolly fat man breaking into your house and leaving suspiciously acquired goods at the bottom of a tree – unveiled what will either be the catalyst for gaming services to come, or a failed experiment. Bear with me here, because this is the part where I explain it.
For a pretty measly $6.99 per month (or $39.99 per year) you can subscribe to EA Access, a program which provides, well, access to a number of games from EA’s back catalogue for you to play as long as your subscription lasts, discounts and also early, timed, sneak peeks of some upcoming titles. (Those sneak peeks sound like demos, but they’re not. We’ll come to that.)
At the moment, the games from the company’s back catalogue available inside ‘The Vault’ include two sports titles that either have been or are about to be superseded, a shooter that’s still rife with bugs months after its disastrous launch, and a cripplingly addictive skill game. Despite my slightly negative description, I do think that if you like to dabble rather than binge on sports and shooters until 1am – in which case you’d probably have most of these anyway – you’ll enjoy dipping in and out with the selection on offer.
While the TOS say that games can be removed from the Vault by EA at any time, COO Peter Moore has promised that everything that goes in the Vault stays there forever. More titles will be added, though there’s no indication on when. “New game additions will be determined by franchise and timing,” said Moore. “We have to make decisions along that way, so there’s no template, like 30 days after a game ships it goes into the Vault.”
Early sneak peeks are distinct from demos, in that you get the whole game to play for a few hours, five days before you can buy it online or from the shops. Demos are usually a vertical slice, a chunk of a game that shows off the best part rather than setting you off from square one, and EA hasn’t ruled out producing demos in the future. Madden NFL 15 was the first game to get early access, and some fans were so keen that they found a way to subscribe twice, thus getting 12 instead of six hours of playtime. There was no distinct, separate demo.
So, EA’s product is a little bit like Netflix or Spotify for games, more-but-not-quite-like Sony’s PlayStation Plus or Microsoft’s Xbox’s LIVE ‘Games with Gold’ programs. Right now, at this moment in time, EA Access is exclusive to Xbox One. EA touted it to Sony, who snubbed the deal, saying “We don’t think asking our fans to pay an additional US$5 a month for this EA-specific program represents good value to the PlayStation gamer.” You probably shouldn’t expect any games from EA to be available as monthly bonuses on PlayStation Plus in the future, nor Games with Gold, because why would EA double dip when they can charge for it directly?
What’s concerning a lot of people is the slippery slope, but you can bet your last hard copy of Call of Duty that Activision, Ubisoft, Bethesda and other big-name publishers are looking at EA Access with a keen eye. Expect more of this to come. The fact that some punters are happy to pay just under $7 for six hours – twice – for a game that they could buy and play merely five days later hints at what’s possible, but the benefits for gamers seem slim. I, for one, am a little scared. Paul is the editor of Official Xbox Magazine