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EA looks to Spo­tify and Net­flix to her­ald a new way of think­ing about how you ac­cess games – and that’s scary

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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

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