EA Access: One step away from disaster
EA have unveiled their new subscription based service which takes a lot of cues from already established services like Games with Gold and Playstation Plus. What EA is offering is free EA games (that come and go from their “vault”), discounts and no doubt DLC exclusivity for their EA games. For £3.99 a month the price isn’t so bad and makes the service an attractive offer for those Xbox One owners. But the service isn’t a fantastic deal which could lead EA or another publisher to take things one step too far. The problem lies with yearly releases. Once the new iteration is released the previous game becomes obsolete (for example look at FIFA) and this is especially concerning for EA since its biggest and well known titles use the yearly release model. Once (note not if) other publishers start to get on board they will look to expand upon what EA has envisioned as it isn’t really enough to just replicate. You may ask why it can’t be just replicated but all it takes is one publisher who isn’t getting a fair share of the pie to make a different move (which is more likely as when more and more services pop up, it means stiffer competition which then leads to a few succeeding rather than the many).
This is where the “one step away from disaster” comes in. What if a publisher decided to offer their entire catalogue (old and new) for a monthly fee? Other services would have to adjust to compete. It would be no longer feasible to offer just the back catalogue for a monthly fee nor would it be feasible for other publishers to offer $60 alternatives. Image an offer of £10 or so per month for every Ubisoft game which isn’t bad for both Ubisoft or the consumer as Ubisoft is set to release a total of ten games (4/5 of which are huge) this year. Ten games are enough to make some sort of dent on other game sales. Sure consumers will have more money to spend on games but they will also have less time to play games and may be discouraged from spending a full $60 if they are getting a competition game for a little as £10 a month. This is why others will have to follow suit which is where the problems arise.
Not every publisher is as big or as mainstream as EA, Ubisoft or Activision. Other publishers like Codemasters, Capcom and Square Enix could realistically suffer under this forced model (not I used the words forced because of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph). It could also kill the indie focus on consoles. Sure Microsoft and Sony will still continue to support them (cheaper alternative to releasing a lot of AAA games) but it would be another barrier to overcome for the indie community. Also, in theory, it could encourage less variety amongst publishers. This is something that is happening already under the $60 game model. People are buying fewer games because $60 games are too expensive to buy often. The impact of multiple subscription based services could make things a lot worse where publisher are being forced by the market to have more mass market games as they sell the service. Publisher controlled services is a worrying trend especially when it is the subscription model.
The only way such a future would work is if it was controlled by the platform holders or via a third party and not by the publishers themselves. This is exactly what Netflix has done which has earned them billions in profits. They do create their own content but the vast majority of their content is from elsewhere which is how they have stayed popular and profitable. The TV industry, as a whole, has done the subscription model well by not giving control to the content makers. Looking at the UK Sky, Virgin and BT are the big three. They enforce a subscription based service which works as the end user doesn’t have to buy into multiple subscription services by different companies to watch TV. They have their own content (which they licence out anyway) but the vast majority of its content is licenced (so they are acting like a third party). The problem is no video game publisher has shown the same courtesy except towards the platform holders. With the way EA tried to push Origin past Steam should give a hint at the ambition these publishers now have.
It may just be me but I am seeing a worrying future with the announcement of EA access. One may say Sony were the ones who first made steps towards this future with the inclusion of Playstation Plus, on the PS3, but what EA has done is show how ambition publishers will be in the future. Multiple services selling their own content is going to hurt this industry in a profound way. I for one am not looking forward to it.