Earlier this week, EA and Microsoft announced a surprise service exclusively for Microsoft’s Xbox One called “EA Access,” which uses a similar model as Netflix does for movies – except, you know, for EA games. For $5 a month or $30 a year, users can get access to a library of EA’s games including “Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14, Battlefield 4 and Peggle 2 during the beta, with more to come in the future. Curiously.” Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4) was left out, providing Microsoft’s lagging Xbox One with an exclusive to sway people away from the competition. Less than a day later, Sony revealed that it was also offered EA Access and declined it because the service does not provide the value Sony feels its users deserve. Many gaming enthusiasts have chided Sony on forums for not being “pro-choice” and proposed customers be the ultimate judge of value. I am all for freedom of choice in the free market, but Sony was absolutely correct to decline EA Access because they’re thinking about the future implications of such a service on both users and developers.
Imagine a world where EA Access was available across all major gaming platforms (PC, Xbox One, PS4). What’s stopping EA from requiring an EA Access subscription on top of Xbox Gold or PS Plus for players to play their games online? This would be the EA Online Pass controversy all over again. Sony was smart to nip this in the bud before it could establish itself in the community. However, let’s just say EA Access was across all platforms and was wildly successful. What happens next? Every game developer will be doing the same thing. $5 to play some of your favorite games might not sound like much, but what about $5 multiplied by the number of publishers you buy games from? If you’re an EA die hard, then no problem, it’s only $5. However, most people, I imagine, buy good games from a number of publishers. This poses a problem for the average consumer. A service like EA Access could lead to a world where gamers are nickel and dime’d for every game publisher’s library.
Beyond the cost, the average consumer also likes things to be straightforward. Having every game publisher with its own “portal” to their games outside of the main store would not only be confusing but would also decrease the need for the main store, which becomes a portal to all of the publishers’ portals. It would be like having multiple app stores on Android or iOS and needing to PAY for access to the other app stores (Yes, Amazon has its own app store on Android, but it is free). It would be better to build a service into the existing stores on PlayStation or Xbox or Steam to provide users with a more integrated experience.
All of this doesn’t even address the fact that the entire EA Access library is for all of their old games that no one is likely going to play – not when the latest and greatest version of it is just around the corner or out already. Madden NFL? FIFA? Battlefield? These are all titles that get released on an annual basis. All of your friends will be playing the latest version of the game and that’s likely what you’ll want to do too. There is no way EA will eat into its profits by offering new games within the first three months. So even though EA talks about what a value the service is, “That’s more than $100 worth of games for just $4.99 a month,” realistically, it is not worth anything.
Finally, in a world where EA Access is successful and every publisher is adopting a similar service model, it’s the small developers who get the short end of the stick. Small developers do not have the brand recognition that an EA or Rockstar portal would have and would therefore not be able to successfully create a portal for gamers to find and play their old games on.
In the end, while a subscription model is the right way to go for gaming, I don’t believe it should be de-centralized across every single publisher. It would be better for all developers and gamers if it were centralized under a PlayStation, a Xbox, or, like we have today, a Steam. I don’t fault Sony for saying “no” and thinking about what the future implications of EA Access could mean for its users and developers. I guess we’ll see what the free markets decide because consumers also have the right to purchase an Xbox One that has the service versus a PS4 that lacks it. My hunch? It won’t sway people to buy one console over the other.