Named EA Access, the initiative allows members to download a selection of titles from an online catalogue named The Vault. A beta test has already launched to a limited number of console owners who will be able to access Fifa 14, Madden NFL, Peggle 2 and Battlefield 4. The publisher says that more titles will be added before the official launch of the service.
Along with the basic games rental model, EA Access will also offer members a 10% discount on new titles and other digital content downloaded from the EA Online store. The service will also provide early access to forthcoming titles; subscribers will get access to games like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Fifa 15 up to five days before the official release, and can then continue their saved games after purchasing the full product.
Doubtless inspired by video-on-demand service Netflix, EA Access represents a fresh model for the games industry. Console manufacturers Sony and Microsoft both offer subscription based services that include regular access to free games, but EA is the first major publisher to experiment with a similar concept for its own titles. In the past, subscription access has tended to be limited to add-on digital content, and has proved controversial. Activision was initially criticised for its Call of Duty Elite service, which offered subscription-based access to map packs for the military shooter series.
However, by offering complete titles, EA Access may well open up the publisher’s roster of games to a wider audience – if successful, it will doubtless inspire other publishers to explore similar concepts. The service, which is exclusive to Xbox One, is also a coup for Microsoft, which has seen its console fall behind rival PlayStation 4 in sales.
The biggest question is whether game purchasers will be willing to rent titles rather than own them. The concept works with movies and television series, because most consumers tend to watch them only once. Games have a longer lifespan and players invest heavily in them, both in terms of time and unlocked content. There was a backlash against Microsoft when it revealed the Xbox One would be based around a digital distribution model, with most games purchased online and subject to stringent digital rights management. It later u-turned on the model.
There is no firm release date for EA Access at present. Electronic Arts will not provide any information beyond a short statement: “You’ll be able to become an EA Access member this summer. We’ll announce the launch day soon.”
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