There's only so much you can do with a customer who buys a game.
And I mean buying a game in the traditional sense, where you go to a store, pick up a physical product, and can play that product on your hardware forever and ever, amen. Sony has found success with "giving away" games every month for subscription of PlayStation Plus, and Microsoft is now catching up and starting to up the quality of the games being offered. But EA is taking things a step forward and launching a subscription-based service for the Xbox One.
The price is relatively low. $30 a year gets you access to games, early access to content and a discount on new releases and DLC. If you're a fan of more than two or three EA franchises it's almost a no-brainer. You're going to save money, and EA likely has enough betas and fun surprises lined up that you'll feel special for signing up.
Hell, I'll likely buy a subscription once this story is up. I want to try the first few games, I'm looking forward to seeing how the experiment plays out, and early access to content will help me work. It's a slam dunk.
But let's be clear, this is a shift of power from the buyer to EA. You'll lose access to content if your subscription lapses, just like the free-game initiatives from Sony and Microsoft that are designed to keep you paying month after month, year after year. EA has an easy way of tracking your spending habits and buying habits, and could begin to offer you tailored content to match your playing patterns.
"EA Access gives sports gamers a very strong incentive to play on Xbox One — especially the people who play a lot of Ultimate Team, because they’ll get 10 percent off the mode’s microtransactions," Polygon's Samit Sarkar said. "And the old Season Ticket program was $25/year for three days’ worth of early access to new sports titles (along with discounts on DLC)."
"I’ve been defaulting to PS4 for most games in this generation, including sports titles, but EA Access will likely change that. And it could encourage die-hard sports gamers who are sitting on the new-gen fence to buy an Xbox One," he continued. There's a lot of value here for sports gamers, and Sony needs to get moving to somehow counter it.
Hell, I'll likely buy a subscription once this story is up
The importance of having this sort of service within Xbox Live can't be understated, and it locks you into EA's platforms and products in a way the company couldn't before. It could be a good deal for customers, but it's definitely a good deal for EA. It's also another step away from true game ownership.
This has been coming for a while
PC gamers have been comfortable with digital-only purchases and games as services for a long time; you're not really buying much of anything when you throw a few bucks at Blizzard for a new pack of Hearthstone cards. If your favorite MMO goes out of business in a week the money you sunk into it is gone.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you're paying for a digital product, only spend what you're ultimately comfortable losing. If you can't put it in a closet, don't fool yourself into thinking you can always have it. Even if you can put it in the closet, you may not always have it. I'm pretty sure I have a boxed copy of The Matrix Online somewhere in my office.
What EA is offering in this case is ephemeral, just like the games we buy digitally through Sony and Microsoft and install directly on our hard drives. One day the servers will go down, and the games will be gone. The hardware will die. The companies will stop supporting these services and they'll cease to host games. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. The digital coupons for content and games are a great deal for this generation, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking we're buying anything lasting.
The stack of NES games that I can still play are relics from a time that has passed
We may complain about this in the comments, but the reality of the situation is that this is the future we've built. We support this new age of limited ownership, of products that exist at the pleasure of the publishers and developers. We spend money on games and services, we prop up the minimum viable products that we like and support their ongoing development. We talk about convenience when we buy digitally, and we worry about things like pre-loading so we can play the moment the game is out, but we're ultimately discussing impermanence.
The stacks of NES games that I can still put in my system to play, the PlayStation One games that still work on my first-generation PlayStation 2, these are all relics for a time that has passed. We're not buying anymore, and EA is showing us the next step towards our rented future. This future comes with benefits, and we may save some money, but let's also understand what we're giving up, and why.
This is the way forward; the way of the future. Your kids won't mind that they don't own their games, they won't know any other reality. The rest of us will worry about what it all means, as we pay for the next piece of content that will blow away like sand the moment the Xbox Two is released, or will fade from memory as we hook up our PlayStation Fives.