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Players who buy Battlefield 5 have to wait the longest to play it

EA wants you to subscribe, not buy

A player in a custom-painted leather jacket in Battlefield 5. DICE/Electronic Arts

EA is trying something new for the release of Battlefield 5, and it might seem a bit counter-intuitive. If you want access to the game right now, oddly enough, the worst thing you can do is purchase a copy.

But this play makes sense when you look at EA’s long-term strategy. The publisher doesn’t want you buying games anymore, it wants you subscribing to them. And EA is hoping that getting games earlier than anyone else will get you to subscribe.

This is how it works

The release schedule for Battlefield 5 is complicated enough that EA wrote a guide explaining what’s going on, and included a graphic that breaks it all down.

A graphic explaining the release dates of Battlefield 5 EA

Here are the bullet points:

  • Players on Windows PC or Xbox One who subscribe to EA’s services get the game before anyone else, with Origin Access Premier subscribers getting unlimited access today on PC. Origin Access Basic subscribers on the PC or and EA Access subscribers on Xbox One get a 10-hour trial.
  • Players who purchase the $79.99 deluxe edition on PC, PS4 or Xbox One can play on Nov. 15.
  • Players who purchase the $59.99 standard edition on PC, PS4 or Xbox One can play on Nov. 20.

Servers for the game were actually turned on last night, giving subscribers on Xbox One and PC access to the game a day earlier than expected.

But why would EA do things this way?

No one wants to say “early access”

AAA publishers are finding interesting ways to avoid saying they’re releasing their games in early access, and EA is no different. Battlefield 5 has a three-date release structure across three platforms, allowing EA and DICE to stagger the number of players rushing to play the game. This strategy gives them an effective way to manage server load, if nothing else.

But it’s part of a larger strategy to turn Battlefield 5 into a service that continually adds content instead of a game that’s released as a “finished” project. Not only is there no single release date, things like the battle royale mode won’t be added until next year. The Tides of War system won’t launch until “early December” of this year. Launching with too much stuff, we’re now told, is a very real risk.

“Players have things to look forward to and they can spend time with each mode,” live service development director Ryan MacArthur told VG247. “Otherwise you have a similar thing like with expansions where the playerbase gets fragmented. It sucks all the oxygen out of the room if you put to much in.”

It’s not accurate to call Battlefield 5 an early access release, but neither is it appropriate to say the game is being launched in a finished state. But that’s also not a criticism; EA and DICE don’t seem to be rushing a game out, they’re just changing the rules of engagement to make it clear that the release date isn’t the day we’re given the “full” experience. That’s only going to happen with time, and some rather large updates.

If there’s no longer an expectation that a game is launched when feature complete, why not muddy the idea of release dates altogether is by splitting it across three different dates defined by multiple services spread over three different platforms in order to slowly onboard groups of players onto the servers?

EA doesn’t want you to buy, it wants you subscribe

Players can sometimes get lost in a semantic argument to determine whether one group of people gets a game “late” or another gets it “early” when this sort of thing happens, but let’s agree that being able to play a game sooner, when it’s ready for release, is preferable. So we can use that preferential treatment to find out which group of players EA wants to reward the most.

In this case, EA is rewarding the players that subscribe to EA’s services, not the players that bought the game as a $59.99 or more release. If that group is happily playing a stable version of the game today, and people who bought the game as a single product don’t get to play for another six days, I’m pretty comfortable saying the latter group is getting the game late.

EA wants to be a subscription service, and it’s not shy about telling you so. Giving subscribers access to these games so much earlier than traditional buyers is absolutely a lever that the company is pulling to move people from buyers to subscribers. Early games are a selling point, and EA has made it clear that subscribers will get games before anyone else. A customer that’s paying a monthly or yearly fee instead of buying games one at a time is currently preferable from EA’s point of view. This is just a way to get you to agree.

So first EA wants to reward subscribers, and then it wants to reward the people who paid more for their copy of the game, and the last release date is for people who buy the standard $59.99 version of Battlefield 5.

If EA’s leadership has a choice, they would like you to subscribe. If you won’t subscribe, they want you to pay more. If you don’t want to pay more, you’re going to be the last group to be able to play.

EA has set up a very clear incentive structure, but whether this trend continues will be up to the players who get to decide how they want to pay for games, and how much they’re willing to spend to get them early. The chatter online is a lot less important than the most important data point: How the players decide to spend their money.

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