The age of walking into a shop and picking up a complete game for a fixed price is swiftly moving into the rearview mirror. Electronic Arts is swiftly leading that charge, spying an opportunity to utilise a mixture of subscription-based services, ongoing updates and microtransactions to deliver games that have no upper ceiling on how much you could feasibly spend on playing them. It sounds like a publisher’s dream come true, at the expense of gamers’ wallets.
Speaking at the UBS Global Technology Conference, EA chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen pointed to the success of FIFA and Madden’s Ultimate Team modes as an example of how revenue can be generated indefinitely after a game’s launch. Tied in with EA’s Origin Access subscription service, it’s a ticket to huge revenue gains for EA.
"If you have a live service component to games you can have a subscription that's uncapped," he said. "Give people a way to spend money on things they want to do and that they enjoy doing versus simply capping them at $9 or $10 per month and that's all they can ever spend.
"We find people play twice as many games, they spend twice as long on them, and they spend twice as much money because you've reduced the cost of trial to close to zero."
What this comes back to is EA’s recent comments regarding abandoning annualised releases in favour of pure service models. Lowering the barrier to entry means more people can get on board with these games and, once they’re hooked, they’re more willing to continually spend cash. “It's a great consumer offering, but it's also for us a much more stable business, an easier business for us to run long-term and doesn't have the same limited cap that most subscriptions would have," said Jorgensen.
You can see EA expand out into this market in real-time, and not only with its sports titles. Star Wars Battlefront 2 operates on the exact same recurrent spending model as Jorgensen is bigging up, only it also carries the baggage of a $60 entry fee to even play the game. It’s F2P mechanics and games as a service wrapped up in a premium package, but the groundwork is evidently being laid by EA for further efforts in this area.
Ultimately EA is hunting for the right balance between consumers being happy and EA reaping huge profits. That’s a lot easier said than done, and I think the real signifier of how much progress has been made will be apparent when we see just how well Star Wars Battlefront 2 does at retail. If the recent microtransaction furore and brutal unlock system has no noticeable impact on sales, we’ve got our answer.