The promise of subscription services
Like it or not, the game industry is moving away from selling consumers physical products that they own and toward services that we subscribe to out of convenience and added value. While Spotify and Netflix addressed the rampant piracy of music and television, the video game business has long battled the drag of high price tags that drive gamers to cheaper alternatives: used games, rentals, and bundles.
In the ream of PC gaming, consumers have become accustomed to Valve's Steam application. The marketplace requires a log-in and Internet connection to play your library of purchased titles, yet has converted gamers by relying on batch-selling, frequent bargain sales, and a consumer-friendly mentality. Console game makers and publishers do not have that luxury. Buy a console game and you can do whatever you want with it, including sell it back to GameStop, which marks up the price, flips it, and takes all the profit.
EA Access is finally a way around that -- and it's not only likely to catch on with other publishers, but may potentially prove to be the future of traditional console games. If the beta proves as successful as streaming services have for other media formats, "Netflix for games" won't be an isolated phrase for long.
EA Access not only preserves choice -- publishers won't stop producing physical discs for the foreseeable future -- but also illustrates just how pleasant the environment can remain even when EA and Microsoft design the landscape, set all the rules, and lease you the entertainment. For $30 a year, you're getting access to four games whose stand-alone value is more than $100 (and more to come). In addition, you're getting a 10 percent discount on digital purchases made on the Xbox platform, a perk EA and Microsoft hope you'll become accustomed to over time.
That subscription fee then becomes a renewable annual revenue stream tied directly to accessing the titles you no longer bought outright. In the process, the publishers redirect a fraction of the gamers who would have bought a used copy of Battlefield 4 at GameStop. Even better, it turns consumers who may have only bought one game into a player of four -- with each dollar saved on purchases potentially funneled toward digital add-ons like Battlefield Premium or FIFA's "ultimate team" fantasy soccer league service.
Most importantly, however, is that we slowly but surely stop thinking of games as products we own. That process is the hardest, yet most valuable, to an industry that has long fought for a way to get us paying on the publishers' terms.
We don't know how this will pan out yet. Gamers have been quick to wonder whether this could all be some kind of elaborate money-making trap that will come with all sorts of unwanted stipulations and schemes to get us to sign up. More moderate voices have expressed fear regarding a future of relinquished control over our games, especially considering Microsoft's troubled past with its Xbox One online policy mandates.
So the marriage of two companies over the future of game distribution should necessarily raise concern. However, as it stands now, the deal is less "too good to be true" than one offering a moderate balance between exchanging ownership for value and convenience. Time will tell if the balance will be upset -- and gamers now know that Microsoft and EA tend to listen when the voices get loud enough.
The game industry won't change overnight. Microsoft learned that the hard way. Now, the company and publishers who share its goals have their sights set on a more manageable milestone: getting gamers to start thinking of titles less like disc-based products and more like digital-first creative works we pay to have access to -- and not own.
There's lots more to this article. Please, talk amongst yourselves...