There’s very little precedent for Electronic Arts’ just-announced subscription service, and you’re probably wondering whether it’s worth your money. Those familiar with EA Sports Season Ticket may see some similarities, but that earlier (and still available) service doesn’t include the free download library that EA Access does.
We’re here to take a closer look at the service, to run through how it works and what kind of value it represents to you, the gamer.
What the heck is EA Access?
EA Access is a subscription service coming exclusively to Xbox One that is headlined by a freely playable library of catalog (read: older) EA games. Subscribers also get a 10-percent discount on any EA downloadable items — that includes DLC packs and full games — as well as up to five days of early access to unreleased games, with any progress made saved and carried over to an eventual purchase. All of this costs $5 per month, or $30 for a full year. Let’s take a closer look at these point by point.
The game library isn’t dissimilar to Sony’s Instant Game Collection or Microsoft’s Games With Gold, except it naturally only covers EA titles. Four are confirmed so far for the library, with more to be added: Battlefield 4, Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14, and Peggle 2. What’s more, EA’s promised not to remove anything from the “Vault” once it’s there. The service isn’t live yet to test this out, but subscribers should presumably be able to simply jump into the Xbox Games Store and download the games in question. Note that the freebies are just the core games; if you want DLC, you’ve got to buy it separately.
That’s where the 10-percent discount comes in. If you download Battlefield 4, you can then knock some dollars off the cost of any of the map pack expansions, or even the full DLC cycle with a Premium season ticket purchase. Anything from EA that you can spend money on in the Xbox Games Store has the discount attached. That includes DLC, full games, shortcut bundles that speed along progression in games like BF4, and in-game currency for EA Sports Ultimate Team modes.
Lastly there’s the early access. You’ll still need to buy brand new games if you want to play them when they come out — again, with 10-percent knocked off if you buy them as downloads — but EA intends to offer free, early access for select games. Confirmed so far are Madden NFL 15, NHL 15, FIFA 15, NBA Live 15, and Dragon Age: Inquisition. What’s neat about this is your progress is saved. If you play Dragon Age early but don’t buy the game until a month after it’s out, you’ll be able to jump back in right where you left off during the early access period.
Why should anyone care?
Nothing like EA Access has ever really been attempted. PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold both have hardware needs attached to their subscriptions — in that you need a PlayStation or Xbox to take advantage — and EA Sports Season Ticket, as much as it now feels like a prototype for this new initiative, pulls up short of offering actual free games. The newness just means that there’s no easy comparison to find. Make no mistake though: This represents a good value for most gamers.
EA cares because this means people are actively playing older games that would otherwise just sit on store shelves. For all the hours of content an individual video game tends to offer, most have a sales shelf-life of only a few weeks before something newer and more exciting supplants it. For every Call of Duty or Madden series that attracts a rabid following, there’s dozens of Sniper Elite IIIs and Payday 2s. Those are, by many accounts, strong-to-excellent games in their own right, but for one reason or another they didn’t resonate with the segment of the mainstream audience that invests in long-term play.
In essence, EA Access promises to extend the “tail” — which is to say, the post-release sales performance — on its various catalog titles by giving fans an easy, low-cost way to play.
If you’re a gamer, that’s a great thing. The monthly $5 fee is peanuts, and even the considerably more worthwhile $30 yearly subscription — which evens out to $2.50 per month — still isn’t a stretch for most. Obviously you’ll want to have some interest in playing EA’s games. If the four initial Vault items aren’t appealing then no, it’s probably not worth subscribing yet. But as the offering of EA games on Xbox One grows, more titles are sure to be added. Between that and the other subscription advantages, you’re getting quite a bit of good stuff for the money you’re spending on it.
What’s not so great here?
As we’ve already said, the initial offering of games is relatively limited. Not just that, but two of them are EA Sports titles that will soon be supplanted by their 2014 releases. To be fair, the four Vault games are roughly the full extent of EA’s Xbox One offerings. Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is still in the public consciousness, especially with the more recent PC and PlayStation releases, so that’s not likely to join this initial bunch for a bit.
The platform restriction is somewhat limiting as well. If you’re a PC or PlayStation gamer, EA Access simply isn’t an option. Hell, it’s not an option if you’re an Xbox 360 gamer. Sony seems pretty adamant at the moment about not jumping on the EA Access wagon for PlayStation 4. So you’ve got to have Microsoft’s newest console. You’ll also probably want to have an Xbox Live Gold subscription, which carries a $60 price tag. Many Xbox gamers have it already simply for the online play, but it’s something to keep in mind. Especially if Battlefield 4 or either of the two EA Sports games in the Vault appeal to you.
There’s one last potential negative to consider here, though it’s more of an optional situation. Some concern has been voiced in the Internet’s socialsphere over spending money on DLC for games you don’t technically own. There’s something very appealing in EA Access offering Battlefield 4 specifically, since having the core game for free makes it easier to spend $50 on map packs. That’s certainly how EA is hoping everyone will see it. But there’s a valid worry that, despite any promises to the contrary, games could disappear from the Vault. If you buy map packs but then the game goes away, you’re out that money unless you spend more to buy the game.
That said, this is probably the most baseless of any EA Access concerns. There’s no reason to believe that EA will renege on its promise to not remove games from the Vault. What’s the purpose, really? Removing anything just takes away from the value that a subscription offers. The publisher loses absolutely nothing for making old games freely available to subscribers, so why would it risk angering anyone by removing them? What’s more likely to happen is the clock will run out on online support for some of these games and they’ll be taken offline. That’s not uncommon though, and it’s usually not until multiple years after a game’s release.
So what should you do?
If you’re a multi-faceted gamer who owns an Xbox One and either doesn’t have one or more of the Vault titles or just wants early access to upcoming EA and EA Sports titles, the cost of entry here is low enough that you should just jump on it. EA Access is a totally new idea, but it’s built on the rock-solid foundation of older, proven ideas. Don’t be surprised if we start seeing other publishers follow suit. EA Access looks to be an everyone-wins situation; EA gets to squeeze a little more life out of older games while drumming up interest in new ones, and gamers get a cheap way to enjoy a varied assortment of old and new games alike.
That said, this service needs to grow its offerings while sticking to that price point. Right now, it’s simply a case of there not being anything to bolster the Vault with. The Xbox One library is still very young, and very small. It’s sure to grow, but how quickly? How many games can we really expect see added over the next six months? The next 12? There’s solid value to be had here for sure, but don’t expect rapid growth for the Vault.