Battlefield 3 didn’t match Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s sales when both games debuted in the fall of 2011. Electronic Arts and DICE’s game sold 8 million copies over its first month on shelves. Modern Warfare 3 meanwhile moved 6.5 million copies in its first day. Electronic Arts may not be able to match Activision’s ability to get $60 discs and downloads into people’s homes, but the publisher is on their way to matching Activision’s success in convincing players to pay a subscription fee for extra services. Premium service Battlefield Premium racked up 800,000 paying subscribers in its first two weeks of availability according to Electronic Arts. That success guarantees not just Battlefield 3’s continued profitability and development support but also that Electronic Arts will make premium subscriptions a regular service for its franchises.
EA debuted Battlefield Premium at its E3 2012 press conference at the beginning of June and 800,000 Battlefield 3 players paid $49.99 for a one-year subscription to the service before the month was out. By comparison, since Call of Duty Elite officially opened in November, it has registered a total of 10 million members but only 2 million are paying subscribers.
DICE and EA are happy about Premium’s success but they aren’t surprised. Frank Gibeau, head of EA Labels, told GamesIndustry International that his company has a history of success in the subscriptions business. “We’ve launched subscription businesses in our other categories. We had EA Sports subscriptions before [Call of Duty Elite] came out, so adding that component to the design is not a reaction,” said Gibeau, “We actually think our Premium service exceeds what Elite does—from a value standpoint, from a content standpoint, and longer term we think that we can bring more properties into that offering and that’ll be great for the business.”
Therein lies that grand message that EA is carrying away from Battlefield Premium’s success: Subscriptions are an ideal method for monetizing games going forward. While the company has discovered that month-to-month subscriptions for MMOs are no longer attractive to customers, as evidenced by Star Wars: The Old Republic’s struggles, annual subscriptions giving additional content to existing products is a cheap, effective way to bring in cash.
This of course presages Electronic Arts’ inevitable move into a purely digital business. Ultimately the subscription and not the disc will be the main product. “[The all-digital Electronic Arts is] in the near future. It’s coming,” said Gibeau, “We have a clear line of sight on it and we’re excited about it. Retail is a great channel for us. We have great relationships with out partners there. At the same time, the ultimate relationship is the connection that we have with the gamer. If the gamer wants to get the game through a digital download and that’s the best way for them to get, that what we’re going to do.”