Is EA setting itself up to be the Netflix of gaming?

EA has announced that it plans on launching a brand new service, premiering on Xbox One first, called EA Access. EA Access intends on being a subscription service for gamers that will provide perks like 10% off digital purchases of EA games and allowing users to play time-limited complete access trials of EA games up to five days before a game’s launch. But the big buzz is behind the feature they’re offering called the EA Vault. The Vault will allow subscribers unlimited access to a backlog of EA games. The first four games premiering on the service are Peggle 2, Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14 and the always lovely, Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare.

Now, what makes this such a big announcement is that while the offering is small right now with only four games, that catalog could become huge over time. This could provide gamers with a subscription service to games, the Netflix of gaming. Subscribers will have the choice of either paying $5 a month or $30 a year ($2.50 a month) to get access to a backlog of EA’s games. Assuming this gains traction, that could be a ridiculously great savings on a buffet of old games, all provided via digital download.


EA had previously emulated other digital ventures with their Origin service, a digital store for PC gamers all too similar to Valve’s Steam store. The interesting part is that Origin features non-EA games as well, from publishers such as Capcom, giving hope to the notion that EA Access could open up and feature more than just EA games. The service could easily breath life into older games no one purchases and provide a service for gamers who just want to pay one flat fee for a buffet style of gaming. Netflix became huge as a service that provided content for the people who didn’t know what to do with their Saturday afternoon and EA Access could very well do the same. Imagine, a couple sitting on their couch realizing they’ve played all their local co-op games…bored…then starts up EA Access, sees that PvZ Garden Warfare has local co-op and decides to try it and BAM, they’re addicted like a Netflix subscriber gets addicted to Breaking Bad. This could be big.

But what are other companies doing?


Playstation Now

Sony has launched the beta of their Playstation Now service which rather than offering a download, instead streams games as you rent them on a game by game basis. For example, you can choose to rent Critter Crunch for 90 days at the cost of $6. (The 90 day counter begins once you launch the rental, continuing even when the game is off.) The perk of the service is that it provides games from the PS3, streamed, to the PS4 (and soon other Sony devices like televisions and the Vita). The issue with this style of renting is that it’s slightly archaic. While it’s nice to play PS3-era games on the PS4, the pricing alludes to an almost Blockbuster era way of how things are handled. Paying $3 to play a game for 4 hours is just all kinds of ridiculous. Even more, paying $15 to play Metal Gear Solid 4 within 90 days is a bit of a slap in the face for anyone with a PS3 who can pickup the game for a fraction of the price. Like EA’s program, it’s likely that newer games won’t be appearing but having to pay for half the price of EA’s yearly price, for just one game at three months, while also dealing with bandwidth for streaming, just seems like a poor deal. It doesn’t help when games like Critter Crunch have been as low as 99 cents to keep on the PS3. It cheapens the service by having it be a pay as you go service for backwards compatibility.


Games for Gold & Playstation Plus

It’s worth noting that Xbox Live and Playstation Plus offer games each month for subscribers. In the long run, this could be seen as a Netflix of sorts, where you receive your games and can go back to previous games you’ve subscribed to and play. Playstation offers 2 games each for PS3, PS Vita and PS4 while Microsoft offers 2 games for Xbox 360 and Xbox One. And while the average person probably could get through those games in two months, making it a fair comparison to Netflix’s influx of movies and shows per month, the comparison isn’t quite 1:1. Mainly because both services require users to download the games when they’re available from the service, if they want further access to them. Users are forced to keep track of the service’s offerings and download new items before they’re taken off the service by the next month. The only way to secure your addition to the library. While diligent users could end up amassing a library of 30+ Vita games, it’s a bit anti-consumer to require users to keep up to date with the service’s offerings. Afterall, Netflix would be a completely different beast if it required viewers to download Breaking Bad to their TVs in a month’s time, or else never have access to it again. As result, Games for Gold and Playstation Plus should be seen as completely different entities. Rather, their services act as a means of justifying a console’s purchase (also providing online play for Xbox & PS4) rather than as an augmented buffet ala Netflix.


The Future

So the question is where the future will go. It’s very much possible for EA to not add many games to its service, making the allure low and proving to be only a drop in the bucket that is the economics of gaming, similar to Netflix Instant prior to proving Starz programming. Though it’s possible that it could amass a substantial collection or even its existence could push Sony into turning Playstation Now’s rental service into a subscription service. With Gamestop’s stock falling 5% after the announce of EA Access, it’s possible we may see a new way to game on the horizon. With a buffet of budget titles and backlogs galore.