We knew this was coming.
We've seen it across the other major entertainment mediums -- subscription services designed to offer consumers value, choice, and convenience. It was only a matter of time before a publisher followed in the footsteps of PlayStation Plus and PS Now, and it's happening sooner than we perhaps thought it might.
Not only that, it seems that the pioneer in this regard is EA.
EA Access has launched in beta over on Xbox One in partnership with Microsoft. The service went live earlier this week, giving a limited number of players access to four of EA's biggest titles: FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2 and Battlefield 4. Here's the official blurb for good measure:
EA Access membership unlocks The Vault, a collection of EA’s biggest games on Xbox One ready for you to download and play. During the beta, gamers will have unlimited access to four great EA games: FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2 and Battlefield 4™, with more titles being added soon. That’s over $100 worth of games for $4.99 a month. You can play these EA favorites as much as you want with the click of a button.
Here in the UK, you can sign up already for £3.99 a month. Stateside, there's a pretty damn generous $29.99 annual subscription option, but that's not been made available yet over here. Twelve months at £3.99 a month would run you £47.88.
Not only will EA Access members be able to play the Vault games whenever they want, but they'll also get a 10% discount on upcoming EA titles too, and members will be able to trial games out several days in advance of launch:
As an additional perk, EA Access members get an exclusive 10% discount on EA digital purchases on Xbox One. Use your 10% discount on Madden NFL 15, Madden Ultimate Team, Battlefield 4, Battlefield 4 Premium, FIFA 15, FIFA Ultimate Team, EA SPORTS UFC, Need for Speed Rivals, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare, Peggle 2 and NBA LIVE 14, with more titles coming soon.
If you’re an EA Access member, you can download upcoming EA games five days before the release date to play for a limited time. Madden NFL 15, NHL 15, FIFA 15, NBA LIVE 15 and Dragon Age: Inquisition are all included, with more to come. If you love it, buy it, and you can pick up right where you left off.
That EA are the first publishers rather than platform holders to roll something like this out should surprise no-one. Electronic Arts are the biggest industry movers and shakers in that aspect, they have an extraordinary wealth of big-hitting IPs. It doesn't even really matter if the Vault games remain this rigid. There are plenty of people (myself included) who would happily drop thirty quid a year to play FIFA, Madden, and Battlefield.
It's an outstanding idea, and reports suggest that Gamestop will be stocking membership codes too, giving EA a store presence with this service that could prove intriguing. It'll be interesting to see the sales numbers in that regard, because if positive it points towards a future perhaps where digital distribution and digital initiatives don't automatically sound the death knell for physical media retailers.
Big new releases won't be included in the Vault, that much is clear. In that respect, EA Access shares much with PlayStation Plus -- a smattering of free games that are 6 months old or more, and money off towards fresher marquee titles. Hopefully, EA might use the opportunity to really promote some of their smaller titles. Obviously Peggle 2 is included here for the beta, but EA have been known to put some marketing muscle behind a few indie games over the years, and this would seem to be a wonderful way of spotlighting some more.
An exciting initiative, then, but one with plenty of questions still to be answered. How often will the Vault roster change? Will we see annual subscriptions roll out beyond the US? Just how long is the "limited time" period upcoming games can be played for ahead of release? As we've seen with the spluttering Games With Gold, balance will be key.