EA Access the future of gaming?

In an economy that is continually seeing sales in traditional high street stores declining and an ever increasing move towards digital distribution will this Generation be the last that relies on bricks and mortar stores for game distribution.

We’ve already seen how the downturn has impacted our largest Video Game retailer when the high street chain Game entered administration on 26 March 2012 after a well publicised financial difficulties which would eventually see it closing a large number of stores and de-listing from the London Stock Exchange. This was a huge blow to gamers all over the country who typically relied upon the well known high street retailer for purchasing games and related merchandise and seeing them in such a sorry state sent shock waves through the industry. Many experts sited issues with how the company was being run but as a gamer seeing my local store shut down was a real sad day. Apart from being a source of games and odd bits or merchandise i always enjoyed looking through the pre-owned games on sale and chatting with fellow nerds.

Without a local store i like millions of other were left with Digital Downloads or ordering from the likes of Amazon running the risk of late or missing deliveries and no trade value. There was also the lost social aspect and having someone who could maybe point out a game i might like or a little deal that perhaps wasn’t being promoted. We all like browsing for things and whether that was the latest games or maybe a hidden gem stashed at the back of a shelf there was always that chance you would come out with something brilliant. Publishers of course don’t particularly like the pre-owned market as this is a market they have no access too financially and all the profit is kept by the retailer none of it is passed back. For us consumers it helps reduce the cost of ownership sometime by up to 50% and the majority of games are traded against another games so the money stays within the industry. Getting publishers a percentage of this revenue is key to the system working to a level where everyone benefits not just the retail outlets.

Assassins Creed DL

One of the strangest things about digital downloads is the price point that they are often sold at when compared to a store. For example the utterly terrible Assassins Creed Syndicate is still £49.99 on the Microsoft Store but i can walk into Game and pick it up pre-owned for £29.99 or new for £39.99 and the retail versions have resell value whereas the digital version has no resell or trade value. It’s even stranger when you consider the supply chain involved in getting a new game boxed, shipped and put onto a store shelf compared to simply passing a copy to the platform holder to store. A retail game goes through all sorts of steps before it even gets to your local store each step bumps up the cost which is why you pay so much for a game but this doesn’t reflect on the digital copy.

The industry really is moving towards the digital download model but will we still be tied to paying £50 for a new game or are there alternatives that suit all parties. One possibility is a Netflix type model which would expand on the EA Vault idea where instead of paying full price for a game and having no resell value you rent the game for as long as you want under a monthly subscription. We already pay for Xbox Live why not have an expanded system where you can pay a set monthly subscription fee to have access to a Publishers Video Game catalogue. Subscription models have shown how successful they can be especially when they are priced right and have plenty of content to consume. Such a service would also naturally be a great portal for Publishers to show off their games and other content that you might be interested in. This would benefit both the gamers and the publishers as it would remove the large financial outlay required to get a game from the Developers onto the shop floor lowering the ever growing cost of game development. The only downside would be to the retail stores who may suffer but they have been taking all the money from the Publishers for years.

EA already have a foot in the subscription model in the form of their EA Access which for only £3.99 a month or £19.99 you have limited time access to new games such as Star Wars Battlefront before general release but more importantly you have unlimited access to older games in the EA Vault. Titles like the brilliant Titanfall, Fifa 15, Battlefield Hardline and many other are available under the subscription for unlimited play time and more are being added every month. If you’re a fan of the EA franchises than you’re going to save a huge amount of money with EA Access and if more publishers like Activision, Bethesda and Ubisoft get on-board with their own services we’ll have real freedom of choice and competition is always a good thing.

The other possibility is the streaming service model that has had limited success on custom hardware but if added to a large installed user base like the Xbox or PlayStation it could be a success. Microsoft already has the infrastructure in place to distribute and run games in the Microsoft cloud in the similar way that Azure allows virtual servers to be dynamically created when required. This would have the secondary benefit of placing less strain on the limited hardware in the Xbox One by offloading the rendering to the Azure cloud. This could very well happen if the planned Cloud functionality shown off in the forthcoming crackdown turns about to be as impressive as many think it will. The video linked below shows what Microsoft are trying to do with the Xbox Cloud by offloading certain tasks off the console to dedicated servers Crackdown is capable of producing an entire city that can be destroyed. Compare that to most games that offer little more than shooting holes in a wall and you can see the possible advances this system could bring, if it works.

Any streaming system could in theory replace the consoles with lower cost dedicated hardware no bigger than a digital TV box plugged directly into your internet service. If the costs are low enough there is no reason why they couldn’t be sold as part of your Xbox or PlayStation Network subscription with the costs of developing the hardware and maintaining the servers all costed under you subscription. A £100 box would be far easier to get into the front room than a large £400 brick sitting under your TV.

One thing is for sure, the days of the mega expensive console are surely up with ever increasing costs in both infrastructure and the physical hardware Sony and Microsoft need to adapt to the ever growing threat from the PC Master Race. With PC costs coming down and availability going up both consoles are in real danger of falling out of the gamers toolbox.