One of the world’s largest video game developers, Electronic Arts, has given gamers a glimpse into a future where consoles may not exist.
The American giant announced a new-look EA Origin service beginning this summer which will allow paying subscribers to play its newest PC titles without buying the games themselves.
“We’re moving away from units sold to long-term relationships,” chief executive Andrew Wilson told the Wall Street Journal.
The big question is: will it extend this to consoles such as the PlayStation and Xbox?
It would be a huge risk: EA charges around £45 for the likes of football simulation FIFA, which commands a loyal audience happy to shell out for the latest version every year as well as additional content such as Ultimate Team.
Indeed FIFA returned to the top of the charts last week despite being released last September, no doubt thanks to an online World Cup update, and has sold well in excess of ten million copies of its current edition alone.
My own copy of FIFA 18 is a physical disc. However downloads of new console games are equivalent in number to boxed titles these days: in the UK alone, the online games market was worth £1.6 billion in 2017, reflecting growth of 13.4 per cent.
On PC digital downloads account for more than 90 per cent of all game sales, but EA’s own figures show that consoles generate about five times more revenue for the firm than PC sales.
Trailblazer EA is seeking to take the trend to the next level: not charging customers at all at the point of sale. For £14.99 a month, or £89.99 a year, players will be able to access more than 100 of its games as well some titles from other publishers.
The recurring revenue model is already well-established in other entertainment sectors such as movies (e.g. Netflix) and music (e.g. Spotify). Indeed Sony and Microsoft already employ such a model when it comes to accessing online services, including free game downloads, on their PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles respectively. Gamers are more than happy to pay it.
I already hand over around £90 a year to EA for just two of its titles: FIFA and popular first-person shooter Battlefield. I’d love to have the latest version of many of its other flagship games, such as John Madden (American football), NHL ice hockey and NBA basketball. From this perspective, £89.99 a year looks great value.
But what if other publishers begin to charge a similar amount? Would we find ourselves shelling out hundreds of pounds every year, simply to access games? For someone who remembers buying Commodore 64 games at £2.99 a pop with my pocket money, I don’t like the sound of that future much.
However it is possible that, as streaming quality and reliability improves across the world, the next generation of consoles will be the last, with games made available directly through TV or other services.
Now, a future where I don’t have to pay £500 for a new console every few years? That I can live with.