Electronic Arts Labels President Frank Gibeau recently offered a tantalizing glimpse into his company’s plans for their future revenue models. Talking to Edge magazine, Gibeau said:
“It won’t be about DLC any more, but rather subscriptions or F2P mechanics. Fortunately, we’ve already gone down that path with FIFA Ultimate Team, Battlefield Premium and some of the things we’ve done with Mass Effect. It’s not just DLC – we think of these as live services, so we give you microtransactions, free content, episodic stuff.”
The comment sparked a generally pessimistic, but not overly hostile, Reddit post that had gamers questioning the meaning of Gibeau’s words and what they would mean for EA’s titles in the long term.
On the one hand, I think it’s a natural progression of the market, and EA, being the huge entity that it is, is on the right track for being at least willing to discuss changing its long-held ways and adjusting to current trends. My favorite line from Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse was from a dot-com magnate who said, “The biggest mistake people make is not recognizing the change that has already happened.” People aren’t buying discs as much and are more willing to embrace F2P and microtransactions, and EA recognizes this.
The flip side, of course, is that EA doesn’t exactly have the best reputation among gamers when it comes to their microtransaction policies. Whether it’s day one DLC for Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age or having to pay to unlock hotbars in Star Wars: The Old Republic or plays in Madden 25 Mobile, few companies play the “nickel-and-diming villain” role better than EA. It’s understandable that players would be skeptical of Gibeau’s words and think that they will be a hassle, rather than a boon, for them.
For games that make sense as continuing properties, like MMOs, MOBAs, and PvP shooters, this approach is already taking form and makes sense, even if the exact implementation isn’t to everyone’s liking. There are a lot of other precedents out there in this space, and a lot of games that have shown us the right way and the wrong way to do things. Since plenty of companies that have already “figured out” how to make F2P work in these arenas, EA will be hard-pressed not to adapt to the conventions of its competitors; it can’t just rely on people’s love of popular licenses to fuel a usurious cash shop in the long term.
Single-player experiences are a little more of a stumbling block. It would be very odd for a game like Mass Effect to be free-to-play or to offer a subscription, and it’s hard to see how it could be implemented in any way that wouldn’t lead to a revolt among gamers. There aren’t a lot of precedents in this field, and missteps here would be courting disaster.
What about the Sims titles? These are games that are ostensibly single-player but have some multi-player elements to it (whether gamers like it or not) and don’t have the start-to-finish cycle like an RPG. Given their mass appeal, I’d be surprised if the next SimCity or The Sims 4 wasn’t F2P or at least didn’t have some F2P component, keeping in line with the explosion in F2P casual games on smartphones and tablets. Could the main Madden NFL game on consoles go the same route in the next decade or so? It wouldn’t shock me.
Overall, though, I think that Gibeau’s words aren’t a major revelation and don’t represent a massive shift away from anything we’re already experiencing. EA will continue to explore the F2P space and, as with most F2P games, there will be some good and some bad. Being such a large company, though, EA’s missteps will be more visible than most.
In the end, though, it’s all about the bottom line. If gamers keep paying for their F2P offerings, EA will keep making them available. It’s the only way for them to judge success. If you don’t like it, vote with your wallets, no matter how much you might want the next Madden or Mass Effect.
By Jason Winter