EA Looking Towards Future of “Free-to-Start” Console Games

Posted January 29th, 2015 at 10:15 am


EA’s stock hit a seven year high yesterday following the report of third quarter fiscal results which highlighted soaring digital revenue. The primary drivers behind that success have been the Ultimate Team modes in sports games and free-to-play mobile games.

The inevitability of free-to-play reaching consoles has never been more evident than now. CEO Andrew Wilson essentially laid out plans for that during the quarterly investor call. Gamespot noted the comments in an article earlier this week

“On free-to-play, with consoles, we think about this much the way that we think about free-to-play overall. There’s a couple of different vectors to this,” Wilson said. “The first is as we look to the future, we believe a very big part of our player-base will expect a free-to-start experience. When we look at film, television, music, books, very often there is this free trial notion that actually onboards new players, new listeners, new readers, or new viewers into a service. We’re actively looking at how we could offer that type of experience to our players on console and across other platforms.”

Wilson goes on to cite three different avenues to achieving that: microtransaction-based, subscription-based, and free-to-start full downloads. With EA Access, the subscription service currently available on Xbox One, the company has essentially started two of those already by hooking consumers into a subscription and offering six hour trials for games even before they’re released. Saves carry over when the full game is purchased.

All they’re missing are FTP games that are centered around microtransactions. I’ve been anticipating for a few years now the various Ultimate Teams being splintered off into their own standalone games. It makes a lot of sense. Without a $60 barrier many more people will be exposed to the product and able to spend money within them. In fact it might be the only way that a struggling franchise such as NBA Live could survive.

This could be a very good or a very bad thing for traditional sports games. On one hand companies like EA would be forced to innovate and justify those games to consumers instead of being complacent and accepting a downward sales trend because they were making up for it with digital revenue from the remaining customers. They could experiment and come up with new ways to make money in those products. The pessimistic view however would be that development budgets for those games would shrink and there would be even more contraction within the genre as the focus shifts to ones with the free-to-play model.