The Digital Future: Why EA Access Might Not Be Great for Gamers

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Posted August 1, 2014 by Sean Mesler in Video Games

Earlier this week, EA announced their EA Access plan for Xbox One that allows “unlimited access” to their “Vault” games, and will give subscribers 10% discounts on new titles and DLC all for $4.99 a month or $30 a year. On the service, it’s a great value, if you’re into the games they’re offering currently. For $1.25 a game (should you go monthly) you can play FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2 and Battlefield 4 with more being “added soon.”

Some folks, like our very own Jean-Luc Botbyl, think this is a great thing for the future of video games and the digital future. He makes a great point about the value versus physical and used, and he’s definitely not wrong. Except I feel that his enthusiasm for this service and what it could mean for the future of video games is jumping the gun a bit.

As this is my first editorial for We The Nerdy, allow me to give some information about myself….I buy and sell used games – all the time. I have been since I was kid and well into adulthood and middle age. The reason I do this is because if I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be able to afford this hobby and I certainly wouldn’t be able to review new games. I buy games day one, play it to completion, and sell the used copy privately (on eBay). I make anywhere from $30-$45 a game, depending on how soon after release I’m selling it. I then use that money to get my next new game, thus making the price of a new game anywhere from $15-$30 sans tax. Again, these are day one games, not months down the line after deep discounts.

Jean-Luc’s notion that this kind of service will “annihilate” used sales and physical products is exactly what myself and many other gamers don’t want. Yes, a point could be made about lower prices for digital games, but unless those lower prices are $15-$30 day one, this idea of cheaper digital games has zero appeal. Not to mention that this service, and I imagine others that will inevitably follow, don’t offer brand new games as part of the service. Instead you can play a trial of the game 5 days before release and then they generously offer %10 off the digital version of the game upon release.

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Let’s talk math for a second.

In the United States, AAA games like FIFA 14 and Battlefield 4 sell for an MSRP of $59.99. %10 of $59.99 is $5.99 making the cost of the game, $54. Still way more than the $15-$30 I pay by selling used and buying new. It’s also more than buying a used copy at Gamestop a week or so after release when they usually show up. Not to mention that personally, I’m only interested in maybe 4 games EA has announced; Star Wars Battlefront, Mirror’s Edge, Mass Effect and Amy Hennig’s Star Wars game. So say over the course of 2 years I opt in to the %30 per year model, spending $60 for 2 years, and I buy those 4 games. I would spend in total, $216 for the games with the 10% discount but with the 20 years of subscription, it will cost me $276. If I bought all 4 of those games at retail it could cost me $240 ($260 with tax) which means I would spending at least $16 more with the subscription than without. I don’t presume to speak for everyone at all, but I imaging there are a lot of people out there like me based on conversations I have with gamers on a daily basis. As such, the “value” and the cost of losing access to used games is nowhere near worth it.

I often hear people talking about the “digital future” and how great it’s going to be and how inevitable it is. People have been saying for years that physical and used will go the way of the Dodo in X amount of years. I have a few problems with not only this notion, but also the pleasure these folks seem to take in the ending of used games and physical games/media.

I’ll start with the notion that physical media will soon be a thing of the past. First of all, people cite the music industry and how digital sales have surpassed physical. This may be true, but discs still exist. I can buy CDs from Amazon, Best Buy, and a slew of other places. Not just older releases, brand new ones as well. I’m a Morrissey fan and should I feel inclined I can buy his weeks old new release, “World Peace is None of Your Business” on CD. Antiquated as that notion maybe, the champions of the digital future have been calling the death of physical media for quite some time and yet CD’s still exist.

It’s the same with movies; DVDs and Blurays still sell incredibly well. If you look at http://www.the-numbers.com/alltime-bluray-sales-chart you will see that the number 2 Bluray, Frozen, has sold 6,330,971 copies since it’s release on March 18, 2014. In just under 5 months, the physical disc for Frozen, on Bluray only mind you, has almost passed the number one spot held by Avatar, which has sold 6,963,692 copies since it’s release on April 22, 2010. The DVD copy of Frozen holds the number one spot for the year at over 7 million copies. Making a total of over 13 million copies of physical media for just one movie in less than five months.

And how about video games? Late last year, Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto V and reportedly shipped 33 million copies. Mind you, “shipped” means to retailers and not sold through to consumers, however, retailers pay for every copy that is shipped, and they do this based on how much demand for the game there is. So that is 33 million copies retailers plan on selling through to consumers (most of those have sold through, the number is a lifetime to date which includes copies sold to consumers). What this means is that at the very least, 20 million physical copies (being very generous with that number) sold through to consumers. And that’s just one game.

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Now that I’ve established that the market for disc-based games is very healthy, let’s talk about used games a bit. Earlier I mentioned how I sell my games to offset the cost of new games. No man is an island, and I’m not the only one who does this. According to Gamestop CEO, Paul Raines, 70% of used game credit goes into funding a new sale. (He even notes that “a lot” goes into buying digital). Without the used market, new game sales won’t go up, I would venture to guess it would go down. I also don’t believe a profit driven industry will all of sudden start cutting prices if retailers are cut out of the picture. If content creators eliminate the middleman, they can sell games for the same price, and make more profit. If anything, the used game market is what is keeping the prices at the acceptable $60. Raising the prices will mostly like drive more consumers to purchase more used games not less.

One final thing that the all-digital future ignores, and it shouldn’t, is that ISPs are not your friend and data caps exist. Music files for the masses that aren’t sticklers for sound are for the most part, incredibly small. Most CD’s don’t even take up a whole gig of file space, so unless you download 200 or more full-length albums a month, you’re not taxing the bandwidth too much. Games, however, are getting bigger and bigger. As recent as The Last of Us Remastered, games have been pushing 50 gigs a pop. And even that astronomical size is because it’s the limit of the space on a Bluray disc. Killzone: Shadow Fall, which was released as 39.7 gigs, was at one point over 180 gigs. Again, compressed down to fit on the Bluray.

Now imagine a discless future where games could release at 100 plus gigs and your one of the lucky Comcast subscribers who has their 300 gig data cap on your service. One game just took up 1/3 of your cap in one fell swoop. If you’re one of the fortunate people that can afford to buy more than one game a month, you can eat through your limit. And it isn’t just Comcast, AT&T have 150 and 250 gig limits.

Don’t get me wrong here, EA Access, as of right now, offers that and as far as options go, that is a great thing. I am all for digital only as an option. Many have embraced all digital for a myriad of reasons, and all of them valid. But removing options to allow gamers access to content is never a good thing. We should always have the option for both. Options are what is truly a glorious thing.


About the Author

Sean Mesler

Sean is a semi-retired hardcore kid, semi-grown up and transplanted from his original home of New York to Los Angeles. A lover and critic of movies, music and video games, Sean is always quick with an opinion, a heaping dose of snark, and a healthy dose of pragmatism. PSN & Live Gamertag: N2NOther