Experienced Points: The EA Games Service

By Shamus Posted Friday Jun 11, 2010

Filed under: Column 40 comments

The videogame business began as a service. You’d go to the bar or the arcade and put in your quarter and the machine would give you a few minutes of amusement. When it was over you didn’t have anything to show for your quarter except whatever memories you’d accrued while the machine was in your employ.

But then came home gaming consoles and games went from being a service to being a product… Read the rest of the article at the Escapist, sport.


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40 thoughts on “Experienced Points: The EA Games Service

  1. TehShrike says:

    Moving to some automatic linking posts, eh?

    1. Shamus says:

      Nah. I was actually just playing TF2 and didn’t want to spend time on this post. :)

      1. "Fat" Tony Kebell says:

        I LOVE TF2! its the main reason why im buying a better PC rather than splashing on Xbox360 games. (With all my Birthday and Christmas money as, alas i have no source of income as a 15 yr old kid, in London)
        I play the Orange Box on the Xbox constantly with the stock version of TF2 with “none of dem dere fancy upgrades PC users enjoy!”

        *radiates jelousey*

        IT IS GOING TO BE HELL! learning to play with the mouse + keyboard
        as i have a slight hinderence, a motorskills ‘n hand eye co’ord
        “Mental Illness” (i think thats the correct term) so its difficult for me to do things like balance, handwriting (although my hand writing isn’t that bad) and HIT MANY TINY BUTTONS WITHOUT LOOKING (and with my non-dominant left hand as i’ll need my dominant to do things like aiming ‘n shooting).

        DAMN! IT!

  2. evileeyore says:

    “The only people really in a position to rival Steam are Sony and Microsoft, who could turn their console platforms into full digital stores. If they don’t attempt this in the next console generation, they are idiots. Not that I would be happy with this move, but it would make business sense and let them neuter the used game market. Plus, I’d get to write so many long angry screeds about it!


  3. acronix says:

    Truly, stating that their games are released half made is like stating they are purpousedly stealing from their customers. This explains much, to tell the truth. I´ve seen this trend growing more and more in the last few years, with half-baked games that get a DLC a week later and a patch even later, even when the game has some game-breaking bugs.
    To site a recent example, the Sims 3 latest expansion pack has some gamebreaking bugs. It basically adds new professions and functionality. But one of them is unplayable after certain point, the other is a pain in the butt (because one of the features to advance in it is bugged), gallery arts don´t work anymore, sims turn pitch black for no reason, stuff that blows up in the computer controlled lots never get repaired…and so on. And mods don´t work (mods that added functionality the game should have had from day 1).

    Of course, this is not the first (nor the last) game that has done that, but it´s the example thatI have fresher in my mind.

    1. Maldeus says:

      This kind of thing could end up with another Video Game crash. The original was caused largely by customers being unable to trust games they bought off the shelf. It was impossible to tell the difference between an actual game (Space Invaders) and a Lovecraftian horror that disguised itself as one (ET). Similarly, without doing some research, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a complete game and a half-finished one which, assuming it gets enough sales, will be completed at a later point. And then sold to you again.

      1. Snook says:

        An interesting take… I hadn’t considered that. I’m not a fan of the direction games are heading in nowadays. A sure-fire connection to the Internet and increasing technology demands are are surprisingly hard standards to meet. More and more I find myself attracted to small, indie games (Dwarf Fortress, to name one, and an innumerable number of well-crafted flash games such as what you might find on Armor Games and it’s ilk.) I like owning a complete, mostly bug-free game, and don’t want to be at risk of not being able to play because oops! my Internet went out, or because of some half-assed programming that the publisher told them to “fix later.”

  4. Heron says:

    No witty comments to add to your article today? ;)

    I’m very uncomfortable with the direction some of these game companies are taking, especially when it comes to DLC. They see it as another income opportunity, rather than as something they can do to make their customers love them (which in theory would also increase their income through loyalty and referrals). It’s an attitude that makes me less willing to buy from them; it’s one of the reasons I’m not buying Starcraft II.

    EA has their own digital distribution platform for PC games, but I don’t see them really trying to take advantage of it. They seem to have done it “just because”, but then more recently they’ve decided to go ahead and just use Steam. It seems redundant for them to do both on the PC.

    I don’t play console games much (I have a PS3 mostly for Final Fantasy and Netflix), so I can’t really comment on their “online pass” for consoles… but it does seem a little sleazy.

    I’m reminded of Bioshock 2, which shipped with DLC already on the disc, disabled unless you paid extra for it. They milked customers who had just spent $60 on the game… very sleazy.

  5. Ah so the LOGO is a button, that takes me to the “most recent page” i asked about aaaaaah. this explains a LOT!

  6. Steve C says:

    Scumbag lawyers claim everything is a service and licensed rather than sold. It was even argued in one of the most famous cases ever (Roe v Wade) that the fetus was being licensed. The court disagreed and said that the baby was a sale.* However there is a Fetus Usery Licence Agreement (known as the F-U LA) on the birthing canal.

    I’m strongly opposed to legal shenanigans like claiming a game is a service (let alone a baby!). Next EA will sell dildos and claim it as a service because instead of just ass fucking you once, they’ll ass fuck you continuously. Screams of “stop raping me!” constitutes acceptance of the agreement.

    *I kid you not! Babies are “sold” into existence on a legal basis in the USA.

    1. Reach says:

      That’s not fair to game companies. They would never tell a customer who hasn’t purchased the game yet that they were being sold a license.

  7. The S Ninja says:

    Whoa whoa whoa. EA is charging people for online now? What the fuck is this shit? Even with all that Infinity Ward drama at Activision I should have known they’d use this time out of the spotlight to screw people over.

    How long has this been going on for? How are they getting away with this?

    But most importantly, how soon can we expect to see the EA Guy on Stolen Pixels again?

    1. Shamus says:

      To be clear, the interview explains that the online pass is free with a NEW game. If you buy used, online costs you $10.

      1. Daimbert says:

        So, the question is this: how come that on-line pass that you get for free with a new game isn’t transferable or doesn’t transfer with the used copy?

        That’s why his words really don’t ring true.

        1. Zukhramm says:

          Because EA wants to make money from used game sales. That’s the only reason.

          1. The S Ninja says:

            That still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since the Publisher doesn’t make money from you buying the game at the store, the Publisher makes money by selling the game to the store. They already got paid full price when the store stocked up. Why should they be making money off of a copy that isn’t theres anymore?

            Or am I just not getting this?

            1. Jakob says:

              It could be that the used game market is so big, that not enough people will buy a new copy. So the publisher and/or developer is suddenly competing against someone who sells their game cheaper, without receiving any cash from the purchase, to some one who wants the game. And we are not talking 6 – 12 months after release, but a few weeks after, where a game makes the most money.

              So a really popular game might not get enough money to balance with how much it cost to develop. That could be the reason why EA and others wants to make a few bucks out of used games. Or they are really greedy. I don’t have the numbers to say either way.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I am all for games becoming service again.For a single player game to become a good payoff,itd have to be a good game that you want to replay numerous time,a long game,and a cheap game(well,hours you buy need to be cheap,but when added together,they could even surpass the current prices).Id rather pay 100 euros to play a long,great game numerous times for just one month,then 50 to have a disk forever that Id use for just one they,then toss it aside.

    Too bad that ea is doing the opposite of this and just adds additional fees,while removing content.And everyone follows ea because therell always be suckers willing to give them their money.So we have bigger prices and less content and more bugs to look forward to.Hurray for ea!

    1. Daimbert says:

      Games as a service doesn’t work for me, pretty much because of what you said: any game that’s good works out well in value-for-dollar because the more I play/replay it, the better its value-per-hour gets. The two Persona games and the expansion for Persona 3, in terms of value-per-hour, would pretty much justify buying an entire console and the games and still get about $1 per hour played.

      Now, imagine that I had to pay per month for that. I would never catch up in terms of cost and then games, compared to other entertainment, would simply have less value-per-dollar and would be something that I’d have to look at. I already ditched cable because it wasn’t worth the money I was paying for how I used it, and gaming probably wouldn’t be an exception.

      To use another example, a while ago I played an entire season of a baseball game. I started in December and finished it during the World Series the next year. I couldn’t do that if anything cost me per month because it simply wouldn’t have been worth the cost.

      I love City of Heroes, but one of the issues I have with it — and every MMO — is that to get my money out of it I actually have to play it in a month. So if I get interested in a different game or doing something different or even get busy and don’t play it, I paid for nothing. But if I unsubscribe, then what if I want to play it one night? Re-subscribe? So that’s the trade-off, and it’s a bad one, and means that I only subscribe when I really can devote time to playing. Play-to-use — like arcade games — would be better … but then people will end up going bankrupt playing games, and games like the Personas will not be worth it for me.

      Yeah, home games being a service is not a good idea. And since there wasn’t any brainwave behind it being a service for arcade games — it was just the way it had to be — there’s no reason to think that that’s good for consumers.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        That means just that flat pay service is not for you,but thats not the only model for paying for service.In fact,it is one of the worst.Paying for x hours,then using them when you want is a much better model for customers,and Im sure it would appeal to you as well.

        Yes,you wouldnt be able to play a 10 year old gem because you are feeling nostalgic,but youd be littered with new gems because companies would need to make them in order to keep receiving your money.

        1. Daimbert says:

          Under the current model companies need to make new gems to get my money, so I don’t see that as an advantage. Under the new model, companies have more incentive to simply add small things to existing games to get me to replay it than they do under the old model.

          But even the x per hour isn’t very good, and in fact it’s worse. I’ve played Persona 3 and Persona 4 in excess of 500 hours. Even at a dollar an hour — and it wouldn’t be that low — that’s $500. That’s getting pretty expensive. Even when I took on that baseball season I had to have played over 100 hours to do it. That’s $100 right there. Was it worth it?

          Why I found DVDs more cost-effective than cable is because the more I re-watched the DVDs, the more value it had. Thus, the better things — even if they were expensive initially — got better in terms of value, making it worth paying a fair amount up front for it. Games had that model. If they go to direct pay per hour, that’s really, really bad. If they went monthly, that’s still bad but slightly better since you can increase the value of it by playing a lot in the months you pay, and not paying in other months.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            So,youd rather buy a new,say dead to rights,every month than play persona each of those months?Youd rather spend those $500 to buy 10 different dead to rights to have on display on your shelves than to just play persona for that same amount?

            1. Daimbert says:

              Um, no. What I’d rather do is pay $50 for Persona 3, $50 for Persona 3: FES, $50 for Persona 4, and then play THOSE for 500 hours at that price over those months. And have new games available for when I want to play something else. Anything other than “Pay up front for a game” discourages new games from being made in favour of taking the cheaper router of making some small extra content to get people playing the old games over again.

    2. David V.S. says:

      I sadly expect this will happen. After all, WoW has proved that gamers will pay monthly for daily habits.

      From a cost-per-hour perspective this model is far less expensive for the gamer and eventually quite profitable for the game provider. It’s so clear and sensible that surely the market will eventually reward this strategy and punish alternatives.

      I predict that one day my household will have a monthly “games” bill, similar to the phone bill or internet connection bill. It might only be a couple dollars, since we’re not big on computer games.

      I say “sadly” because WoW works because it is addictive and habit-forming with a story that evolves slowly, but this model will be forced upon other games too. (As a quick example, I loved Jade Empire but only played through it once. It was great fun, but I wouldn’t call it addictive or habit-forming, and its story moved quickly. What monthly fee would work, considering a working adult might require months to finish it whereas a teenager during Summer vacation might finish it in a few days?)

      1. Daimbert says:

        I’m afraid I don’t see how it benefit the consumer, unless there’s no initial charge — which is not the case for WoW — and the monthly fee is lower than what it currently costs to buy a game. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.

  9. krellen says:

    Games have always been a product. Even in the days of the arcades. Arcades are like a taxi service; for a fee, you can secure the temporary use of a product – the taxi cab itself. But the taxi is still a product, and if you have the right money and right sources, you could buy one for yourself.

    The same is true of arcade games. Arcades buy the games as products, and then, as a service, allow you to pay for the right to use them for a while. But the games have always existed as products; the only difference is the number of middle-men we go through to get at the product these days.

    1. Roy says:

      Well, sure, there were always games available as products, but the question is “in what capacity are most users using them?” The Taxi service example is fitting–the taxi, as object, is a product. But, when you get in the cab and pay someone to take you to the airport, you’re not buying a product, you’re paying for a service. You’re paying someone to take you someplace–that’s a service. When you drop quarters in an arcade, you’re not paying for a product, you’re paying for a service.

      There’s a huge difference in the nature of a service relationship versus when you pay for a product. If I buy a car, I can do what I want to it. I can paint it, kick in the door, break a window. If I’m paying for service, I have no rights or claims on the physical product. The cabbie is being paid to take me from A to B, but I don’t get to damage the car. Likewise, if I drop quarters in a machine, I only have rights to play the game, not to kick the machine, open it up and tweak the settings, etc. If I buy the game, it’s mine, and I can do what I want to it.

      1. krellen says:

        Including charging others to play it.

        1. krellen says:

          To clarify: game companies did not own and run arcades, or the games in the arcades. The arcade owners owned the machines and ran the arcades. Once the machine had been sold, the game company was done making their money and what was left was for the arcade owners to try to make back their investment through their arcade service.

          As far as the game companies themselves are concerned, games were always products; this “games as a service” model is not a return to an older time, but a brand new scheme.

  10. (LK) says:

    Valve approaches “games as a service” as a service. EA approaches it like a protection racket. That’s just how Riccitiello thinks.

    He can’t wrap his head around a mutually beneficial system between customer and business. His mind seems to force him to think of it as an adversarial relationship where the entire point and the only possible recourse is constantly thinking of new ways to place higher prices on transactions of lesser value.

    He’s a CEO who can’t stop thinking like a used car salesman. The point is to deceive the customer into an overvalued sale. That’s the one and only objective to focus on.

    But when a CEO thinks this way it devalues their brand and negatively impacts the practices of their trade.

    The man is sort of a weasel, honestly.

  11. Raygereio says:

    I don’t think this is about EA wanting their game to be ‘a service’ (I think everyone can agree that’s just the excuse they’re using), nor is it really about screwing their customers over; it’s about EA wanting a slice of the used games market. Nothing more and honestly I don't begrudge EA for that; they are a company that is out to make money and EA isn't seeing a single coin from the sales of used games and I think it's somewhat hypocritical to praise Valve here because they are doing to exact same thing with steam.
    Someone correct me if I’m wrong but EA is already doing this with Mass Effect 2 and it’s Cerberus Network. After putting in a code I – as a paying customer of EA – got easy access to the free DLC (and the DLC I had to pay for). Meanwhile someone who pirates the game or someone who buys the game used (and thus isn’t a customer of EA) has to jump through hoops to get it.
    I’m fine with this. There was (and still is) a lot of complaining on the ME2 forums about the Cerberus Network and pretty much all the complaints boiled down to the fact that people that are buying or selling a used game are only dealing with half a game which has lower value. This isn't true because all the DLC is, are some extra's – not actual part of the game and besides that; why should EA care about some guy who bought the game and is now trying to sell it as a used game?

    As for DLC: a lot of people complained about Mass Effect 2 and it's DLC, about how it was their constitutional right to get all the DLC for free and it was morally and ethically wrong for EA to charge them. The flying spaghetti monster apparently told them so.
    There are various arguments about this on BioWare's ME2 forums. A popular one is: “I've paid for the cerberus network, therefore I don't have to pay for DLC anymore”. That argument falls flat because if you're a costumer of EA you never paid for the cerberus network thing.
    Another popular one is that the DLC is in truth nothing more then cut content and somehow that makes it so that they don't have to pay for DLC. I'm honestly not sure how you go from point A to point B with that one. It doesn't really matter anyway, all the DLC that I've seen so far for any game isn't truly part of the game; it is side quests ““ not connected in any way to the main content of the game – at best, and in the worst case nothing more then a fancy item. To use Mass Effect 2 as an example; you can play the game without any of the DLC, you really won't have the feeling there is something missing (other then sanity, but that's another story).

    The moment EA ““ or anyone else – comes with a half-baked plan to truly sell a disc with only half the game one it and demand that you log in to some network to download the other half (regardless whether or not you have to pay for it), then I'll be first in line to complain about it. But I don't see any corporation being that stupid. Then again I didn't see Assassin Creed 2's and Tiberium Twilight's DRM stupidity coming, so what do I know.

    Edit: Shamus, the edit window for the comments has this tendency to jump back to the beginning when you scroll down making it very annoying to try and edit a post inside that window. It's not the biggest issue as I can just copy the post to and from notepad, but I thought I'd mention it.

    1. Daimbert says:

      So, point one, on used games: EA shouldn’t care as a business, but they should care because it isn’t, in fact, legitimate to cripple a product just because it isn’t the original owner. I can understand things that you simply couldn’t transfer with the original product, but if they give passes with the original new game when I buy it used I should be able to get that pass transferred with the product, because it’s part of the product, right?

      The strategy is like making a deal so that if you sell a book half the pages have to be ripped out. That’s ridiculous. They’re doing it because technically they can, but it’s certainly not reasonable or acceptable.

      Point two, on DLC: Side quests are, in fact, part of RPGs. They have a good point in claiming that segmenting these things out as DLC means taking content that they could have put into the game and then selling it, basically making the value of the game less for their customers. Which is stupid. Now, say, new side quests and things that they work on after the game is shipped — something like expansions — is acceptable, since it would never have been in the original game anyway. But saying that side quests aren’t really part of the game and that you can play the main quest without them misses the fact that side quests are part of those games, even if they aren’t part of and don’t impact the main quest. Packaging them separately is just a money grab, and something that people should be upset about.

      1. Raygereio says:

        You’ve missed my point; right now the game without DLC isn’t like a book with half of the pages ripped out.
        If you want to keep the book analogy; ME2 is like a book, a complete book. ME2 plus DLC is like that same book but with extra pages stapled on to it.
        The DLC isn’t part of the product. You already have the whole game, the DLC is extra stuff. Before what reason did you have to buy a new game instead of a used one? None. Here’s where the whole ‘it’s a service’ excuse comes in. It is perfectly legal to say you wont provide a service to people that aren’t your costumers. It’s a business move that makes sense; EA can’t shut down the used games market, but they can make their own product – the new games – more atractive then the used one.

        And yes, side quests are a part of CRPG’s. Perhaps that was the wrong word to use, is there better word that describes “random crap that has absolutely no connection to the rest of the game and/or adds no new gameplay whatsoever”? Try the Firewalker DLC for ME2, or the BOOBIES!-DLC for Saboteur and you’ll understand what I mean.

        1. Daimbert says:

          The point you’re replying to is my first point … which was about EA and about them not caring about the used games market, which I assumed was referring to their on-line pass thing. Thus, it had nothing to do with DLC and therefore I didn’t miss the point at all. Especially since that’s them taking ON-LINE PLAY out of their SPORTS GAMES! Yeah, that’s definition something that used to be there that now suddenly isn’t when you transfer the product to a new owner. But again it’s a different issue.

          As for your comments about DLC, that was my point about side quests and the like. Even things like special armours or the like are things that should and could easily be in the game and, in fact, normally were and normally used to be there. Now you have to pay for them. If they can make money by selling things that were never normally part of a game and meant nothing to it, more power to them, but almost all DLC that will actually sell were things that people had in games and liked that they now have to pay for. Making the comments about them taking things out of the game somewhat valid.

        2. (LK) says:

          On the other hand you have stuff like the Shale quest for Dragon Age which was a part of the game that was originally intended to ship with it, but was removed to be used as DLC.

          This inhabits a grey area. Yes you can do without that content if you buy used but the character is useful in tackling the main quest and in games like DA it is very important to have done many of the available side quests before trying to finish the main quest. The game is actually a little more frustrating without that content (I’ve played it with and without).

          And then of course there is the infamous DLC salesman in the party camp who sits there and irritates you with a quest marker you can’t accept without purchasing something.

          EA’s strategies are generally less benign than someone trying to rationalize them will make them seem.

          Like I said, weaselly used car salesmen.

          1. Ranneko says:

            Shale was not removed to become DLC. Shale was originally cut for lack of time and due to incompatibilities with the original concept and the rest of the game (character size was the major cited issue).

            Shale was only reintroduced as DLC due to increased time and someone working out how to get Shale to work as a character. They had the advantage of the DLC team being available after the disc content is set for mastering and that quite frankly they could finish up the Shale DLC as close to launch as required because they don’t have the printing and distribution time costs that discs do.

  12. Zukhramm says:

    “Riccitiello talked about the EA Online Pass program, where you pay $10 to be able to play online. This is a pretty unpopular move, although it makes sense from EA’s standpoint. Servers cost money to run, and so it probably seems reasonable to get the funding from the people that actually use it. ”

    Now the question I have is why EA is running servers at all? And if I don’t want to play on EA’s servers, what am I paying for?

  13. Vipermagi says:

    Games as a service: Paying for only three installs. Which everyone hated.

    In effect, it’s the same as the arcades. You pay a bigger fee, but get ~unlimited playtime on three machines/installations. I bet time played per unit of money is quite a lot larger on average for the three-installations ‘method’ when compared to arcades. You even get a trophy (the box).

  14. confanity says:

    Instead of talking about the actual issue, I’ll point out that part of the point of arcade machines was a function that hasn’t reappeared until recently: the ability to make a high score and leave it there for all the world to see even after you leave. You *did* have that to show for your money and time, not just the memories. Or at least, you did as long as the number of people who’d done it better than you on that machine was below a certain amount.

  15. Slothful says:

    Nothing’s really getting done by just complaining about it in some lonely corner of the internet. Until they either get a significant drop in sales or a whale’s buttload of direct complaints, they’re still going to miss the point, because big businesses are HILARIOUSLY STUPID.

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