This morning, Electronic Arts unveiled EA Access, a program that will give gamers access to a selection of EA titles for a recurring monthly fee.
EA Access goes into beta on Xbox One today, and will come first to Microsoft's new console. The service will cost local gamers AU$6.99 a month, or AU$39.99 a year. At launch, four full games will be available to subscribers: Peggle 2, Madden 25, FIFA 14, and Battlefield 4.
In addition, subscribers will be offered 10 percent discounts on upcoming releases, and the ability to trial game demos up to five days before they're released.
At a glance, EA Access appears to provide excellent value but EA has overlooked or is withholding a number of critical details that would help players to make a properly informed decision as to the real value of the package.
The most pertinent missing information is how and when games will be added to what EA calls "The Vault". As EA Access provides a 10 percent discount on upcoming games, it's safe to assume that new release games will not be added to The Vault until months after their launch. It's also unclear as to whether games - and access to them - will be removed from the Vault at a later date. The legal terms for the program give EA the right to remove games, but that will have to be exercised sparingly if the intention is to create a continually growing library. For consumers to have confidence, additional clarification is needed.
Some commentators have compared EA Access to Sony's excellent PlayStation Plus service but there are a number of important distinctions, the most important of which is variety and volume. On PlayStation 3, Sony can work with a number of third-party publishers and deliver excellent range of top quality games month in, month out. EA is a huge publisher, but its range of Xbox One compatible games is very limited, so it seems unlikely that EA will be able to add new games every month the way PlayStation Plus does.
The EA Partners program has closed and the prevailing trend at EA in recent years has been to release fewer, bigger games. On Xbox 360, the publisher released 18 games in 2011, 19 in 2012, and 14 in 2013. On Xbox One, EA released just four games in 2013, and will "only" release five more by the end of 2014.
Furthermore, EA releases many excellent games, but they're not all home runs - no single publisher can claim that - and it means some months are very likely to be disappointing.
As to the offer to play small chunks of games up to five days before their release, well, many gamers can still remember a time when demos were free.
Finally, gamers in Australia will pay AU$6.99 compared to gamers in North America who will pay US$4.99. That's a 30 percent mark-up that hasn't been explained. At a glance it looks like old-fashioned "Australia tax", but there may be some undisclosed local costs that need to be taken into consideration. Gameplanet has sought clarification on this.
Whatever the case, there are simply too many unknowns surrounding EA Access right now to consider it a compelling offering for gamers.
Does EA Access sound like a service you'll be interested in? Let us know in the comments.