EA Sports “Abandon Physical Media” On PC

By Jim Rossignol on May 1st, 2009 at 8:51 am.


VG247 have been grilling outspoken EA Sports boss Peter Moore in a multipart interview. One of the headlines that has emerged from that is EA Sports intends to abandoned the boxed product for PC, because Moore believes “the future is online and connected.” This doesn’t mean they’re abandoning the PC, of course, so foot-to-ball remains safe. But it could radically change how you pay for EA Sports games: “You’re going to see us take a lot of our learnings from what we’re doing with our games in Asia, where I’ll give you the game for free, or a certain level for free,” said Moore. If all this is to be believed then we could be looking at a micropayment future for freely downloadable EA Sports games on PC. Update: Part two of Moore interview.

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32 Comments »

  1. subedii says:

    The whole shift to completely digital, “service” style products worries me. You don’t own anything with those. Your purchase is only as long as that company continues to say it’s OK for you to have it.

    In EA’s particular case, that’s literally only one year, five years if you pay extra for their “EDS” service. If I had purchased Crysis from their store, I wouldn’t be allowed to re-download it today, I’d have to re-purchase it. At full price. That’s ignoring the other faffing about you have to do with EA published games and their install limit schemes (you have to manually de-activate the game’s install token, they released a separate, stand alone de-activator a few months ago).

    Even that is sidestepping issues such as whether the company goes bust, decides to invalidate your account for whatever reason (and I’ve heard of more than one person who’s had their account on Steam automatically terminated with them refusing to give any information as to why), or heck, simply decides to switch off the activation servers for your game at a later date (EA sports titles online play comes to mind. After a few years their policy is to switch off the authentication servers, so online play becomes impossible, irrespective of whether there are people and friends you can still play with or not. Guess it’s time to buy this years version, right?).

    It’s not like I’m saying I don’t use Steam or anything. But SteamCalculator.com puts my account value at somewhere around $400 – $500. That’s a lot of eggs to put in someone elses basket, and I know people with accounts in the thousands.

  2. Ian says:

    I like my games to be on discs with clunky, space-wasting boxes and manuals.

  3. MeestaNob! says:

    I’d probably be willing to pay a small subscription fee every year if they regularly kept a game up to date (rosters, gameplay tweaks etc), rather than re-buying basically the same game year in year out.

  4. Alex says:

    So, basically like people do with anti-virus software.

  5. Xercies says:

    I’m with Subedii here, it scares me as well that everything is going digital at the moment. I really dislike Steam despite people praising it for this very reason. I know i like playing old games in the future(in fact I’m playing Morrowind right now at the moment) but digital means there is a high chance that you may not play your game in ten years, maybe even 5. I don’t like this.

  6. subedii says:

    ^There’s no chance I’d be able to play Planescape: Torment today. The company went bust and the rights are up in the air. My boxed copy essentially becomes coasters.

    Alright that’s a slight exaggeration, I’d probably just torrent it / crack it. But then that just adds to piracy statistics and then devs complain that I’m stealing from them and killing the PC games industry and drowning kittens how DARE I take it when I should just spend another $60 getting a premium version off of E-bay when they aren’t even going to make any money from that since it’s not being sold anymore etc. etc. etc.

    Not to mention it’s an extra hassle having to completely re-download your old game off a torrent and then crack it or mount it.

    I prefer Bethesda’s approach. Simple disc check is still there, but at least the disc is mine, and future DLC is eventually going to be re-packaged and re-released as an all-in-one retail disc. Works for me.

  7. Larington says:

    Can’t say I blame them. I guess this is what happens when a publisher decides to sell services instead of games.

    Not sure I’m overly comfortable with it though, due to all of those messy authentication server and companies going bust risks to my ability to play games.

  8. catska says:

    Just turning another area of PC gaming into an online-based service to thwart piracy. It happened in Asia and its happening here too. Even games with heavy retail sales like the Sims have microtransaction models announced.

    Not going to be long before every game is an MMO-variant. And the piracy problem deniers will only have themselves to blame.

  9. leelad says:

    I love the idea. I have a child now and all spare room is filled with baby wipes and prams. my PC game DVD and Ps3/bluray collection is too much for the sketchy shelves put on to wall that should have been sorted after the floods in 2007.

    What does suck giant hairy gorilla balls are microtransactions. They annoy me beyond words. WHY DO YOU EXIST MICROTRANSACTION? NO ONE LIKES YOU, YOU GAY!

  10. Eston De Wilkes II says:

    God dammit why do you lot insist on calling it Foot-to-ball? I mean, I know it’s a running joke and all, but you just sound like sport-hating geeks saying stuff like that…………oh wait.

  11. Benjamin Ferrari says:

    “The whole shift to completely digital, “service” style products worries me. You don’t own anything with those. Your purchase is only as long as that company continues to say it’s OK for you to have it.”

    If you think about it, this way of making money with games makes so much more sense for a publisher than selling unrestricted licenses: If you have something of value, the worst way to make money from it is to sell it to someone else.

    I can buy a unlimited usage license for the whole Baldur’s Gate franchise today at amazon for 10 Euro, play it, and then borrow it to 10 of my friends, who each play it before they give it back to me. Ten years after that, I can play through the whole thing again, instead of buying a new game that the publisher hopes I spend money on.

    The only reason games where _not_ sold as a service for so many years was because there was no easy way of distribution. Now that this problem is solved, the service model is the only way that makes really sense.

    I personally thing we can do _nothing_ to prevent this (if we wanted to). It is the only, logical way how publishers should do business, and from my experience, most people accept it. Just look how many people like Steam. It is obviously an issue of how annoying some DRM system is, but people already accepted that there is DRM.

    What we as customers can call for is the price and the quality of gaming services: There is no reason why the service should cost as much as the ownership of the gaming license. This depends on the service of course.

    I currently do not only see more and more services on the PC. I also see good games for 5,- and good long time services with free content. I think many PC Publisher realized by now that the reputation as a good service provider sells games.

    Honestly, the only thing that really annoys me is how irresponsible the gaming press acts in this matter. Today someone reads reviews for two games on a magazine, then he decides what game is the better deal, so he goes to a shop and compares prices, then he buys one of them.

    And _nobody_ tells them that the one thing he can buy for 50,- is a license he owns, and the other is a subscription that allows him (and only him) to play a game as long as the service exists.

    Now I do understand why EA or Amazon are not very ambitious to tell me about it: They make money from selling games. But the press is actually in the business of informing me about this kind of information.

    I think every review on any gaming site should link to a detailed, constantly updated profile of the publisher, where a critic reviews the service that customers got from this publisher in the recent past.

  12. mrrobsa says:

    This is poor, I enjoy having the physical media instead of just a licence. Luckily I dont buy EA Sports game on PC, but they will miss out on sales from me if the policy extends to other arms of the company.

  13. Xercies says:

    @Benjamin

    Yes it’s a good way of doing it for the publishers but that doesn’t mean I like it. You will also see a big backlash with the pirates where you have one side the publishers and people that don’t mind digital distribution and online activation and the other side which is the pirates which will want to put a big middle finger to that. Then they will scrap like the big monsters that they both are and destroy a city in the process.

    What was i talking about again?

  14. ThatFatChap says:

    Benjamin Ferrari talks about how he could buy a licence and some install media and lend it to friends etc. Actually what you might be doing in that case is breaking the terms of the end user licence agreement. You know those words that appear during installs, that nobody reads and just clicks agree.

    If a games developer really wanted to they could probably revoke your licence to use any game whenever they wished. The fact that they now have a way automating the enforcement of this right does not really bother me that much.

  15. Benjamin Ferrari says:

    “Benjamin Ferrari talks about how he could buy a licence and some install media and lend it to friends etc. Actually what you might be doing in that case is breaking the terms of the end user licence agreement.”

    No: Most traditional software licenses allow giving away or reselling the license. Giving away your license is perfectly legal (as long as you do not keep a copy of course).

    As an additional note, most “end user agreements” have no legal value in some countries, for example inside the European Union. At least to my understanding (I’m not an expert).

    As far as I know, if people must accept the agreements AFTER they bought the game, or if they can accept the agreement with a single click, they can pretty much ignore it.

    There also was a case a while ago where Microsoft tried to prevent owners of Windows licenses to sell their license on ebay, and they lost.

    In the US there is also the First Sale Doctrine

  16. jsutcliffe says:

    How are microtransactions going to work in a sports game? Are you going to get FIFA 2010 with Plymouth Argyle and Oldham Athletic as starter teams, and have to buy the rest?

  17. Clovus says:

    This is all about First Sale (in the US), and not much to do with piracy. When I saw this I thought, “and so it begins.” Pretty soon every PC game will be digital distribution only, and the next generation of consoles probably won’t come with disc drives. I wonder if GameStop will start selling empty boxes with product codes in them.

    Anyway, this is terrible for the consumer. The used game market will simply disappear. I imagine there will be attempts to create websites like the one where you can “sell” your mp3s, but those will quickly encounter legal challenges. This really seems bad.

    At least we have the Pirate Bay to artificially re-create our rights; and that’s in a country that doesn’t have completely insane copyright rules so it can’t be influenced by huge US media companies…

    *reads slashdot*

    Oh, crap.

  18. Dolphan says:

    Game shops selling empty boxes with product codes seems pretty likely – I’ve seen game selling the Lost and the Damned 360 GTA4 DLC in a box. All it was was a branded Microsoft points card.

  19. c-Row says:

    How are microtransactions going to work in a sports game? Are you going to get FIFA 2010 with Plymouth Argyle and Oldham Athletic as starter teams, and have to buy the rest?

    Being EA, I expect them to give away the game for free but charge you 5 quid for a one-month licence to use their digital ball.

  20. Nero says:

    Yeah, I haven’t bought a EA Sports game on PC since NHL 2001 so I wish them luck with this.

  21. Markoff Chaney says:

    One on hand, I don’t play sports games (does Blood Bowl count?) so it’s not that big of a deal to me. On another hand, EA has been doing some things better than they used to and that’s to be supported, but not as long as they keep up their horrid practices with Digital Distribution. I’m all for digital distribution, but I never touched EA’s service for the simple fact that you can only download your product for a set period of time. While other distributors will go away eventually (“On a long enough time line, everyone’s life expectancy drops to zero.”) at least Valve promises a way to let us keep what we paid for. EA just hides in the corner grinning.

    Poor First Sale Doctrine. Content developers are working so hard to do away with it. Soon enough there will be an exception and the Primary Licensee Doctrine will be law.

  22. Alchemda says:

    I dont even remember the last time I bought any PC game at retail.. Steam and D2D for almost all my games.

  23. Stupoider says:

    Who buys these EA Sports games?

  24. Benjamin Ferrari says:

    I used to be quite obsessed with NBA Live for a while, but that was years ago. There was a community site where you could download up to date roosters: 5 seconds after Charles Barkley said in a post game interview that he had a bad night because his back hurt, someone would upload a patch with his rebound ability decreased.
    And because blocking was too easy, there was a patch that adjusted all block ratings for all players, making the game much more realistic. I like PCs.

  25. Rich_P says:

    This is videogaming’s future. Online gaming reduces piracy and kills the second hand market. Scratch future: on the PC side of things, we’re already there. Good luck reselling your copies of DoW II or ETW…

    IIRC, EA released a football game in South Korea or somewhere, supported by microtransactions, and ended up making more money per player than had they just sold them a standard box. Wish I could find the interview where that was mentioned.

    I like my games to be on discs with clunky, space-wasting boxes and manuals.

    I’m the same way, but nearly all new PC games come in thin DVD sleeves with a puny manual, if they even include one. With Valve games, I just enter the product key into steam and chuck the box.

  26. drewski says:

    It’s all a question of what you get for your money. For a full price game, I want a disc, I want at least some form of manual, I want a tacky box to put on my shelf with my other tacky boxes. I want resale value and I want to know that my disc will work for as long as I have something to read it with – even if the publisher goes bust.

    For US$10, I’ll accept an online authenticated, distributed and reliant game.

  27. Ravenger says:

    It’s ironic that given how keen EA state they are for digital downloads to replace boxed PC game sales that they still haven’t released their games in the UK on steam, while they happily released them to the rest of the world (except Japan).

  28. hitnrun says:

    @Benjamin: I agree with most of your points, except this:

    “I personally thing we can do _nothing_ to prevent this (if we wanted to).”

    Sure we can. Don’t buy games that don’t satisfy your concept of ownership. Money flows downhill. Just look what happened to Spore vis-a-vis DRM. Suddenly, several months later, EA decides that its DRM policy was bad form and The Sims 3 will now have (supposedly) a simple disc-check. As much as I trust the unerring mores of righteousness in which EA is deeply rooted, I can’t help but think that was a case of customers influencing the manner in which their product is delivered.

    Not that I’m advocating piracy (though I won’t hypocritically condemn it, either). To be honest, I got tired of having to break the law just to play games the way I wanted to play them, so I bought a console. Now my (non-PC) games instantly work on physical medium, and publishers have to settle for hoping that I don’t buy their particular title from half.com

    @ThatFatChap
    I’ve never heard of a company “revoking” anyone’s right to a game they’ve purchased under the traditional model, and no such claim would be recognized by an American court, and I suspect a Brit or European court would rule likewise. Even if publishers did have the right theoretically, being able to instantly enact it at a click is quite a different animal from having to issue letters to people whose addresses they don’t even know.

  29. Benjamin Ferrari says:

    @hitnrun:

    I’m not saying we could not boycott the subscription model if we wanted to. What I wanted to say is that customers have already accepted it, and that the industry will not abandon their most obvious business plan for a minority of people who are not yet on board.

    Most people like Steam. They like the benefits it brings, and they accept (or don’t know about) the disadvantages. I do not like the lack of ownership, but I still have tons of games on Impulse and Steam. I wanted to play the Orange Box, so I subscribed. I wanted Demigod, so I subscribed.

    What is still open for debate is the quality and price of the services. For example, we rejected EA’s activation limit. Some of us might even choose the less obtrusive Impulse over Steam. And I hope games will become cheaper as people understand that subscriptions with bad service are worth less than purchases or subscriptions with good service. But the subscription model itself , as I see it, is already commonly accepted.

  30. Ravenger says:

    There’s a thread on the Atari Dark Athena support forum where a user who ran out of activations alleges he had his serial number deactivated by the DRM company because he’d complained about it on that forum.

    That’s why I and many others are against these DRM schemes – your purchase can be rendered useless at the touch of a button by the whim of a publisher or their DRM suppliers. Then you have to go begging to get your legally purchased game back.

  31. Impossibly Daft says:

    Going back to the interview, I’m more suprised at the dismissive reaction to the suggestion of a cricket game; what with how big it is in India, would have thought they’d see an opportunity there.

  32. redrain85 says:

    “EA Sports ‘Abandon Physical Media’ On PC”

    Time to abandon EA sports games, then? If they’re not at least giving me an option to buy a physical copy, then forget it. If this succeeds, it will set a precedent that leads to all games being download-only, regardless of platform.