EA’s Cousins: $60 Games “Exploitative”

By Jim Rossignol on March 22nd, 2011 at 11:01 am.


Later today we’ll publish an interview with Ben Cousins, who is the general manager of EA’s free-to-play branch, Easy Studios. In it he has some interesting and provocative things to say about current game models, as well as talking about the imminent launch of Battlefield Play4Free. When discussing the controversies surrounding various free-to-play payment models, he made this observation about the traditional full-priced game market:

“I can’t think of anything more exploitative than gating all of your content behind having to pay someone $60. That’s a really harsh business model if you think about it objectively. What we do is enable everyone to play the game, and figure out if they like it. If they don’t like it they can walk away and they don’t lose anything.”

The future of gaming, said Cousins, is “platform agnostic” and based in “free games with deep multiplayer experiences.”

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73 Comments »

  1. Juiceman says:

    I specifically remember thinking the $60 price tag for PC games would stick after MW2 tried it. I’m sorry I was right.

    • Wulf says:

      Not everyone is doing that, though. The indies and small devs still have a great sense of fairness. Magicka has had some of the most fun and entertaining multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a long, long time, and it was about £7 I think, when I bought it, which is about $10-ish?

      So some people still have an idea of how to be fair. Minecraft is still only $15, thank goodness for that, and other indies and small devs are following this trend, realising that a game will sell better and be pirated less if you’re not price gouging your potential customers. Set a price above the desire/ability for someone to budget in and they’ll turn to piracy. You have to figure out what the price point is for being fair and making a really good profit.

      And like I said, indies and small scale devs have this down pat.

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  2. GraveyardJimmy says:

    *£30 + DLC

    • Marshall Stele says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s real nice that someone, somewhere is saying this, but it’s a shame that is not someone other than the guys who try to nab you after you’ve purchased the game, rather than before.

    • rayne117 says:

      You two appear to be completely missing the point. Ben clearly says he wants everyone to play the game then if you do like it, we have more stuff available to buy to enhance the game experience.
      It’s like you are trying to turn the word “DLC” into what the word “Socialism” is to America. DLC is not that bad of an idea. And I am grateful to Ben for standing up against the $60 game (which you must pay, in full, to be able to play any of the game).

    • GraveyardJimmy says:

      Rayne, you miss my point. To me, DLC is a way of getting the continued revenue bonus of free-to-play games on top of the £30 release price. Free to play and microtransactions is fine if that’s your thing (I very much dislike it) but either way I agree with the original point in that the base game is a large amount of money, then you are forced to pay more on top of that if you want content that has clearly been cut (despite what the devs say).

      So, £10 for 5 maps anyone?

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      @JKjoker:
      The flaw in your argument is assuming that DLC=Horse armor.

      Clearly some DLC is junk, and there have been cases that look suspiciously like devs deliberately removing sections of the original game to sell as DLC. Equally clearly though, this is not always the case. e.g. the various batches of DLC that were brought out for Borderlands, or some of the expansions for Dragon Age (*some* of) where DLC=Expansion pack.

    • Wulf says:

      It’s also worth noting that company policies denote whether modding is possible or not, not whether or not DLC is sold. Example: Mass Effect 2, not officially moddable. Why? Bioware just didn’t want to budget that in. Simple as. Fallout 3 and New Vegas, moddable, because Bethesda and Obsidian see the worth of a strong modding community. DLC exists for New Vegas and 3. Was the DLC mitigated by modding? Nope!

      DLC has nothing to do with mods and whether a game can be modded, it’s purely an internal choice as to whether modding will be allowed, and what form the modding will take. And modding is necessary, because it can take a dull game and actually turn it into something a bit interesting. I half expect mods to give one an alternative power source to slaying dragons in Skyrim, and then to offer the chance to talk with dragons, even toward a new ending. And Skyrim becomes the more interesting game for it, by far. (Choices are good.)

      Valve has DLC for TF2, has the DLC mitigated their desire to allow people to mod their games? Has it convinced them to wrap Source up tightly so that no modifications can be made? Nope! Have mods made Valve any less of a financial success? Nope! So really, this idea that DLC will kill mods is nonsense. It’s only lazy and/or cheap arse developers that kill mods, end of.

    • fooga44 says:

      @wulf

      Sorry you are incorrect DLC creates the INCENTIVE to close the game, Supreme commander 2 is a case in point. The demo had modding enabled, the release had modding disabled at the request of the publisher (square enix).

  3. terry says:

    I agree with him. It’s a shame EA don’t.

    • Apocalypse 31 says:

      Yeah…I wa going to say…Last time I checked those EA sports games werent cheap, and they come out every 12 months.

      Also, how much was Bad Company 2 on release? Thats right, it was $50….soooooooooo, $60 is unethical, but $50 is so much better

  4. tomeoftom says:

    I can’t understand why this is even an issue right now. I’ve got literally about two year’s worth of solid games enjoyment backlog from super-cheap Steam sales, and those paying attention could/do have the same. If you don’t like the price, just don’t buy the game. Steam has completely obliterated the notion of boredom – unless you have very specific tastes, time, rather than money, is now the limiting factor for the engagement you can derive from games.

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      Strangely I get *more* bored when I have so many choices. If I have one game then I can really get in to it and go all the way through it. Now I have, I would estimate, at least 20 games to play, I can’t concentrate on one and just flit from game to game never truly using each one to its full potential. Hell I’m bored of total war: shogun 2 after a half campaign.

      I’m sure this is more a personal failing though.

    • ReV_VAdAUL says:

      The trick is to lock yourself in. Have a think about what seems somewhat appealing and start playing that game. You are now playing that game to the end, either the end of story, the end of a campaign if its open ended RPG or RTS or the end of a set time period if its multiplayer you’re after.
      It feels constricting at first but then you enjoy it because you have some focus to your gaming.

    • Groove says:

      Hear hear. Couldn’t be truer.

      I still buy new games, but this is very much a case of an exciting game jumping the queue for my attention, rather than me lacking entertainment.

      Also if we’re looking for reasons for our time disappearing we’d be foolish to forget Minecraft. I still have projects I want to complete in that.

    • Huw_Dawson says:

      Isn’t the issue that the game models are inherently going to be less successful? I can see Cousin’s point, personally. Develop robust architecture, build F2P games on that architecture, then allow people to pay what they want for your game via the in game MicTran stores. That means that you get more money out of everybody, a significantly larger playerbase (which you can then advertise to, getting more money) and a constantly-developed game.

      I really, really like the F2P model for PC games. Unfortunately for Dice/EA Battlefield Heroes for me (I was a really early beta guy, I won a fan fiction contest…) was that it was really… bland. And the third person didn’t really work.

      Actually, I should probably check it out again now, seeing that it’s been out of beta for ages now.

    • tomeoftom says:

      Hex: As ReV said, it’s all about discipline (that felt strange to say). I personally recommend adding one or two games to favourites on Steam, and hiding all the rest by closing up the “Games” folder. So when you open it up, there’s just the couple there and it’s easier to forget the masses.

      Groove: Oh, man, Minecraft is a lifetime.

    • Temple to Tei says:

      Hmmm, did I post earlier? And under the username of Hexagonalbolts?
      Only reason I can think of for agreeing with someone so much.
      I don’t even need to buy games, a demo is about as long as I play a game now.

      Don’t even get me started on personal failings.
      I consider myself a gamer and yet, with a growing realisation I don’t touch most games, have been forced to reconsider. The classics list that had a run through recently had so many I don’t care enough about.to try and then some that after trying them I don’t care for. As soon as there is a mechanic or design decision I disagree with then I’m done.

      I… I may be a ‘casual’ gamer. I can play a pointless repetitive MMO for 18 hours a day, but not care about the latest manshooter/racer/number 3 in a series.

    • rayne117 says:

      I think we should start a support group, guys. I have the exact same problem you all do.

      My Steam game list is at 64, and I don’t remember finishing ONE of them. I got them all for so cheap (never more than $15 for any one game); that I have been overloaded with media.

      Netflix is the same way with me. 416 Instant Queue items, 300 DVD items. I’ll look at the list for a few minutes and then give up and browse the internet again.

    • Wulf says:

      @tomeoftom

      Ha! That’s exactly what I do. It’s helpful too, because it keeps the masses of games off one’s visual list. One may well have a lot of games installed, but there might only be a smaller per centage that one is actually playing at any given time. So better to work through the list by keeping things focused. Show just the stuff you’re playing currently, and when you’re done with that, show the rest.

      Though it probably helps in my case that I have very specific tastes, too. So I never find myself overwhelmed. Sometimes looking over the mainstream for me must be like how some people feel about looking over casuals. “Oh, another reskin of that sort of game? PASS. Oh, another one of those, which is about the billionth now? PASS. Oh, hey, that looks a bit interesting!” Mainstream games are really beginning to look like the cheapies catalogue over on GamersGate. There’s so much dull nonsense out there these days that it’s becoming hard to wade through it to find the really, genuinely interesting and innovative little gems.

  5. Moni says:

    Well, my brother-in-law says that iPhone App Store provides a lot of success stories from games that sell at very low prices.

    • Cinek says:

      That’s good point Moni, but it’s most likely cause there ain’t any super-productions on iOS, and prices of nearly any game run between 7$ and 5$, while it’s nearly impossible to find any game above 10$.

    • Carra says:

      Selling 100.000 games at $1 a piece is going to make the single developer who developed a game very happy.

      But a whole team creating a new call of duty game?

  6. Cinek says:

    Well, I never bought any game that expensive.

    The future of gaming, said Cousins, is “platform agnostic” and based in “free games with deep multiplayer experiences.
    - Well, I doubt. The statement would be more true year or two ago when everyone were in “multiplayer wow” mood, but right now it seems like ppl figured out finally that Single Player games are something that won’t die and there always will be a demand for storyline-driven games. 2011 will be/is a year of single player games anyway – Deus Ex, Witcher 2, DA2, NFS, Hitman, Mass Effect3, Portal 2, Total War, etc. etc. All are games single-player-focused and most likely a huge hits of this year. Multiplayer games being hits this year? KotOR has a chance by beyond that there isn’t much.

    • SAM-site says:

      That’s a bit of a narrow view of games. The amount of money made from those titles this year compared to the amount made by online/social/browser/freemium gaming is likely to be a poor cousin. Not saying the latter are better games in the slightest, but when it comes down to it the days of disconnected single player experiences do seem to be numbered. They’ll never die out entirely, but will become fewer and further between.

  7. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    So his agenda is to push the games as a service rather than a product. “Its immoral to buy your games as one big product, you should buy it in bite sized chunks so we’re more justified in taking the game away from you if you do something dastardly like criticise us on our forums.”

  8. abhishek says:

    Jim, when Ben Cousins made this quote in the interview, was his response made with the intent to point out that 60$ is too high a price point (with the implication that 50$, the older price, is acceptable?) Or was it more of a “making someone pay full price upfront for an unknown experience is exploitative, but offering the entire experience for free and then asking to pay is good”.

    In short, was he specifically criticizing the 60$ price point and the 10$ increase that has occurred over the last couple of years? Or was he being critical of the business model where you pay upfront in general?

  9. Hoaxfish says:

    “$60″

    What is that in proper Queen’s poundage? I remember £30 being expensive, back when I actually bought new releases at recommended retail price. But then things go a bit “funny” with pricing when currency conversation gets in play… you know, the £ 1:1 $ maths-fail.

    “free games with deep multiplayer experiences”

    So, what happens when I want to buy a “compelling/deep” singleplayer experience? They’ll simply not get made? Or this conversation simply doesn’t apply.

    • ReV_VAdAUL says:

      Into the google search box in your browser type: “60USD in GBP” and you shall know the truth.

  10. Alez says:

    I can think of something more exploitative:
    Telling people your free to play game will never offer gameplay advantages that can be bought, only visuals.
    After getting people hooked, putting in gameplay advantages like better guns.
    After everyone buys the new guns, whip out even better guns so everyone has to buy those too to stay an the level.
    So i think mister Cousins knows a little something about exploiting people.

    • MrMud says:

      Yea its funny. With few exceptions I cant think of many things more exploitative than micro transaction games (seriously we need to stop calling them “free to play” when they are nothing like it).

    • Player1 says:

      Yeah, Mr. Cousins has a twisted view on this… obviously. Friends of mine put over 100 Euros in this game for some fancy clothing and one or two guns. That’s more than just exploitation. I also hate DLC, because you end up paying way more than 60 $ for a game when you need to have the DLC map pack to continue playing with your friends who buy it…

      But in one point he’s right. After all the changes to the in game store i just walked away and never looked back…

  11. Icarus says:

    Not sure I’m convinced by this new trend on RPS to tease articles with an article of their own, on the same day even. “Later today we’ll publish…” Why not just let the article appear? Not to be dickish, I’m genuinely curious about the reasoning behind that. Is it because you think his comment about the $60 price point is worth a separate debate on it’s own?

  12. Curvespace says:

    Who remembers demos? I remember demos. They were good.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      A nice way to see if it worked on your machine, without having to make an account, or tie yourself to DRM… and hey, there was no “locked content”, it simply wasn’t there at all, so no “hacker/pirate” risk.

  13. 12kill4 says:

    I happily pay $60 for a new release title, when EB and alike attempt to charge my apparently cash-ridden country-men (and whatever the appropriate term for women is…) $90+ simply because they can. I’d really love to read an article on regional price-fixing on RPS in light of the Digital distribution revolution which has occured over the past few years seeming to have little effect on the concept of pricing within the mainstream.

    • StingingVelvet says:

      The reasons are well known. Boxed retail is still by far the most important sales avenue for publishers because of console, plus 50% of PC sales are still in boxes, so publishers need to keep boxed retailers happy. Boxed retailers will not sell your game if it is available earlier and cheaper online, so they force retailer agreements that keep prices and release dates the same.

      Boxed versions cost more overseas due to shipping costs and import taxes, thus the digital versions cost more as well because they are forced to match the boxed price.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Interesting that it’s 50/50 now. Given profits on digital sales should be higher… for a PC only publisher, maybe the digital services should get arsey and say they won’t stock the game if they can’t have it earlier and cheaper. Given that this is what the high street stores are doing.

      Problem is of course that most publishers are multi-platform and consoles are still very much dominated by physical products.

  14. StingingVelvet says:

    Varying pricing is what we need… $60 or even more for a long RPG or big multiplayer hit. $20 for a short and sweet game like Mirror’s Edge or Metro 2033. Some studios and publishers get this, especially on PC… look at Torchlight.

    In any event free-to-play might be the future in company wet dreams but I don’t play multiplayer and I will never play a singleplayer game like that, so… not for me.

  15. BloatedGuppy says:

    I’m afraid what he means is he’d much rather give people a neutered game for free and let them pay $200 in micropayments to unlock the content they used to get for $60 up front.

    • AndrewC says:

      Could you speak more of this $200 you quote?

    • Deano2099 says:

      Rock Band?

      Cheating I know…

    • Mattressi says:

      $200 was likely intended hyperbole (or Guppy was talking about the extremes, rather than the norm). As it is though, anything half decent must be paid for on BF:H. Even healing items cost real money to ensure you have them every round (I played for a little while after the new pricing model and found that I could play probably 1/2 of the rounds with healing items, if used conservatively, but just could not afford more with the ingame currency). Allowing paying players to heal during a battle gives them a huge advantage over non-paying players; but healing items are one-use items, meaning you’d have to continually buy them with real money. Repair items are the same. Now they’ve added jetpacks, fireproof one-use items and large numbers of weapons (which are vastly superior to the default weapons), all of which cost real money.

      Take a look on the BF:H site, even the ‘special deals’ weapon packs (which consist of a two weapons for the same class, but different teams, and a small number of one-use items) cost around 2000 battlefunds, which means you need to fork out $30 just to buy one weapon for one class (but both team’s versions of that class). You’ll have some BF left over, which you can spend on getting some of those one use items stocked up. Now, if you want to change/make a new class or playstyle (or team if you bought the weapon individually and want the equivalent weapon for the other team) you’ll have to fork out similar amounts of money. This isn’t taking into account the other crap that I don’t know about (jetpacks and whatnot). If you want to play all 3 classes on both teams, you’re looking at easily over $100 if you want to be even remotely competitive. Then there’s the endless cost of paying for healing and repair items as well.

      Maybe it’s just me, but it seems to me that it’s far more exploitative for a game to force you to pay $30 just to be able to competitively play one class with one playstyle in some crappy (compared to TF2 and the real Battlefields) shooter and making you worry every time you use a healing item because you know that’s real money that you’re using. I’ll take a $50 complete game over a cheap, gimmicky game designed to force you to pay money to be even remotely competitive.

    • BloatedGuppy says:

      It was hyperbole, but after reading Mattressi’s summation I think I may have undershot by a couple of hundred bucks.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Not hyperbole at all. Dragon Age: Legends wants you pay real money for every character for every fight. If Cousins wants to see an exploitive payment model he should go and check out what his colleagues at EA2D are doing.

  16. Njordsk says:

    battlefield play4free really is abysmal.

    And I’m a BF whore. Couldn’t play it more than half an hour. It’s bad from A to Z.

  17. db1331 says:

    No free to play game will ever be good. If it were good, they could demand payment for it. I’d rather pay $60 for a game where everyone is on an even keel than play some stripped down free version where I get owned by some guy because he spent $2 on a better gun.

  18. brulleks says:

    The future of gaming, said Cousins, is “platform agnostic” and based in “free games with deep multiplayer experiences.”

    Speak for yourself. The future of my gaming will be on PC, largely single-player and with a priority on the cheapest games available on my Gamestracker list. (Plus Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Skyrim at whatever price I happen to give in and buy them for).

  19. Xercies says:

    Unfortunately you don’t really get depth in games if you go free 2 play because you don’t have the money to do it really. Thats why I think more expensive games will always win over Free 2 play.

    • Hedgemonster says:

      @Xercies: pretty much, yeah. The quality of F2P/micropayment games tends to be poor.

      Ben Cousins’s statement, “I can’t think of anything more exploitative than gating all of your content behind having to pay someone $60,” is misleading. You can reasonably know what you get for $60 if you base your purchase on reviews, a demo (sadly so rare these days, especially for PC), comments on fora, or even let’s play footage on the internet. The game is then yours to play for as long as you like (theoretically, at least), without having to get suckered into micropayments (we have DLC instead–ugh!).

      I think Valve’s approach with Team Fortress 2 is the one to follow, really, especially when it comes to multiplayer-focused games.

  20. mcwill says:

    I’m getting really, really tired of being told what the future of gaming is.

    • rayne117 says:

      We all know where PC gaming is headed: straight to it’s coffin.

      - from 2004

    • ReV_VAdAUL says:

      Gamers being increasingly annoyed by predictions is the future of gaming.

    • bob_d says:

      Fair enough. It’s actually more accurate to say: “The present of PC gaming is ‘platform agnostic’ and based in free games with shallow multiplayer experiences.”
      Hmm, yeah, I don’t like that any better.

    • SeeBeeW says:

      What they mean is that in the future the most lucrative gaming model will become F2P multiplayer games, and every studio will jump on that in an outrageous cash grab that sees the market become hugely saturated with nearly identical games (like now, but they will be different, nearly identical games). Then everyone will complain that the market is too competitive.

      Meanwhile, tons of indies and the handful of big studios run by people with actual vision will pretty much keep making whatever they want.

  21. FunkyPoop says:

    “What we do is enable everyone to play the game, and figure out if they like it. If they don’t like it they can walk away and they don’t lose anything.”

    What you should do is make a great game that is worth paying 60 dollars for (without bugs, without stuff taken out to release later as DLC, etc.). And before the game release you release a demo so people can figure out if they like it. That way we don’t lose money because the game is crap and the developer will get paid too.

  22. SlyTrojan says:

    “I can’t think of anything more exploitative than gating all of your content behind having to pay someone $60.”

    Frankly, while I believe that paying $60 for a game is outrageous, I find this statement offensive. He can’t think of anything more exploitative than expensive video games? Are we that out of touch with what is happening in the world?

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      I think it’s fairly clear that his comments relate to the world of video games rather than the world at large.

  23. Resin says:

    I think games should make as much money as they can to pay the good people who make them.
    They should do this with a mind to establishing and maintaining a good relation with their fanbase.
    If your making an $60 up front game, a teaser demo will help customers decide if they are willing to pony up the cash. Personally I don’t like micro-payment systems or even subscriptions for that matter, but I do think having multiple pay models is a good idea and that one size does not fit all. Social games, MMOs, small indies, and AAAs lend themselves to different models. The Humble Bundle has got to be a personal favorite in the right way to market games, but I would never expect EA to go that route, I don’t think it would work for them. This guy is an ass.

  24. Ergates_Antius says:

    Man who makes living selling “free-to-play” games says “free-to-play” games are the future.

    Man who makes living selling Iphone apps says Iphone apps are the future.

    Man who makes living selling clockwork owls says clockwork owls are the future.

  25. Jimbo says:

    I’ll take the good games the ‘exploitative’ model delivers over the shitty games the F2P model delivers.

  26. Amun says:

    If you want to sell me a full game (with an editor) that’s on par with Half-Life, Diablo, or Unreal Tournament, I’ll pay $60. If you want to sell me vanity items, I’ll pay $0.

  27. Gazanator101 says:

    Ergh, I hate the word ‘free’, let alone ‘free to play’. Nothing is free in life…well, except crumbled up bits of biscuit from a free sample section in Sainsbury’s.

  28. Devan says:

    That quote sounds like straight-up Public Relations BS, whether or not it carries any truth. There’s nothing inherently wrong or right about either business model. I might call a company like Facebook exploitative if they sell their customers’ private information in exchange for their “free” service, but I wouldn’t call selling a game at too high a price exploitative.

    It’s particularly odd that an EA exec would say that, when most of the games are right up there in price. Cousins may be trying to gain leverage internally as well as generate goodwill in the PC community.
    I really doubt he has the best interests of consumers at heart though.

  29. Bongs says:

    that lung
    Rather, I think there has to be a better system for companies to rent out games, as Blockbusters close around the country and Gamefly is always months behind. Wouldn’t they rather have my $20 for two weeks of renting their title than $0 because I know it’s not worth the full price point to me? Solve that problem and you’ll move the industry ahead by leaps and bounds.