In The Grim Darkness Of EA’s Future, There Are Only IAPs

Ed Balls

(I know we call ’em microtransactions not in-app purchases on PC, but John will almost definitely shout at me if I let the headline run onto two lines).

This doesn’t come as much suprise in light of what EA did to Dead Space 3, but there’s still a certain amount of gastric churn to be felt in response to an EA bossman’s public declaration that microtransactions will be a fixed feature of “all our games” from now on.

At a recent business conference (as reported by Develop, but the full transcript is available here), EA’s Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen revealed that “We’re building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be, and consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business.”

Obviously there’s a a large degree of generalisation in there, and thus there might well be exceptions and certainly variations, but yeah, that’s the course they’re sticking to. And while you might not be “enjoying and embracing that way of the business”, the trouble is this stuff is making money – and more than likely that’s EA’s interest far above and beyond making the best games possible.

We’re building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be.

Take, for example, the earlier claim that “Last quarter, we did over $25 million in Simpsons business alone.” EA’s Simpsons business essentially consists of free-to-play mobile title The Simpsons: Tapped Out. So we can shout and stamp all we like, but we’re not going to turn that particular ship around.

Unless, of course, it turns out to be a fad, as were the Facebook games EA also invested heavily in. I suspect not, though. The option to acquire games for free will hold a long-lasting appeal to a lot of people, even if your and my preferred means of delivery is the up-front fee for a complete product.

The questions, I think, are two-fold – 1) to what extent will other publishers follow suit? 2) Will we see something like Dead Space 4 or FIFA 2014 be launched as free-to-play? Probably yes, given they’re already doing that with Command & Conquer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for multiplayer – TF2, Tribes Ascend and League of Legends do a decent job of it after all, relatively speaking  – hopefully lessons can be learned from those, and not merely from overtly cynical stuff like Tapped Out. The trouble really arises when microtransaction shenanigans play a major role in singleplayer games/modes.

By which I mean that if you thought EndingGate was bad, you should probably brace yourself for what happens in the event EA pull this kind of stunt in Mass Effect 4.

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