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EA Launches EA Access, a Subscription-Based Gaming Platform for Xbox One

Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: EA  ) just announced the beta launch of EA Access, an "all you can play" subscription service for $5 per month or $30 per year, for Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Xbox One.

The service will give gamers access to last year's top games, including Battlefield 4, FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, and Peggle 2, along with 10% discounts on EA games, DLC, and in-game currency. EA Access pass holders also get early access trials to EA sports games and Dragon Age: Inquisition up to five days before the retail release. Saved files from the early access trials will carry over to the full retail versions.

Madden NFL 25. Source: EA.

What EA Access means for Sony and Microsoft
EA Access is an ambitious attempt to combine the appealing aspects of several different platforms. It mimics Microsoft's Xbox Live Gold and Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) PlayStation Plus plans, which offer free monthly games and steep discounts on digital downloads. EA Access is much cheaper than either service -- Xbox Live Gold costs $60 per year, while PlayStation Plus costs $50 per year.

However, EA Access doesn't directly compete against Xbox Live Gold on the Xbox One, since gamers still need a Gold membership to play multiplayer games online. In fact, the deal actually helps Microsoft, because EA now offers better deals to Xbox One players than PS4 ones.

EA Access is also similar to Sony's PlayStation Now service, a cloud gaming platform that streams PS1, PS2, and PS3 games directly to the PlayStation TV, PS Vita, certain Sony TVs, and the PS4. PS Now allows gamers to rent individual games, but Sony plans to eventually launch monthly "all you can play" subscription plans. Since PS Now offers a much larger library of games than EA Access, it's safe to say that the former will cost much more than $30 per year.

What EA means for other software publishers
While EA Access wasn't designed to compete with Xbox Live Gold, PS Now, or PS Plus, EA is notably forming its own fiefdom within the Xbox One ecosystem. This is exactly what EA did on PCs with Origin, its answer to Valve's Steam. After EA launched Origin in 2011, EA games abruptly vanished from Steam, forcing PC gamers to install the Origin front-end to play EA titles.

On the Xbox One, the change will be more subtle since all digital games must be downloaded through Live. However, EA can assert better control over the final prices through EA Access discounts. This would let EA undercut its competitors with discounted member prices, which can be offset via EA Access fees and higher sales volume. This would possibly convince more gamers to sign up for the service, especially ahead of major releases like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Battlefield: Hardline.

Dragon Age: Inquisition. Source: EA.

For example, Inquisition might cost $60 on both the Xbox One and PS4, but Xbox One members with EA Access might only have to pay $54 (after the 10% discount) and can play the game five days earlier than everyone else. EA could also offer limited-time deals on older games in ongoing franchises, like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, prior to launching new titles like Inquisition and Mass Effect 4.

Therefore, if EA Access is successful, Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI  ) and Ubisoft might even set up competing "all you can play" services on the Xbox One. If these platforms flourish, cross-platform games on the Xbox One could become significantly cheaper than their PS4 counterparts.

Why EA Access could fail
While EA Access sounds like a good deal for Xbox One gamers, it's also obvious that EA is only offering up games that are no longer chart toppers. Battlefield 4 has been crushed by Activision's Call of Duty: Ghosts, and sales of FIFA 14 and Madden NFL 25 failed to reach a million copies on the Xbox One since launching last November.

EA has promised to add more games soon, but it's unlikely to add current hits like Titanfall into the mix. Without proper support, EA Access could be quickly known as a clearance bin for unloved EA titles. If that happens, EA could overreact and launch newer titles on EA Access, cannibalizing its own sales. Therefore, it could be tough to convince gamers that EA Access is truly to the Xbox One what Steam is to PC gamers, or what PS Now might be to PS4 gamers.

The Foolish takeaway
In conclusion, EA Access is a bold move that could help EA draw more Xbox One gamers into its ecosystem, while providing the Xbox One with a semi-rival platform to PlayStation Now. It might even force Activision and Ubisoft to set up their own shops within Xbox Live as well. However, EA should tread carefully, or the experiment could end very quickly if EA treats it as a dump site for aging, unpopular games.  


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Leo Sun

Leo has covered the crossroads of Wall Street and Silicon Valley since 2012. Follow him on Twitter for more updates!

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