Electronic Arts is officially enamored with the “premium” service concept. It was only earlier this month during E3 when their first foray, Battlefield Premium, for Battlefield 3, was kicked into gear at EA’s press conference. The service lavishes gamers with free, early access to DLC; exclusive weapons, customization options, and double XP weekends; and the ability to reset all stats on Battlelog – but only after payment on a $50 subscription fee, a near equivalent to buying another full game.
Not surprisingly – and likely in line with plans predating the release of Battlefield 3 - EA has run the early sales numbers, likes what it sees, and is hungry for more.
In its first week, Battlefield Premium and Close Quarters, the first Battlefield 3 DLC, became available exclusively for PlayStation 3 owners, opening to the Xbox 360 and PC crowd the following week. In that span, according to what EA Games head Patrick Soderlund told USA Today, the company saw over 800,000 players enlist to the service.
A little perspective: That’s $40 million dollars of revenue for a “product” that skips the packaging, skips the retail store, and – in the case of PC sales through Origin – skips the extra party platform maker. No wonder Soderlund was then quick to echo his boss, Peter Moore, on the reason EA is embracing the digital marketplace:
What EA has undergone in the last 4-5 years – the digital transformation that we’ve been going through – has been based on that type of consumer and how that consumer plays. If EA was a very console-centric company five years ago, it’s wrong to say we don’t still focus on packaged goods. But if you look at the volume of revenue coming from what we call direct to consumer digital, that’s by far the fastest growing part of EA.
And it might just be that perfect storm – that confluence of the growing digital market and EA’s insatiable appetite for selling extra content – that sees the premium service model extend to more games under the EA sun.
Frank Gibeau – the president of EA Labels who recently lauded the business savvy of Dead Space 3′s new co-op integration – spoke to GamesIndustry on why Premium, as well, is a viable schematic for the publisher’s larger product line.
In addition to reconciling Premium’s inspiration from rival Activision’s Call of Duty Elite service (“This is an industry where people have a lot of oneupsmanship, and if somebody innovates, you match it or you exceed it,” he says), Gibeau is excited to see how broadly the model can grow:
“We actually think our Premium service exceeds what Elite does – from a value standpoint, from a content standpoint – and longer term we think that we can bring more properties into that offering and that’ll be great for the business.”
As Gibeau also mentioned, Battlefield Premium isn’t the first time EA has explored the subscription based concept; the EA Sports Season Ticket grants annual early access to EA Sports titles along with a 20% DLC discount. But Premium goes a step further. It cuts deeply into the fabric of Battlefield 3 itself, so much so that – even if it truly does provide substantial standalone additions to an already-sterling title – future developers might be tempted by the template (more than some already are) to withhold vital content for an “exclusive” post release download.
Are we at that point yet? Not exactly. And with EA scouting out more games to implement the free-to-play model on, a premium service might also be their answer to balancing out a lesser price upfront. That being said, don’t be surprised if a future Medal of Honor, Madden NFL or Need for Speed begins trending towards a “two games in one” marketing angle post-release – with an equal number of charges to match.
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