Could FIFA and Madden Transition Away From Annualised Releases?

I’m sure that many of you are aware of EA’s current infatuation with alternate methods for acquiring our hard-earned cash outside of the traditional game purchasing methodology we’ve all been accustomed to since the medium’s inception. Whether it be the introduction of microtransactions and DLC in both their single and multiplayer titles, or the creation of the online subscription service EA Access, the publisher has never shied away from utilising alternative, and sometimes controversial, means for generating income.

EA Access, in particular, has been a mainstay of the company’s online service portfolio for the last couple of years now, and while concrete figures regarding the success of the platform have yet to surface, it would seem that the service has garnered at least moderate support from the fanbase, especially when considering a recent Bloomberg TV interview with CEO of EA Andrew Wilson.

In the interview, Wilson expressed the possibility of the company introducing a potential subscription model in relation to their EA Sports portfolio, which includes titles such as FIFA, Madden NFL, and NHL. This would mean an end to the annualisation of these franchises, an approach that has been an industry standard for the sports game genre since the 1990s. Speaking to Bloomberg TV, Wilson stated that, ‘There’s a world where it gets easier and easier to move that code around, where we may not have to do an annual release… We can really think about those games as a 365-day, live service.’

In order to transition to a subscription model for their sports franchises, EA would have to use the power of cloud gaming, an approach that has gained popularity across the entirety of the entertainment industry, as evidenced by the success of services such as Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime Video, and many more besides. Even the videogame industry in recent years has played witness to the introduction of numerous subscription-based steaming services, including PlayStation Now, Xbox Game Pass, OnLive, and, of course, EA Access. However, despite the plethora of streaming services currently available, outside of niche genres such as MMOs, the idea of subscription-based games has remained relatively unexplored. In fact, even the aforementioned MMO genre has witnessed in recent years a transition away from the traditional subscription model in favour of microtransaction-fuelled free-to-pay models instead, primarily due to the hefty monthly fees and crowded marketplace, with few MMOs aside from the likes of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV: A Real Reborn able to justify to customers the continued usage of monthly subscription models.

This begs the question as to whether or not an online streaming subscription model would even be financially desirable. As of time of writing, the latest iteration of the annualised FIFA franchise, FIFA 17, has, somewhat appropriately, sold 17 million copies worldwide, an increase from the 16.2 million (also rather ironic) sold by its predecessor. The series in generating millions of dollars of revenue for EA each year, and while us mere mortals aren’t privy to the financial costs of developing a new FIFA game each and every year, I believe that it would be safe to assume that EA certainly aren’t agonising over their annual profit margins. And you have to remember, I have yet to even include the wildly popular Ultimate Team mode into the equation, a DLC service that generates around $650 million in annual revenue across the FIFA, Madden and NHL franchises collectively.

As such, it is difficult to determine whether switching to a subscription model would be beneficial or not for EA’s sports franchises. Between unit sales and additional extra content sales via the Ultimate Team mode, EA are raking in the bucks in a way that would make even Scrooge McDuck jealous with envy. The yearly release cycle also gives EA the perfect opportunity to market their sports franchises, reaffirming to the public their existence in a way that would be difficult to replicate if utilising a subscription model. At the end of the day, the decision to either transition to a subscription model or retain the annualised approach comes down which one will generate the most profit for EA, and if the numbers suggest advantage subscription, we’ll undoubtedly see the likes of FIFA, Madden, and NHL evolve to incorporate a subscription model. If not, be prepared to buy your yearly copy of FIFA from now until the end of time.

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