Electronic Arts is in the business of selling games, but it could soon be more appropriate to call it the business of selling access to games instead.
Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Technology Conference today, the publisher's VP of investor relations Chris Evenden said EA has been laying the groundwork for a shift to streaming games through the cloud for some time, from its 2015 streaming service offered through Comcast Xfinity to its EA Access and Origin Access Xbox One and PC subscription offerings.
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"We've been building an infrastructure both from a product and a marketing perspective so we can move our slate across to new platforms, and we can move with our games across to new platforms as well," Evenden said. "So all of these things, we've been working on for five or more years now, actually. But I think it's inevitable that the gaming entertainment world will move in much the same way that the music and video entertainment worlds have already moved, in the sense that people have moved from an ownership model to an access model. And you'll see that in gaming, just as you've seen it with Spotify and Netflix in other media businesses."
The technology for such a shift is essentially in place, Evenden said, noting that EA has been running a demo with one major internet company showing a streaming Battlefield experience indistinguishable from a locally rendered one. However, he acknowledged that test wouldn't work in areas without a robust online infrastructure.
"That infrastructure barrier is still there, but it's shrinking very rapidly," Evenden said. "And we think in the next couple of years, you'll see some major technological announcements that will prove to be commercially significant in the next three to five years."
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One of the big reasons EA is preparing for a switch to a more streaming-oriented industry is that it would provide a much lower cost of entry for potential customers.
"Right now if you want to play FIFA in the United States, it will cost you $460," Evenden said. "You have to buy the game; you have to buy the console. In a streaming world, it could be $9.99 a month. The commercial details have to be worked out, but whatever number it ends up at is very much less than $460. So that extends your market, because all you need locally is literally a smart TV."