Players will expect a free-to-start experience - EA

CEO Andrew Wilson says publisher is preparing for a free trial future as a way to get new users into its services [Update: EA also seeing strength in old gen]

Electronic Arts has embraced the idea of games-as-a-service for years. In the process, it's learned a few things about how to get people to sign up for services. In a post-earnings conference call today, EA CEO Andrew Wilson, when asked about free-to-play's future on consoles, said the company thinks about it the same way it thinks about the business model on other platforms.

"As we look to the future, we believe a very big part of our player base will expect a free-to-start experience," Wilson said. "When we look at film, TV, music, books, very often there is this free trial notion that actually onboards new players, new listeners, new readers, or new viewers into a service. We're actively looking into how we could offer that type of experience to our players on console and across other platforms."

That doesn't mean everything will have the same business model. Wilson said the approach is viable regardless of whether the step after that free trial is a full game download, a "traditional" free-to-play microtransaction, or even a subscription to a broader service like EA Access.

"Our expectation is that we will be offering all three of those options to players both on console and across other platforms," Wilson said.

Update: Later in the conference call, EA was also asked about the stability of the previous consoles, Xbox 360 and PS3. If anything, the publisher believes it will continue to be an area it can leverage as late adopters come on board.

Peter Moore, COO, commented, "We're entering the ninth year of the cycle. I think we're seeing a strong tail. I think both Sony and Microsoft, to their credit, are providing support behind their current gen... Having been on that side of the business, as you well remember, it's a strong opportunity for both to continue to leverage the power of that very large installed base. There's a great portfolio of titles that stretches back 9 years, and the hardware is great value for the money for consumers that haven't jumped in yet on console hardware.

"We were concerned two or three quarters ago that all of the action was in Xbox Ones and PS4s, but I think what's happened is that consumer has moved on and plenty of consumers are still looking to get involved in games, there were great deals at retailers around the world during the holiday period - and our job obviously is to take full advantage of that, and nobody in the industry has more recognizable blockbusters than Electronic Arts. I think it's as simple as that; our teams are well positioned with content both at retail and with full game downloads of those titles and this is where great IP shines with consumers who are maybe coming in a little late and are looking for recognizable content."

Blake Jorgensen, CFO, added, "During the year there were roughly three million old generation consoles sold here in the US and half of that came in the last 2 months of the year. Obviously, Christmas discounting probably drove a lot of that and if you're buying a console for the first time there's a high probability that you're going to go buy FIFA or Madden or Battlefield or Need for Speed."

Additional reporting by James Brightman

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Latest comments (7)

Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 4 years ago
Like... a...

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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 4 years ago
Exactly Barrie. the same thing exists with EA Access, where you can download and play anything for six hours five days prior

BTw and completely OT. , I'm the best Sim City Rhe Card Game player in the world :) it's about the only thing I ever won, but implaced first and second in the two tournaments at Origins and still have all the exclusive internal MAXIS cards I got as part of my prize :) I'd love to see a mobile or Console version if you can find out who now owns the design. It's a bit like Magic meets Cacassone
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Ben Gonshaw Game Design Consultant, AKQA4 years ago
I think Jesse Schell gave a DICE talk about how demos lead to reduced sales, in that you get 3 types of people in your buyers: those who would definitely buy the game, those who buy it to try it and those who would never buy it. Put out a demo and you can strike out the buy it to try it guys immediately. They've tried it now, no need to buy. In the definitely buy category, some of those will inevitably turn into a non-sale as they are either satisfied with having played that small slice, or they discover that they didn't like the game after all.

I can see some value in an unlockable pay for content structure - even if that is the episodic model with the first episode free. From there it's a slow slide back into a micro-transaction model where you pay per level - and then the temptation comes to try to guarantee that sale by stitching it into the game mechanics and before you know it, you're back into F2P territory.
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Ed French CEO, Tangentix Ltd4 years ago
Free trials brings the sale process to be more about the content itself- if the content is good we find people are happy to pay for longer access. It does not favour shallow or novelty content. When we asked gamers, we found that the majority say they pirate games "to try them first", so the choice is often not between providing a trial or selling a game, but between providing a trial and the user getting the game as a pirate copy. We have launched GameSessions to offer free trials of Steam games and I'm sure many users are not going to pay- but they cost the publisher nothing. We have signed more than 50 games (Crytek, Codemasters, Rebellion etc) to our service in the last 3 months and with EA making this move, even more gamers will come to expect this experience.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 4 years ago
@ Barrie

I think in a lot of people mind's, demo and free-trial are the same thing - both allow you to play a slice of the game free of charge - but, yes, I take your point. :)
Also if done right you don't download anything else on top of what is on your machine. Microsoft did this with Xbox 360 trials, your purchase of the full game basically downloaded a 1KB license file to say you owned the game
Urghhhhh... Done right for the people with fiber is done horrendously wrong for the people with ADSL. I wouldn't want to download even a 3gb full-game just to have a free trial. Perhaps having a cloud-save option at the beginning would fix that, though? Download a segment, play it, and if you like it upload the save for future play?
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.4 years ago
Barrie, I'm seeing a lot of demos these days that carry over to the full game. So there is no starting over (or at least not completely).
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
@Ben, one thing that Jesse Schell missed is the existence of a 4th customer type. The browser or grazer.

On mobile that's most of your potential audience, so if he missed that out it means you should probably discount the rest. In retail it's why high street shops are a thing.

Browsers, or "drive bys" as they're becoming known, are measured in the hundreds of millions and is the main reason why F2P became a thing in the first place whatever you might think happened to it later. You either cater to those people or you don't.
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