Electronic Arts is coming back to Steam, the publisher announced today.
Technically, it never really left, but after it launched its rival Origin PC digital distribution storefront in 2011, EA throttled back its release slate to little more than Sims 3 expansion packs, and even stopped those in 2013.
The publisher is returning with a splash, as today it opened up Steam preorders for next month's release of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and unveiled plans to bring its EA Access subscription service to Steam beginning next spring.
Like its counterparts on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and on Origin, EA Access on Steam will give subscribers access to a slate of the publisher's titles. But there's a snag, as a game needs to be on Steam in the first place for EA Access on Steam to let subscribers play it, and EA's output for the most of the last decade is not yet on the storefront. The publisher is working to rectify that, and has confirmed The Sims 4 and Unravel 2 will arrive on Steam "in the coming months," with titles like Apex Legends, FIFA 20, and Battlefield V set to debut next year.
As for just how extensive the group of EA back catalog arrivals on Steam will be, EA senior VP Mike Blank tells GamesIndustry.biz details haven't been finalized just yet.
"We're working on our technical integration with Valve now so I'll have more information at a later date," Blank says when we ask about achieving title parity with other Access programs. "I can't tell you today exactly which games and when. I would anticipate you'll see a great catalog of content coming to Steam, and I'll leave it at that."
"There's been this dramatic increase in the number of gaming services, which you would think would be really good for players. But I think in many cases, it's the exact opposite"
There is also some question around EA Access perks. When we ask if Steam subscribers will get the same early trial periods for big new releases and 10% off EA content across the platform, Blank says they likely will.
"We anticipate that the core benefits of the subscription service as it exists on Origin or Xbox or PlayStation will be the same as those which you would get on Steam," he says. "And when I say the core benefits, I'm talking about things like early access, the 10% discount, or that catalog of games that you might see on EA Access today on Xbox or on PlayStation 4."
He is more certain that third-party games included in Origin Access -- titles like Batman: Arkham Asylum or Darksiders III -- won't be included. And while subscriptions to either EA Access on Steam or Origin Access won't confer users the ability to use the other, EA is working on some integrations between the two.
"We want to make the experience for players who want to play their games on Steam or Origin as frictionless as possible, so we're working towards connecting our accounts together as well as enabling players to play together across both Steam and Origin so they can play the games with the people they want to play with regardless of which platform they play on," Blank says.
Pricing for EA Access on Steam will be the same as on consoles or the basic tier of Origin Access: $4.99 a month or $29.99 annually.
While EA Access on Steam will give players yet another option in terms of gaming subscription services, Blank sees it as part of a bid to ultimately reduce fragmentation on that front.
"Since the time we removed our games from Steam, there's been this dramatic increase in the number of gaming services, which you would think would be really good for players. But I think in many cases, it's the exact opposite. It creates more difficulty for players, and providing player choice -- from my perspective and speaking on behalf of EA -- is really critical. It's an opportunity to make it possible for people to play where they want, to reduce that fragmentation and make it more frictionless... Reducing that fragmentation is really important. It's the most player-first thing we can do."
Blank believes the industry will ultimately hit a point of subscription fatigue, and while he isn't sure if it's already been reached, he sees a shakeout on the horizon.
"I think we're a little bit in the Wild West today where there are more subscription services popping up all the time, but there will be a reality where not every player will sign up for every subscription service, and not every subscription service will be viable," Blank says. "Those that remain will be the ones that offer the best gaming experiences, the most frictionless gaming experience, the most convenient opportunity for play, the most connected way to play with players on the platform they want to play on. I think that's frankly where EA Access has a unique opportunity and unique role in the gaming market. It has a great array of games, it's being delivered across an array of platforms."
When we ask if bringing its games back to Steam is a signal that EA has given up on the idea of Origin ever supplanting Valve's store as the market leader in PC digital distribution, Blank dismisses the notion, saying Origin has performed well with millions of players using it.
"Our approach is to become more open... And we've been inching toward that over the past couple years and months"
"But I think it's fair to say our approach is changing," Blank acknowledges. "And our approach is to become more open... And we've been inching toward that over the past couple years and months. Some folks don't recognize it, but we have more than 85 content partners, publishing partners, game developer partners on Origin today that are delivering their games through Access. Our subscription service is on more platforms than any other publisher. This is part of what is a clear strategy and opportunity to help more players play games."
Along that line, we ask if there are plans to bring EA Access to the Epic Games Store.
"What I'll say today is we are open to new partnerships," Blank says. "While I don't have anything to announce today, we are always open to new partnerships that make sense for our players. So we'll see what the future holds."
EA isn't the only big company embracing a more open approach these days. Microsoft has been platform agnostic with Minecraft since it acquired the smash hit, and isn't exactly coy about its multiplatform ambitions with Project xCloud. All the console makers have embraced cross-platform play to various degrees, while games like Fortnite with its PC and mobile cross-play have expanded just what "multiplatform" can mean. Blank agrees these moves represent a significant shift to the industry's mindset in recent years.
"There seems to be a wave that's occurring here, a wave toward openness and creating healthy gaming communities, a wave towards breaking down barriers to play, towards frictionless [play]," he says. "I think what's really happening is that our players are speaking up. And not just our players, but players of [all] games. With the advent of cross-play, I think what we're seeing is... these barriers are breaking down. And when a barrier breaks, the natural evolution for players is to say, 'What other barriers can we break down?'
He adds, "I think this trend is becoming less of a trend and more of a reality. It's critical for publishers and developers and platforms like ours and Xbox and PlayStation and Steam and others to be more and more open, to create healthy opportunities for people to play together. And I trust this reality is continuing. As a player myself, I think this is fantastic, and it's a long time coming... I think we're going to see more of this in the weeks and months and years to come."