The Ultimate EA Retrospective: In-Depth on Riccitiello’s Legacy
Online Passes, Micro-Transactions, and Day One DLC
With stock prices fumbling, a recession in full swing, the old model of game development not really working and game sales in decline, a big part of Riccitiello’s direction was to angle EA into the relatively new field of digital distribution for games, especially in console content.
The EA Sports label had seen a lot of success with additional online content extending the life of its sports titles beyond their initial release with the sale of small pieces of downloadable content. Soon, DLC was spreading as a practice among other EA titles, adding additional chapters to story games, additional skins and weapons to multiplayer games, and generally bringing in more revenue for EA. And as game sales were dropping, EA and the rest of the industry started turning its attention to the huge used games market, which saw players reselling titles to new players — a portion of the industry for which publishers (and to a lesser extent, developers) received no cut of the profits.
Around 2009 and 2010, EA started implementing “online passes” for multiplayer titles, requiring players to connect to the Internet and enter a code to verify they had purchased the game new in order to access multiplayer content. Players who purchased a game used, with its online pass already utilized, could get a new one to the tune of $10 to access the online component. It was “found revenue,” as then EA COO Eric Brown described it in 2010, but it was a practice that players responded poorly to, seeing online passes as a means of devaluing games they had purchased legally and as a barrier for paying customers to getting to their games.
The success of downloadable expansion content also picked up a great deal of steam for EA, eventually leading to the release of downloadable content on the same day as a game’s launch. “Day One DLC,” as it is known, was also received poorly by players, many of whom continue to see it as an underhanded tactic to artificially inflate the prices of games beyond their $60 retail price tag. Though it’s difficult to prove in any meaningful way, the perception continues to be that Day One DLC represents content purposely cut from a completed game with the intention of selling it to players twice.
Another bid was made to monetize digital connectivity to games in 2011, by converting EA’s online store into a new PC gaming platform called Origin. A direct competitor to Valve’s Steam portal, Origin benefited EA by allowing it to sell its games directly to players without giving a cut of profits to Valve for use of Steam. It also allowed EA to use the platform to advertise more games, and gain benefits like the ability to track player usage data that would give EA the ability to better market games to players.
But Origin received, and continues to receive, a great deal of backlash from players. The portal offers little or no incentive to players to use it, as it functions much as the more popular and better-established Steam. After Origin’s launch, EA stopped publishing its PC titles on other platforms, thereby funneling players to its own platform — a good move for EA, because it gets to keep all profits from the sale, but a move that offers nothing to the player, and that has embittered many PC players to the company and the platform.