EA Explores Charging For Premium Game Demos

A report from videogame industry analyst Michael Pachter indicates that EA is investigating new revenue streams, particularly digital revenues that might entice players to buy into an extended game demo and follow up with a full game purchase once the title was available. That's the noninflammatory version of this story's lede; the inflammatory version is that EA wants to charge users $10-$15 for traditional downloadable game demos. EA has clarified that this is not in the cards; EA's Jeff Brown told Kotaku that "EA SPORTS, EA Games and EA Play are each experimenting with download strategies that deliver fresh game content in formats players want to experience...None of the proposals call for charging consumers for traditionally free game demos." Hopefully we can quash the original rumor by acknowledging it and moving on to what EA is actually considering.

Sure, Battlefield 1943 is fun—but would you pay $15 for it with a $60 full title in the pipe?

The concept is something like this: EA would release an extended/premium test version of a game for $10-$15. Pachter describes the concept as "essentially be a very long game demo, along the lines of 2009's Battlefield 1943." The goal of the program, according to EA Group general manager Nick Earl, would be to reduce the cost of marketing the full title; the extended demo would "serve as a low cost marketing tool." Scratch out "marketing tool" and replace it with "revenue stream," since that's what the company is trying to create.

Well, It's Not A Completely Terrible Idea...

This is an idea that could either succeed brilliantly or explode in EA's face. Which of these occurs will depend on how EA designs its program and what it offers potential gamers for their $10-$15. The company has already figured out that it needs a bigger carrot than what would be included in a traditional demo, but the "buy it now, then buy it again," price model isn't going to be popular. Gamers who shell out $75 ($15 for the demo, $60 for the title) are going to feel like chumps for essentially buying the same content twice. Stuffing more content into a demo would only exacerbate the problem. 

There are several ways EA could deal with this. The simplest would be to give early adopters a proportional discount on the final game should they desire to purchase it. If they don't, that's fine—they retain access to whatever section of the title EA previously sold them. The second option would be to sell this feature as a monthly or yearly pass; gamers who up for the service receive access to the early premium versions of all the relevant titles. The advantage here is that it increases the chance that gamers will play multiple titles (thus reducing marketing costs), but avoids the risk that buyers will end up feeling cheated or nickel-and-dimed to death. The third and most complex solution would be to offer eligible players a handful of carrots that carry perceived value. Possibilities include special skins, weapons, a guaranteed spot in beta tests for other EA games, or the opportunity to compete in a prize-winning tournament (open only to other premium demo owners) to be held just before the title launches.

Not Pictured: Grace, Agility

Spun right, this sort of service could actually drive customers towards EA's Online Store and digital distribution system and away from that "other" service you might have heard of. Spun wrong, it'll soar with the grace of a possum meeting a MAC truck. Given the fact that EA's CEO, John Riccitello, told Pachter that it was his intent to "exploit all of its packaged games with ancillary digital revenue streams," we're not betting on the former—but Riccitello may have found a soulmate in Activision CEO Bobby Kotick.