EA could turn FIFA, Madden into subscription services

"FIFA 17 2.0." "It's just a roster patch every year."

You know the message board talking points. Virtually all of them are perhaps trust in jest at most. But imagine a world where instead of a traditional physical release, the annual September FIFA release was instead an update through the PlayStation or Microsoft stores respectively?

That's what EA CEO Andrew Wilson spoke to Bloomberg TV about yesterday.

“The greatest disruptor to the consumption of entertainment media in the last five years has been the combination of streaming plus subscription,” Wilson said. “It’s changed the way we watch television. It’s changed the way we listen to music. It’s changed the way I read books.”

When asked about the prospects of a so-called "'Netflix' of gaming", Wilson stated “there’s a world where it gets easier and easier to move that code around -- where we may not have to do an annual release. We can really think about those games as a 365-day live service.”

Those sounding their internal panic alarms or rushing to make snide, defensive comments in response, think more to EA's existing streaming service, "EA Access". Imagine if instead of a 10 hour trial at launch and instead of $30/year you paid something like $30/month for the latest releases of all EA Sports titles year round.

We could theoretically already be there -- or at least in much closer proximity -- had "FIFA World" gained more traction and/or be slightly more fleshed out/full-bore and if we hadn't had the pushback on the proposed elimination of physical releases during the announcement of the most recent generation of consoles the industry experienced. Even with the eleventh hour pivot back to physical discs, we're seeing more and more titles be released earlier as digital pre-orders with the physical copies either lacking pre-orders altogether or coming out as much as four to eleven days later than their cloud-based counterparts.

The advantages to such a structure are plentiful: say if a game needed a dramatic tune up/fix, with the title constantly being iterated on instead of being worked on concurrently with a future version of the same title, it could theoretically be prioritized and rolled out more like a patch than having to be introduced as part of the following year's game. Or say a technological leap forward gives the game manufacturers new ammunition to provide a better and more vivid experience. A Frostbite type engine could be introduced mid-game traditional life cycle instead of 12 months later.

The challenges and roadblocks are numerous, however. As Wilson mentions, file size in our current high-speed Internet world -- the Xbox One X has been widely popularly received, but its up to 100 GB game and accompanying updates have some crying too much-too soon -- as well as design scale (Wilson talked about playing a game for a short period of a time on a mobile phone, then picking it up for an hour on a 60 inch TV before transitioning to monitoring it in your car while you're driving) make an abrupt pivot unlikely.

FIFA (and Madden) Mobile players have already first hand seen what it's like where the same app updates and all the sudden it's essentially a new game. The same restart you've grown accustomed to from FUT on console happened on FIFA Mobile just a few weeks ago, but along with it, a complete rewrite of the game's engine to support tuned up graphics and gameplay, a new leveling system, and a complete rewrite of the game's navigation/UI. All in the same app even.

What Wilson is proposing would essentially be a shift on console games to something more akin to that. Perhaps one of the biggest questions remaining is how licensing in a game like FIFA (and in particular a mode like Ultimate Team) would be impacted. Would we see a shift to more a "FIFA Online 3", Korea's popular years running PC game that has players from across multiple FIFA console releases within the same roughly FIFA 13 backed engine game? Or would we continue to see fresh starts/resets like we have since Ultimate Team launched on the physically backed console game releases?

The future is an exciting one. And while we're undoubtedly still years away, it's time to think of these sorts of sea changes as more and more inevitabilities and not merely hypothetical works in progress or proposals on meeting room white boards.

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