Yesterday I wrote a piece about my Mass Effect: Andromeda First Impressions in which I made mention of gaining access to a trial version of the game through EA’s Origin ‘Access’ system. This was my first experience with the service or any service like it.
For those who don’t know about EA Origin Access – it’s a subscription service that offers you access to free copies of old games, ‘trial’ versions of upcoming games, and discounts for existing, recent games. The subscription fee stands at around £4 for a month, or £20 for a year.
Many of you may remember being a child or a young adult and buying a gaming magazine with a bonus insert – usually a disc containing demos to multiple, upcoming, would-be AAA games of their time. They could also be included in cereal boxes, or you could find somewhere online to download a demo on your old-school internet connection. Now, I can’t remember the last time I got to play a demo as an added extra that came with a magazine or from anywhere else. That’s not to say that they categorically don’t exist anymore, and “free” multiplayer betas are prominent. Overall, however, the gaming industry and journalism in general have moved away from magazines and as a result physical, free demos are far less common. EA have seized this opportunity in their development of EOA.
This raises a semi-moral question – Is EOA justified? Is it fair to charge for trial versions of games when in the past, they’d be accessible for free? Yes, EOA allows gamers to access some other, older games for free, and there are discounts available for other products as well, but as a whole, is it fair?
I am of the opinion that charging for access to demos is an inherently bad thing. Yes, you’ll get a discount on the final game with EOA, but the idea that they’re going to develop a version of the game for demonstration purposes and hold that back from a large number of people who aren’t willing to pay doesn’t sit right with me.
It isn’t EOA that scares me. I actually think that on balance, it’s a decent service. If you use it properly, you may end up saving money, but that’s only if you use it enough and you never run into a game whose full version isn’t appealing enough to you. It’s the precedent that services like EOA sets which worries me more than anything. At what point does it become too much about prying our money from us before a game is even released? Does it not drive a wedge between gamers who are willing and able to pay, and those who aren’t? While EOA doesn’t break the bank, it offers a real-life “pay to win” scheme and as a result, it segregates those who can pay and those who can’t. It makes the playing field unlevel, and the only way to level it again is by shelling out a subscription fee.
The solution for me would be to offer a subscription service which offers discounts and free copies of older games which may have fallen through the cracks, but make the service cheaper and leave demos out of it.
I sincerely hope that the likes of Origin Access aren’t the beginning of something much worse. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in future, developers did away with the subscription service and charged fees per demo. The whole idea seems like an attempt to gauge whether people are okay with paying to play demos, and the more we all buy into it, the more encouraged they’ll become to further divide the user base for monetary gain.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but the signs are there. Free demos may be very much a thing of the past, but let’s try to avoid making paid demos a thing of the future. If you ever have the option to pay a one-off fee for the trial version of a game, don’t do it.
What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Leave a comment.