Last week, Electronic Arts announced a new online gaming service called EA Access for the Xbox One. It sounded like a promising deal to many gamers: a Netflix-style subscription service that would give people access to a library of EA games for $US5 a month, or $US30 a year. But many important questions remained unanswered.
Chief among these is the basic concern any money-conscious gamer is wondering about: is this actually a good deal? $US30 a year sounds like a steal. But EA didn't say much about the reach of the subscription service, or how it will actually work for the average Xbox One owner once it goes live. And shortly after EA pulled back the curtain, Sony came out swinging with the charge that the subscription service "does not bring the kind of value PlayStation customers have come to expect."
I reached out to EA for additional details about the new program, and ended up corresponding with a representative from the company's corporate communications team as well as Michael Lewis, the lead producer for EA Access. For the sake of clarity, I edited their responses into our own little FAQ:
Will you lose access to the games included in The Vault if you cancel your subscription? Will players retain their progress in a given game if they cancel their subscription for whatever reason and then decide to come back?
Games in The Vault are available as long as you are a member. Also, progress within the game is saved -- so even if you lapse as a member, then decide to come back, you'll be able to pick up where you left off.
Will progress carry over to standalone EA titles as well? So: say I first start playing Battlefield 4 when I become an EA Access member. Could I then cancel my subscription and purchase a standalone copy of Battlefield and still have my progress carry over?
Your games and your progress are handled the same way as any other game on Xbox One, meaning that your game and progress is saved locally on your machine. If you decide to end your membership but purchase the game, either physically or digitally, any progress will then carry over. In the scenario you've outlined here, you'd be able to just load your Battlefield 4 game and pick up where you left off.
Games in The Vault will only be available to download, correct? Streaming is not part of the current program?
Games in The Vault are available for download. Correct that the games are not streamed.
Will there be any online connection requirements once you have a game downloaded to your Xbox One?
Like other games purchased digitally through the Xbox Games Store, once you have downloaded the game to your hard drive, you can play offline as much as you'd like.
Will games that are currently available through EA Access remain available for the foreseeable future? Do you see any possible scenario where a game would be removed from EA Access for any reason?
We have no plans to remove games from The Vault. There's always an off-chance that we may run into an unforeseen scenario in the future where we have to remove a title. If that ever happened, we'd give members plenty of notice, but let me be clear -- that's not in our plans at all. We want games in The Vault to stay in The Vault.
Will you be able to access your subscription on different Xbox One consoles?
You will be able to use EA Access from multiple consoles -- you just need to be signed in with your Xbox Live credentials.
How long will games have to be out before they are added to the vault? Does the vault only cover current and upcoming games? Are there any plans to add older EA titles as well?
We're going to keep adding new games to The Vault, so there will always be a great selection of games to play. They will all be Xbox One titles, but that's really all I can share right now.
Do you plan to rotate the games that are available? Say: Will earlier versions of sports games like Madden be swapped out when the latest ones arrive?
Once it's in The Vault, it stays in the Vault.
Does the vault only cover recent games? Are there any plans to add older EA titles from previous console generations as well?
EA Access is just for Xbox One games right now.
That was all that EA would speak to when I asked them about the new service. But there are a few other points that are worth noting as well:
- As GameSpot noted recently, EA said that EA Access will work whether or not you have an Xbox Live Gold membership. However, you will still need a Gold membership in order to play multiplayer games. Since most of the games that are confirmed for the program are multiplayer-heavy titles, it's worth considering the fact that you'll probably end up paying for a subscription as well as a Gold membership if you want to get the most out of this program.
- EA wouldn't provide any response when I asked for comment on Sony's harsh takedown of the EA Access program. Speaking in a recent interview with CVG, EA executive Peter Moore offered this fairly equivocal response: "It's tough for me to comment on Sony's comments. I think they made themselves pretty clear."
- I repeatedly asked EA what kind of anti-piracy measures will be implemented in EA Access to prevent people from, say, paying $US5 for a single month's subscription, downloading all of the games, and then cancelling their membership. They never responded to this directly, but said on several occasions that the service will work similarly to Xbox Live when it comes to registration, cloud storage, and online connection requirements.
- On a related note, it's still not entirely clear how Xbox One owners' data will be stored and accessed. Given the answers I was provided, it sounds to me like subscribers will need to go online periodically -- to register their membership on a new console, download their games, etc. -- but actually playing the games won't require an ongoing internet connection except for during multiplayer gameplay sessions. We'll have to wait and see how this shakes out once the service goes live, however.