File away Electronic Arts’ “Season Ticket” as evidence that video game publishers are in no rush to bury brick-and-mortar retail game stores.
The $25 per year program gives EA Sports fans three days of early access to the label’s biggest games — Madden, NHL, FIFA, Tiger Woods and NCAA Football — via download, plus exclusive web content and 20 percent discounts on downloadable content. (Kotaku’s Owen Good has a nice explainer with all the nitty gritty.)
But here’s the catch: Once those three days of early access are over, the game’s downloadable copy self-destructs. Players’ progress through the game will remain intact, but to keep playing, Season Ticket holders will have to buy the game on a disc at full price. Incidentally, GameStop is the program’s official retail partner.
That’s not to say EA and GameStop aren’t separately planning their own disc-free futures. GameStop owns the Flash game portal Kongregate, the streaming game technology company Spawn Labs and the game download service Impulse, and has talked about getting into the tablet business. EA has pushed into smartphone and tablet gaming and recently bought PopCap, the maker of Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies. Surely, both companies know that Season Ticket, as it stands, isn’t built for the long haul.
But for now, if they can milk a few extra bucks from sports game fanatics who crave early access to Madden 12, more power to them. I’d rather see publishers encourage new game sales with perks like this than discourage used game sales by withholding features — although EA still seems interested in doing the latter.