Something happened today that we thought wouldn’t ever come to fruition. EA Access PS4 was announced, after Sony said that the publisher-specific subscription service wouldn’t offer value to PlayStation owners. That was five years ago when the program first launched on Xbox and PC. At the time there was a lot of chatter about how valuable EA thought the service was and companies like Activision assessing the value of such a service for their own library of titles. We’d heard some rumors of EA Access coming to PS4, but now that they’ve turned out to be true, it seems like a bizarre shift from Sony’s previous stance.
So what changed Sony’s mind? Could it be that the future of gaming really is in cloud services and subscriptions? Look at Sony’s console history. Often the strategies for its next console can be glimpsed in what they do with the end of life on the current console. PS2 began to integrate network features, which became a major part of the PS3 strategy. Sony introduced PlayStation Plus in the latter years of the PS3’s life as a way to ease players into the idea of paying a subscription for online. And now, ahead of the PS5 reveal that’s expected to take place within the next year, the company relented on its stance on third-party gaming subscriptions.
Subscription Services Are Our Future?
It’s very possible that allowing for EA access could be Sony’s way of getting a handle on the cloud gaming and subscription gaming services without having to jump completely in themselves in the same way that Xbox is doing. We know a few things about the strategy of next-gen so far, and Sony’s willingness to work with EA and allow PlayStation owners EA access is a big piece of the puzzle.
We know that many companies are diversifying and trying different strategies. Nintendo’s already been in a league of its own for a while now, with a strategy that I wouldn’t even call competition for Sony and Microsoft. The Switch’s particular features are so unique that it’s not really a competitor for the living room box. Google Stadia wants to completely change the definition of the living room box and gaming, allowing access to gaming from any screen or device. Microsoft is moving towards the same strategy, with lower and lower importance on the Xbox console itself and more focus on the services and being a part of the Xbox ecosystem.
And then there’s Sony. Sony’s clearly focused on still capturing that audience that wants a living room box, but how does EA Access play into that? Allowing the option for PlayStation owners to use that service is one less barrier to buying Sony’s box. In the video streaming world, the reason many people get a Roku is because it’s a hub for all of the streaming services. The device opens up access to multiple different subscriptions and gives the user freedom and options to decide what to use. With Microsoft focusing less on the importance of the box itself, the PlayStation 5 needs to allow users freedoms and options, particularly if Sony’s own cloud strategy isn’t going to be a central selling point of the console.
By reversing its previous stance on EA Access, it tells me that Sony is pretty confident in what its new machines can do (presuming EA Access carries over to the PS5 as well). It tells me that Sony doesn’t see EA subscription model as a threat to its own, but rather as a decent value add and option for PS4 owners. And it tells me that Sony does indeed see at least a large portion of the future of gaming in subscription services. Just like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon didn’t necessarily completely kill off the market for traditional video ownership (whether physical or digital), neither will subscription models completely overtake how we’re already used to gaming. But it’s certainly going to become a much larger part of the market share, and Sony realized that importance will shift to what services can be accessed on its box.
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