Commentary

EA Charges More For Less

In a Sunday interview with popular podcaster Major Nelson, Electronic Arts' Chip Lang, vice president for online commerce, provided a good example of how game developers and marketers should not use the Xbox Live Marketplace--not if they want to please gamers.

Lang came on the Major's show to defend EA's emerging practice of removing content from the retail versions of games, and then charging extra for that content via the Xbox Live Marketplace.

This new strategy has given EA's reputation as an evil empire a major boost. The company's other less-than-kosher practices have included shutting out other game developers by using exclusive deals with the major sports leagues, alleged mistreatment of developers, and an increasing reliance on full-priced sequels with minimal new features.

Notable examples of EA's new infamy include "The Godfather" video game, and the latest installment of the "Tiger Woods PGA" franchise, both of which have locked cheat codes that can be bought with micropayments in the Xbox Live Marketplace. These codes are free in the PS2 versions of the game.

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To hear Lang tell it, however, EA is trying to make sure that content is not available for free on one system and charged for on another. Given the company's XBox Live strategy, that probably means that once the PS3 becomes more widespread, it will use the Playstation Network Platform to charge Playstation gamers as well as Xbox ones.

Lang describes this strategy as offering "choice" to gamers, and choice is one of those things that gamers support. Before the advent of this pay-to-play strategy, however, they had other, more palatable choices: to enter the codes or not enter the codes, to play hard and unlock special content, or play casually. The choice EA wants to offer is: don't pay extra and get less, or pay more for what you were getting for free in the last generation.

EA's been on the front lines in finding new ways to monetize its titles. It recently made headlines for incorporating in-game ads in the popular Battlefield 2142. There's nothing wrong with trying to find new revenue streams. But removing content that was free and then charging for it is a great way to burn the little goodwill the company has left.

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