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FIFA 14 and EA Sports UFC's demos briefly had $5 price tags on Xbox Live. Would that sort of thing really surprise anyone at this point?
EA told Polygon that the $5 price for each demo was an "error in the system." It's since been corrected so gamers can download those trials for free.
Let's be honest, though: if you were asked what publisher was charging for demos, your first guess would be EA. Over the past few years, they've shown a passion for microtransactions. It's a core part of the business.
The company has managed to monetize nearly every part of Battlefield 4 at this point. They weren't content to simply charge for expansion packs. Players can now spend money to unlock all the weapons in a given category, thereby freeing them from the horrible process of playing their game. Battlepacks, bundles of randomized rewards like XP boosts and camouflage patterns, can be yours for $1 to $3.
At least you can ignore many of these microtransactions. Owners of the Dungeon Keeper mobile remake aren't so lucky. The game moves at a glacial pace, with simple acts like carving tunnels or building structures taking hours unless you're willing to pony up money. It's a cash collector masquerading as a game.
EA seems unapologetic about these decisions, too. Whenever they're addressing the outrage about their microtransactions, they sound like accountants admitting that they put the decimal point in the wrong place. EA's CEO Andrew Wilson said that they had "misjudged the economy" with Dungeon Keeper's mobile version.
"For new players, it was kind of a cool game," Wilson told Eurogamer. "For people who'd grown up playing Dungeon Keeper there was a disconnect there. In that aspect we didn't walk that line as well as we could have. And that's a shame."
In other words, the general business strategy isn't at fault. They just didn't balance the microtransactions right. Or maybe Dungeon Keeper fans would have been fine with the microtransactions if the remake was closer to the original version.
COO Peter Moore's take on the subject is worse. He thinks that the drama over microtransactions is simply perpetuated by core gamers resistant to change.
"I think the challenge sometimes is that the growth of gaming... there's a core that doesn't quite feel comfortable with that," Moore told GI.biz. "Your readers, the industry in particular. I don't get frustrated, but I scratch my head at times and say, 'Look. These are different times.' And different times usually evoke different business models. Different consumers come in. They've got different expectations. And we can either ignore them or embrace them, and at EA, we've chosen to embrace them."
Anyone hoping for EA to back away from microtransactions is going to be disappointed. Moore seems to think the move toward that business model is inevitable. Hop on the train or get out of the way.
"I don't think anybody has to like it," Moore said. "I think that's where it goes. It's like me; I get grumpy about some things, but if the river of progress is flowing and I'm trying to paddle my canoe in the opposite direction, then eventually I'm just going to lose out. From the perspective of what needs to happen in this industry, we need to embrace the fact that billions of people are playing games now."
With this kind of attitude coming from EA's leadership, I'm not surprised when one of their demos pops up on Xbox Live for $5. The bigger surprise was when they took the price tags off.
They've already charged for demos in a roundabout way. Early access for BF4's beta was given out to people who either pre-purchased the Digital Deluxe Edition, bought Battlefield 3 Premium or bought Medal of Honor: Warfighter. In other words, players were asked to buy a game or a full season of DLC for the right to play a beta a mere three days before everyone else.
The $5 price tag for demos was a mistake today but could be a reality tomorrow. Directly selling demos to players seems like the logical next step for EA. It's the one thing they haven't put a price tag on so far.
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