Why Is EA Offering Free Trials For Its Big Games?


Apparently if you bother to check Electronic Arts’ Origin client or web site there’s a section with free trials for many of its recent major releases. What it seems to be doing is basically just as good as a demo, but I’m wondering if it’s just good sense for today’s emerging era of games-as-a-service.

Clicking “Download Now” for Star Wars Battlefront seems to get you four hours of free gameplay for this multiplayer-only game. Below that you can get 10 hours with the first level of Unravel. Below that older games like Titanfall and Battlefield 4 seem to work on a system where a timer of ownership counts down in days. Dragon Age Inquisition also has what’s called a trial under a separate section titled “Demos and Betas.” All these timers don’t start until you actually install and boot the game.

You also have the trials locked behind EA Access, which currently includes the new Need For speed and Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2. The header image for EA Access Trials also includes art for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst so I imagine that might get a trail too some point around or after its release.

This seems to be an evolution of EA’s Origin Game Time which was probably inspired by Steam’s free weekends, except the period of free gameplay is restricted by each player’s own starting time instead of specific dates. Steam free weekends are events, Origin Game Time was basically a temporary trial offer which appears to have evolved into permanently available trials for EA’s major PC releases.

I find this kind of odd after seeing demos for big games almost completely die off since the birth of the most recent consoles. I could probably count the number of big retail games with free demos from the last three years on two hands if not one. The Evil Within, got a demo for Halloween, Dying Light got one, Final Fantasy XV has done a couple promotional ones, and a few of Nintendo’s Wii U games have demos like Pikmin 3 and Pokken Tournament. I guess Ni-Oh counts too. I guess they’re still not completely rare if you count 3DS games. But almost all demos I see released these days are for tiny indie games, many of them the proof-of-concept alphas used to boost crowdfunding campaigns.

The business behind  the decline of demos has been explained multiple times. Publishers figured out that situations where demos convince people to pay $60 are in the minority (though many have convinced me personally over the years).Now all most people see are betas which serve other purposes but pretty much only make sense for multiplayer. But now EA seems to be doing trails for its major PC games.

Wouldn’t this run counter to the logic described above? I played through Battlefield 4’s  campaign during its Origin Game Time offer and decided I was done with it. Maybe the reasons specifically deal with the PC, as most of these trials seem to be PC-only.

I consider demos to be on some level more important on PC than on consoles. Firstly, you can’t rent PC games the same way you can rent console games from Redbox or something. Secondly, free demos are a good way to see how a PC game will run on your system. Another factor behind what EA is doing however might be competition with Steam. EA still seems somewhat desperate to justify keeping its games on Origin and not selling them on Steam, which many people say holds too big a chunk of the PC digital distribution game market. Origin Game Time probably started out as a prospective selling point to compete with Steam’s free weekends, and the full trials are probably an evolution of this. Steam doesn’t really have a system of trials in the same way. Battlefront even lets you play a bit while downloading — something Steam has yet to implement. I think this would only become a real big appeal for Origin if EA convinced other publishers to offer trials for games like Rainbow Six Siege or The Witcher 3 that you can’t try out for free on Steam.

I think the biggest reason EA might be doing these trails though is  because of how much it’s embracing games-as-a-service. Nearly all the games for which Origin trails are available are either primarily multiplayer or have some significant community element. In this way, Battlefront is pretty much being pushed as a free-to-start game on PC. Blizzard is basically doing the same thing. World of Warcraft has been free-to-start for a while, so are Diablo III and StarCraft II. I wouldn’t be surprised if Overwatch got a free trial at some point.

Actually, this makes sense for a lot of mainly online-oriented games that don’t currently have trials. People have wondered for a while now why Counter-Strike: Global Offensive isn’t already free-to-play, but free-to-start might be a good idea. I mentioned Rainbow Six Siege earlier. What about The Division? I’m just thinking that if big publishers are going to start pivoting towards what is essentially the free-to-play business model, the $60 entrance fee should probably be a little less absolute.


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