Late last week, EA furthered their commitment and interest in providing gamers with a ‘play anywhere, anytime’ experience by announcing that the newest installment in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour experience will forego the physical disk and instead be available through a browser. Coming this Autumn, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR Online will feature all the goodies we’ve come to expect from this leading golf simulator, and will naturally zero installation time, zippo discs, no additional controllers, and be available anywhere you’ve got a browser and an internet connection (think home, office, or even the waiting lounge at busy airports).
“Tiger Woods PGA TOUR Online is for anyone who loves golf and is on-the-go,” said Executive Producer Mike Taramykin. “Whether you have ten minutes on your PC in the office, or hours on your Mac at home, this is a golf game that makes time for you. With Tiger Woods PGA TOUR Online, golf lovers can satisfy their golf fix anytime.”
As CEO John Riccitiello recently told the WSJ, “The console business at best appeals to 100 million people,” this entry into the browser based gaming arena could just be what EA’s in need of to combat flailing game sales, quarterly losses, and subsequent staff layoffs. Clearly, EA now has a much larger audience in it’s sights, and establishing a reoccurring revenue stream via subscriptions, possibly for premium members, allows the gaming giants to forecast revenues long term, as opposed to projected one time sales numbers at $60 a pop.
With regards to the free-to-play model, the idle speculation chatter has been running wild with rumors pointing to a “multi-tiered” subscription model, thereby implying that some of the games features may be tucked away for premium customers. It’s previously been reported that EA has flirted with a free-to-play version of Tiger Woods; could this be a confirmation of said reports? The site’s closed beta signup landing page claims that the title is “Free to play during the beta period”, and who’s to say that this might not just carry over during the initial ‘try before you buy’ period? I could imagine the front 9 at TPC Sawgrass being free, and anything there after would require a subscription. While there’s no direct implication that the entry level play would be free-to-play, given the time line, and some of EA’s other (Battlefield Heroes, anyone?) browser based, play anywhere, anytime games, the concept shouldn’t necessarily be ruled out. If we take BFH as an example, one might even be able to go so far as to say that that Callaway cap that gives you a +1 power advantage, might not go for 100 EA points, or $1 or $2.
And while the vast majority of EA’s revenues are still derived from physical game disc sales, testing the online social networking waters with a title like Tiger Woods PGA Tour could open a whole new realm of possibilities for EA. If the company were to try login information into something like Facebook Connect, whereby players could challenge facebook friends to a round at Pebble Beach, keep track of score cards (and appropriately be able to post them to their profile for bragging rights), and even run full blown Tour challenges, well then heck, I’ve already got an opera singer buddy that I’m ready to challenge.
But can’t I do all of this already? Yes and No. Granted, I’m not entirely certain that I personally am ready to give up my projector, 5.1 surround sound system, and comfy couch to enjoy one of my favorite games, but the play anywhere, anytime, and against my facebook friends browser based version does have a certain appeal. And who’s to say that we can’t have the best of both worlds? I’ll fully admit that each year when the new disc version of Tiger or Madden becomes available, I pre-order and generally have it sitting in my PS3 a day or two after it’s release. I’ve already pre-ordered Tiger 10, and the demo has been played many a night. If EA’s smart (and I have no doubt they are), I’d figure that they’d be working on a fair and balanced way to cross promote the two games. Meaning, perhaps I can carry over my golfer’s attributes from my console to the browser version, or maybe I earn some extra spending points for the console version from my long drive score at Sehshan.
I certainly don’t see EA abandoning the physical disc/console experience anytime soon, but rather, see this move towards browser based gaming as an entirely new division/direction for the company. The way I see it, EA is taking more and more bold steps in this direction, and really leading the pack in experimentation. Battlefield Heroes is the casual shooter experiment, and Tiger Woods is the anytime, anywhere sports simulator experiment. Both are being used as measuring sticks, and will determine the amount of resources that will be dedicated to future projects/titles. Madden 11 Online? We’ll see…..