Companies such as Rockstar and Netherrealm Studios have found success in offering a "season pass" of sorts to downloadable content in which players can prepurchase DLC in bulk at a slight discount ahead of its actual release, but Electronic Arts has found a way to turn the idea of a season pass into its own unique offering. Launching with Madden NFL 12 later this month, the $25 Season Ticket from EA Sports offers discounted DLC and includes a preview weekend that allows players to download the entire Madden title (via the Sony PlayStation Network and Microsoft Xbox Live) three days prior to its retail release. Avid football fans can play the complete game all weekend long for no additional charge, but the downloaded version of the game self-destructs on the morning prior to the game's official retail debut. As Kotaku points out, there is no way to pay money and keep the downloaded version. Eventually, all the major titles in the EA Sports lineup will include Season Ticket content.
"This is aimed at a very particular consumer, and it's not for everybody, and it does not affect the normal business we have," [EA Sports president Peter Moore] told Kotaku. "It's a layer on top of the experience, for a particular consumer." As if sensing the impending gamer criticism—seen in the reaction to other premium console subscription plans—Moore stressed that EA Sports saw this as "supplemental to the core experience [they offer] but still attractive to certain gamers." Most importantly, Moore said, "We are not stripping anything out of our games and selling it back to you."
The three-day free-play of Madden, FIFA and others will involve the full code of the physical disc version, digitally delivered over Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network. This digital pre-release game will expire at 6 am U.S. Eastern time on the title's street date, although all associated game saves—rosters, preferences, created players, career and franchise save files—will still be preserved on subscribers' consoles.
It's very tempting to criticize this offer. The jokes that involve calling it "Project Twenty-Five Dollar" practically write themselves. However, I'm having a difficult time finding a major downside to this at the moment. Hardcore sports gamers may find some value in this offering, but there doesn't seem to be anything involved that the regular and casual sports fans will miss in terms of playable material. If anything, it seems like a friendlier version of Activision's Call Of Duty Elite premium service. There's certainly a potential for new content to end up behind a definitive paywall in the future as the service evolves, but for now I don't see the harm in it. It's just another way for EA Sports fans to consume the company's content, albeit one that involves an annual investment with a potential for a limited or non-existant payoff. It seems to me that most of the gaming community will not be impacted by it at this time, but Season Ticket bears watching. EA initiatives have a way of creeping into unfair territory that spread to the rest of the industry.