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Tuesday, 09 November 2010

EA: Free-to-play will threaten console business

Next generation of online games will make consumers question the need to buy the next Xbox or PlayStation system, says Battlefield Heroes head Ben Cousens.

Electronic Arts has been going through a torrid time of late. Having addressed criticism from gamers about churning out sequels with little effort or imagination, it's now dealing with the wrath of investors who think that the firm isn't making enough money and is spending too much in unproven markets and new IP. Talking at the London Games Conference today, Ben Cousens, MD of EA's free-to-play Easy division, talked about what the company has learned and how free-to-play games such as Battlefield Play4Free will shake up the marketplace further, hinting that the newly announced title will add to this learning experience.

Consumer behaviour is leading the industry, he said, and within two to five years the market is going to be seriously disrupted. That time period for publishers such as EA will be all about how to "grab the TV screen away from the console manufacturers" and use new technology to break down the barriers to gamers. In this time frame the quality of free-to-play titles will make players ask: "Do I really want to buy a new console?"

The one thing that may act as a "parachute" for console makers is opening up their platforms, Cousens said. "Anyone who thinks in terms of walled gardens is in trouble," he explained, talking about the enclosed and secure nature of both XBLA and the PlayStation Network as the only way to play downloadable titles on Microsoft's and Sony's consoles.

The market here is huge, Cousens emphasised. He said he feels the market is changing so fast that there is a gap large enough for a shift as big as the original PlayStation. This could be filled by something like Google TV or Apple TV, he said, or it could be filled by a new device entirely that acts as an open platform for online Web-based gaming that allows publishers to easily reach gamers' TVs with their free-to-play offerings.


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