EA forges Link download service


Electronic Arts has revamped EA Link, the free downloadable software application that delivers exclusive content and secure downloads of EA's PC games to consumers via broadband.

Launching with the new "Need for Speed Carbon," players worldwide can now preview and purchase EA PC games online. Other games available on EA Link include "The Sims 2," "Madden NFL 07," "FIFA Soccer 07," "Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 07," "NHL 07," "Battlefield 2142" and "Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth--Rise of the Witch-king."

In addition to offering playable game demos, pre-orders and purchases, EA Link also provides exclusive access to game extras such as trailers, wallpapers, and bonus in-game content. With EA Link, racing fans will be able to get free bonus cars like the 1971 Dodge Challenger and 2006 Pagani Zonda for purchasing the game electronically via multiple payment options like PayPal and Click&Buy. Gamers can also manage all of their game content in the My Stuff section and initiate simultaneous downloads with collapse-able view of status.

 "Online is becoming a much more prevalent aspect of all components of gaming, whether it be marketing, distribution, business models or gameplay experiences themselves," said Chip Lange, vp EA Online. "Online's opened up a new channel for us to leverage and to improve the experience our customers have with our products."

Lange said that while most of the PC games that EA releases don't struggle for shelf space at retail, despite the fact that there are so many new console games on the market, EA Link expands a game's product life.

"Games like 'Battlefield 2142' and 'Spore' will get 100% market penetration," said Lange. "However, over time, when those titles churn out of active retail, there's still a home for them in places like the EA Link."

Lange said that over the last 18 months, the game industry has experienced the emergence of the connected console with Xbox 360. Come Nov. 17 and Nov. 19, Sony's much-anticipated PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii enter the marketplace.

"This changes business models, gameplay experiences and distribution options as Microsoft has so capably shown with their Xbox Live Marketplace and Arcade," said Lange. "I don't know if EA Link interrelates with the Marketplace. We have a wonderful business on the Marketplace right now that we work on with Microsoft. They have a great community and commerce tool."

Lange believes online connectivity rates will continue to go through the roof with the new consoles. He said EA is still working with Sony on its PlayStation 3 online strategy, PlayStation Network.

"We expect them to have the same type of system that will enable customers to participate in similar activities and distribution options as the other hardware vendors," said Lange. "They may come at it in a little different manner, but the reality is that expectations are such that there will be incremental content to enrich the gameplay experience through each console. I think Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo will take advantage of that. I think the next generation of hardware consoles are going to be connected and all of these different consoles are going to engage their customers this way and deliver these types of services."

EA is the first company to test the digital distribution waters with offering paid cheats for its new "Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 07" game on Xbox Live Marketplace. Lange said that the "Tiger Woods" content is among the top-selling content EA has up on Marketplace right now.

"It's actually received fairly good customer response," said Lange. "If you don't feel like buying it, it's possible to play through the game and unlock it. We've seen that in our industry for years. There are magazines that are put game codes in print. People are always trying a way to circumvent that system. This is just a more user-friendly way to go about doing it for a different customer."

Regarding the future of digitally distributed codes for EA games, Lange said the company is going to evaluate how "Tiger Woods" has worked. He said a lot of the digital commerce work is in its infancy.

"We're trying a lot of different things right now to see how it's received by the customer base and to see how the studios are able to scale some of these content pipelines, so when the market becomes even more robust over the next 24 months and you see the emergence of the connected PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii, we have the benefit of a lot of market data to make smart decisions going forward," said Lange.