One chart perfectly illustrates the needless complexity of buying video games in 2019

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BioWare/EA

  • Video games should not require a spreadsheet to figure out when you can buy them.
  • As game publishers have struggled to extract more profits from increasingly expensive video-game productions, some have turned to complex “early-access” programs.
  • EA’s upcoming blockbuster debut “Anthem” is the latest example of this phenomenon.

At the risk of sounding like Millennial Andy Rooney™, I have to say this: Back when I was growing up, video games were much simpler to buy and play.

You went to a store, picked out a game for your video-game console, and bought the game. There were no paid online services you had to buy first (like Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus), and no “early-access” options to pay more in order to play the game early. When you got home with your game, you didn’t have to wait to download a patch, update the console, or install the game.

It was far simpler, and far more limited.

Glitches in console games never got fixed because there was no way to update them. You couldn’t buy games digitally because there was no internet. I get it. There are trade-offs for the advancements that have been made in video games across the past 30 years.

But one trade-off that came with zero advancement is the needless complexity of blockbuster video-game launches. The question of “When does X come out?” has gotten more complicated than ever.

Take the upcoming “Anthem” from Electronic Arts (EA), for example – here is an actual chart published on EA’s official help channel:

Anthem (game)

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EA/BioWare

That any game requires a complex chart to explain to players when and how they can actually play the game is absurd.

Let’s acknowledge that up front – no game should require players to consult a chart in order to figure out when they can play a game.

But, in doing so, EA illustrates an ongoing issue with modern blockbuster games.

In an effort to diversify and increase profits while facing increasingly high production costs, many blockbuster games come in a variety of different editions. In the case of “Anthem,” there’s a standard edition for $60 and a “Legion of Dawn” edition which costs $20 more. Pretty simple so far!

Here’s where it gets complicated: EA offers several different subscription services.

EA Access costs $5 a month or $30 a year, and it offers early access to upcoming EA games.

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EA Access costs $5 a month or $30 a year, and it offers early access to upcoming EA games.
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EA/Microsoft

If you pay $5 a month or $30 a year for EA Access, which is available only on Xbox One, you can start playing “Anthem” on February 15. If you pay $5 a month or $30 a year for EA’s Origin Access Basic plan, which is only available on PC, you also can start playing “Anthem” on February 15.

For everyone else, the game officially launches on February 22.

That applies even if you preorder the game and pay $80 for the special “Legion of Dawn” version and, more bizarrely, even if you pay for the more expensive tier of EA’s Origin Access program. Huh?

And that’s before we start talking about the two separate demo weekends. Last weekend was the “VIP” demo weekend, which was open only to people who preordered the game and to people who pay for EA Access or EA Origins. Connection issues and bugs plagued the demo, which was a supposed bonus for people who, one way or another, paid EA for early access to “Anthem.” This coming weekend is the public demo, open to everyone, which makes the “VIP” demo seem like paying for the privilege of bug testing.

Instead of talking about the crazy

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Instead of talking about the crazy “Iron Man” suits in “Anthem,” we’re talking about this chart.
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EA/BioWare

It’s confusing, needless, and, frankly, makes me less interested in playing the game – whatever game it may be – even though I really enjoyed my time with “Anthem.” And I’m not the only one who feels that way.

“This is incredible. I spent 80 euros on the most expensive edition and I can not play a week before. I’m going to cancel the purchase,” one Twitter user responded to the chart EA published. “If you need a spreadsheet to explain all the different versions, it’s too many versions,” another said.

It’s hard to argue with that sentiment. While it’s nice to have a variety of buying options, there’s a point at which that variety goes overboard – needing to release a chart for consumers to navigate when they can buy your product seems like a strong indication that we’ve reached that point with blockbuster games.