Here's What You Get—And What You Don't—With EA Sports' New Premium Subscription

What is EA Sports' Season Ticket? It's a $25 VIP pass, good for a year, getting you past the velvet rope to your favorite sports game on a weekend when everyone else is still playing last year's edition. It offers a 20 percent discount on paid downloadable content.

But the parameters of Season Ticket in no way make it a value-hunting resource to the rest of the public. It is definitely a premium experience, meant for those whose gaming lifestyle primarily identifies with an EA Sports game.

Announced by EA Sports today, the service's major appeal is in offering its subscribers a digital copy of the full retail release of upcoming versions of Madden, NHL, FIFA, Tiger Woods PGA Tour and NCAA Footballfor three days before they release. This digital copy expires at 6 a.m. U.S. Eastern time on the day of release, requiring a trip to the store to pick up a retail disc to continue your gaming. (And it will continue. Any gamesave files generated during the preview will be preserved, just not the game itself.)

Yes, it's suboptimal that you can't simply pay your $59.99 through Xbox Live or PlayStation Network to keep the title. But if that was an offering, then consider what kind of mainstream demand that would impose on both networks' infrastructure—which EA Sports would have to pay for—not to mention the threat of alienating major retail partners. So it's easy to see why this stops short of day-of-release digital distribution for consoles. For now, anyway. When we see game consoles fully served by digital distribution or cloud storage down the line, Season Ticket may well inform how that's handled.

As Season Ticket's near term appeal is principally to power users, Kotaku has picked apart the terms of what is offered to answer some key questions about what they get for their money. Bottom line: It's a decent discount on premium DLC, a weekend with five new games before anyone else gets to play them, and the prestige of saying so.

That's what you get. Here's what you don't get:

The DLC Discount Doesn't Cover Previous Versions or Other Games NCAA Football 12 is barely a month old and offers a number of premium boosts in its Dynasty and Road to Glory modes. Season Ticket's 20 percent DLC discount does not apply here. Nor does it extend to titles such as Fight Night or EA Sports MMA. It covers DLC for Madden NFL 12, FIFA 12 NHL 12, and then next year's Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 and NCAA Football 13. So if you have this year's Tiger Woods PGA, you can't sign up and use your membership to get a discount on premium downloadable golf courses for it. If you have last year's NHL 11, Hockey Ultimate Team currency for that game is still full price.

No Online Pass Discount
The 20 percent members' discount for premium downloadable content does not extend to purchases of the Online Pass, the single-use code included free in all retail copies of EA Sports games, which may be expired (or nonexistent) in a used version. If it is, you have to pay $10 over Xbox Live or PSN to activate multiplayer features. So Season Ticket is not useful for, say, waiting several months to pick up a used version of one of the five eligible titles and then buying an Online Pass for $2 less if you want its multiplayer features.

It's One Subscription, One Platform
Say you have both an Xbox 360 and a PS3, and you buy Tiger Woods PGA Tour for the Move support, and Madden NFL for the Xbox Live multiplayer. EA Sports Season Ticket is sold on a per-console basis, and will not transfer. Admittedly, multiplatform users are a minority of the installation base. Still, if they want the Season Ticket benefits, especially the DLC discount, for more than one game, those games will have to be on the same console.

This is not an offering that will pay for itself, unless you intend to buy more than $125 worth of downloadable content from EA Sports in a year. For all of the crap EA Sports takes for its microtransaction and DLC catalog, I don't see how that total can be reached normally. All of Madden NFL 12's accelerators can be had for $10. The "Power Pack" delivering everything in NCAA 12 is $25. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 offers the most premium DLC but to buy every additional course offered (through two bundles) would cost $58. Except for Ultimate Team obssessives, the premium DLC discount is a perk, not a reason to buy the Season Ticket.

That leaves the preview weekend as the key reason to plunk down the $25. Subscribers will get an email notification when the game is available on PSN or Xbox Live, but will have to trigger the download manually. While playing a game for three days before the general public can buy it poses a "play early, play more, play better," proposition, as EA Sports President Peter Moore put it, those who are primarily multiplayer gamers should consider what kind of experience they'll be getting. Sure, there's a chance to familiarize yourself with the game's new mechanics in singleplayer, but online multiplayer matchmaking, in that preview weekend, will be more limited than what is seen on the day of release.

If there is one indirect benefit to all gamers, it's the fact that EA Sports will be delivering retail code to its most hardcore customers—and therefore its most vocal constituency—three days before street date. (Under current practice, that would also precede the review embargo imposed on the specialty press.) So that makes it doubly important that EA Sports not ship the kind of glitch-infested disc we've seen across all of day-one sports gaming lately. Customers who are paying extra to see a game early will most certainly take to the forums to air their grievances. If it doesn't inspire more rigorous QA in EA Sports, then the preview window can act as an early warning system for the rest of the gamer population.

My gut call: Only if one of the covered titles—Madden, NHL, FIFA, Tiger Woods or NCAA—is your year-in/year-out top game, in terms of time and money spent, should you splurge for the extra access and DLC discount. It would help if you're a big fan of two or more of those series.

Otherwise, you're looking at paying $25 to rent five games for a weekend each in the coming year. Compared to what rentals cost at Blockbuster or through Redbox, that's not that bad, and you do get the games before everyone else does. But you better play the hell out of them while you have them. For while you may not pay any late fees, you don't get to keep the game after its due date.


You can contact Owen Good, the author of this post, at owen@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.