EA’s pivot to streaming overshadowed by social media fallout
Unveiled during EA Play 2018 with a preview that’s as much genre-spanning as it is zany montage, EA’s new streaming service — called “Origin Access Premier” — will give subscribers a shot at playing pre-release trials of upcoming PC games, access to “The Vault;” a connoisseur’s paradise of more than 100 games, and a 10-percent discount on all Origin-based purchases. While our Thinknum data analysis shows the move has given the videogame developer minor rise in Facebook likes so far this month, behind the modest climb of the new PC-pivot lies a two-month nose-dive in Facebook likes, from 4.65 million on April 1, to 4.63 million as of June 7.
This raises the question about what motivates the company’s wholesale entrance into the PC game streaming world -- is it because of major profit drops, bad PR and social media presence, something else...or all of the above?
Avoiding the Sins of Yesteryear
Anyone who knows what E3 is would probably be unfazed to learn that EA’s tanking sales and Facebook likes count have a lot to do with consumer (dis)satisfaction. We actually analyzed one of EA’s major blunders last year, when its Star Wars: Battlefront II release saw less-than-stellar reception. These mishaps included server errors on the beta test, a missed launch, controversy over in-game reward mechanics, social media backlash, ill-received “Loot bags,” and the subsequent social media decline mentioned above.
That clustermuck certainly didn’t put an expiry date on the videogame developer, but it did put into question the viability and effectiveness of physical PC game releases, in light of the multifarious costs EA may have to confront in the process. Safe to say that by this point, they really need a saving throw.
Taking place between June 12-14 this year, E3 has been the gaming industry’s rote annual advertising and project-debut event since 1995. This year, E3 featured the most highly-anticipated titles in the gaming world, including Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Battlefield V, Crackdown 3, et al. If we return to EA’s Facebook likes curve, the months preceding E3 2018 only exacerbated the need for a break. But it looks like EA’s participation managed to turn the downward plunge in likes around. From June 7-12, its likes count rose from 4.636 to 4.638 million.
This doesn’t make up for the roughly 200,000 likes lost from April to June, but — as they say — it’s better than nothing.
When it comes to retail, upticks in merchandise discounts can signal a slump in sales. And under the digital aegis of our Thinknum data, EA discounting swelled from 28.2 percent on June 12, 2017, to 36.4 percent on the same day this year at popular videogame retailer GameStop.com.
In previous Summers, the discount usually drops below 30 percent to increase revenue during high-sales seasons, and, to encourage purchases in the post-holidays January slump, can reach a high of 45 percent when things slow down. But Summer discounts’ rising nearly half the way to those high-discount January levels leaves an irresistible connotation: that sales of physical games in brick-and-mortar stores is not working out so well. In other words, EA discounts are on a general rise, and this makes streaming a more worthwhile option for them to try out.
The Struggle Within
So far we’ve uncovered a few good reasons for EA’s new “Origin Access Premier” service, but we’ve yet to explain how the two-month drop in Facebook likes began. Did former EA fans open a Reddit forum and just agree to disregard their erstwhile fanboydom? Looking at EA's Facebook page, we see a lot of people trying and failing to contact EA customer support amid FIFA 2018 World Cup posts, but if we scroll down to posts corresponding to when EA began its Facebook likes dive (around April 2), we start seeing more and more customer posts regarding customers’ inability to login or read their EA network accounts after receiving emails stating — in both English and Russian— that their accounts had been hacked. Numerous Reddit posts by users suggest that the FIFA gaming championship of 2018 was so hacked that many had to activate a two-step verification process to safeguard their identity.
Without an official statement confirming the (perhaps Russian?) hack of EA’s user network, this is all cursory. But tacking on a site-wide hack to yesteryear’s substantial losses in tech support and sales and botched legacy title launch(es), and so on, it’s little wonder the damage to its social media clout would not only accumulate, but resist even major attempts at significant restoration. If EA can solidify its streaming platform, it could recover what E3 could not.