EA Sports launching subscription service

$25 year-long Season Ticket to give early access to Madden, NCAA, NHL, FIFA, and Tiger Woods games, 20 percent discount on DLC, more.

EA Sports today detailed its long-rumored Season Ticket initiative, a program that will give gamers early access to new entries in the publisher's biggest franchises, a discount on downloadable content, and more. For a $25 (or 2,000 Microsoft points) annual fee, gamers will get a handful of benefits tied to the next 12 months' worth of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 installments in the Madden NFL, NHL, FIFA, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, and NCAA Football franchises.

Season Ticket members will be able to kick off in Madden 12 a few days early.

The biggest perk in the package is early access to each of the games. Instead of waiting for the game to hit stores on their designated Tuesday release dates, Season Ticket members will be able to download the full version of each game three days early, so they can spend the weekend before launch familiarizing themselves with the titles. However, those downloaded copies of the game will no longer be playable after the morning of the game's official launch, so Season Ticket members will need to buy a retail copy to keep playing. All saved files from the downloaded version will transfer over to the retail edition of each game, should the player ultimately decide to buy it.

On top of the early access, Season Ticket subscribers will receive a 20 percent discount on all downloadable content for the covered games, from ultimate team cards to add-on gear packs. EA Sports is also rolling out premium versions of its free Web-based tools for all of its Season Ticket games, starting with FIFA 12 (existing free tools like NCAA Football's Team Builder will continue to be offered without charge). While nonmembers will have the option of purchasing access to the tools' for-pay versions a la carte, Season Ticket holders will not need to pay anything extra. Finally, Season Ticket subscribers will get a badge for their online and in-game profiles designating them as members of the program.

Speaking with GameSpot, EA Sports head of worldwide development Andrew Wilson stressed that the Season Ticket program is not taking any features or development resources away from the standard retail releases of the publisher's games. He specifically noted that the development teams dedicated to EA Sports' games are just as big, if not bigger, than before.

"When I think about EA Sports Season Ticket, this is an entirely additive program," Wilson said. "It doesn't take away anything that's on the disc; it just gives you access three days earlier. It doesn't cause you to pay or buy premium DLC you don't want; it just gives you a discount if you plan on purchasing it already. The Web-based features are completely new and additive to the game experience, and if you don't want to manipulate your console experience while you're away from the console, you can do it all right there."

FIFA 12 will be the first game to feature a premium Web-based tool.

Wilson said the subscription would not auto-renew, but EA Sports will notify members when their access is about to expire. He also confirmed plans to expand the program down the line to include additional franchises and potentially other platforms. The subscription will also work on a rolling basis, giving gamers access to 12 months of benefits starting from their date of enrollment. When it launches later this month, Madden NFL 12 will be the first game released as part of the Season Ticket program.

EA Sports has been considering the Season Ticket in one form or another for years. In 2008, the company responded to a leaked market research survey on the subject with a simple acknowledgement, saying, "We believe in the future that there are unique opportunities to launch a subscription-based program…" However, the plan being test marketed at the time would have charged gamers $20 up front in exchange for a 33 percent discount on all EA Sports titles in any given year, essentially paying for itself with a single full-priced EA Sports purchase. The Season Ticket program also bears a striking resemblance to a "premium demo" program that Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said EA was considering back in March 2010.

[UPDATE]: EA has confirmed that while the Season Ticket program will be released in North America on the Xbox 360 and PS3, gamers from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand will only be able to sign up on the Xbox 360.

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