Xbox Play Anywhere and EA

I bought a copy of Titanfall 2 here the other day despite the IPv6 networking issues I faced when trying to purchase it. However, I’d one serious qualm when buying it for Windows that almost made me decide against purchasing it: I can’t play it on the Xbox.

I bought two copies of the original Titanfall: one for Windows to play with friends on Windows and one for Xbox One to play with friends there. The differentiation between the two platforms is kind of silly these days as the Xbox One now runs on the Windows 10 kernel and operating system.

Microsoft seems to agree with me and has started dual-licensing games for Windows and Xbox under the Xbox Play Anywhere program. Participating games can be bought with one license that works for both PCs running Windows 10 and the Xbox One console. There’s no extra charge to play it on both systems, but it can only be played on one at a time. Play Anywhere’s only supported by a handful of games so far; most of which are published by Microsoft Studios.

Titanfall 2 is published by EA and despite the game being available for both Xbox and Windows, it isn’t part of the Xbox Play Anywhere program. This means that I’d either have to decide which platform to get it for, buy two copies of the game, or just don’t bother with getting it until EA starts being a bit more customer-friendly.

This made me pause. In a world where Xbox Play Anywhere exists, asking players to pay for the game twice to play it on the same operating systems just feels so much more exploitative than before. Not that it wasn’t a money grab before, but now it feels more outrageous.

EA doesn’t sell its games through the Windows Store, but distributes its Windows titles through its own EA Origin Store. On Xbox, they don’t have any other choice than to distribute it through the Xbox Store. For a game to work with Xbox Play Anywhere, it has to be sold in Microsoft’s online stores on both platforms for the digital licenses to work. EA probably doesn’t want to give Microsoft a cut of its sales, which I totally understand, but it doesn’t make me dislike EA anymore for it.

EA has its own “game vault” subscription services too that’s available for both the Xbox and Windows. Subscribers get access to a bunch of EA games, including Titanfall 1, for a monthly subscription fee. Unfortunately, the vault service on Xbox is called EA Access and the Windows version is called Origin Access. If you subscribe to one of the services, you don’t have access to the games through the other service. They’re treated as separate subscriptions and there’s no rebate for getting both.

Even though this isn’t quite the same as Xbox Play Anywhere, I’m dismayed that EA doesn’t even have a subscription option that includes both platforms. From a customer’s perspective, it’s so obviously the right thing to do. Unfortunately, EA would again have to share a bit of their subscription revenue with Microsoft to make the licensing magic work.

It weighs heavily on me that Titanfall 2 didn’t support Xbox Play Anywhere when deciding whether to get the game or not. I was quite surprised to learn how much the mere existence of the Xbox Play Anywhere program affected my purchasing decision I did decide to get a copy despite being locked to one platform, but I can only accredit that on how much I enjoyed the previous game in the series.

Cross-platform game licensing has been a long-standing pet peeve of mine. I can only hope EA and Microsoft can come to some sort of arrangement over cross-platform licensing. I doubt I’ll be buying another game that’s available on multiple platforms, but where the licensing limits me to only one platform in the future.