Electronic Arts Inc. is taking the wraps off of a major overhaul to its download service for computer games, signaling the largest video game publisher's commitment to the growing trend of online distribution.
The Redwood City-based company said it plans to officially announce the new portal, EA Link, on Friday, though the retooled service was running Wednesday.
It replaces an earlier service called EA Downloader, the company's admittedly clunky year-old effort at offering downloadable content for its PC games.
With EA Link users can download materials faster, search for products in a more organized fashion, launch purchased games directly, and have their payment information, including a new online payment option through PayPal, linked to their accounts.
The site currently has 16 PC game titles available for download. Any upcoming PC games will be made available on disk at retail stores as well as in a digital version at EA Link — at the same price and on the same day, the company said.
Extra content, such as game demos, trailers, wallpaper and software patches will also be featured.
Digital distribution "is an increasing priority for us at EA and it's a further step in EA's commitment to have a one-on-one relationship with our customers," said Chip Lange, vice president of EA's online division. "The business has gone beyond a static model of 'I've bought the game and I'm done.' This keeps the games dynamic."
Video games, from ones played on computers to those played on console systems, are increasingly offering so-called "episodic" content, where users can tack on extra playing levels or chapters. Accessories used within games, such as weapons or other gear for game characters, are also commonly sold online.
Industrywide, traditional shrink-wrapped PC games in the U.S. retail market are declining with sales falling to $953 million in 2005 from $1.5 billion in 2001, according to the NPD Group. Meanwhile, U.S. sales of PC game downloads are expected to almost double this year to about $500 million and grow to $763 million in 2007, predicted market researcher IDC.