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Q&A: Lange On 'EA Link' Digital Download Service

Electronic Arts has revealed the EA Link service, the PC digital distribution service formerly known as EA Downloader, and Gamasutra caught up with EA Link lead Chip Lange, who talks retailer reaction, PS3 possibilities, and third-party distribution.
Electronic Arts' website has revealed new information on the EA Link service, its renamed PC digital distribution service (formerly known as EA Downloader) that "lets you download your favorite EA PC games directly to your computer". According to an email sent out to EA Downloader subscribers, the new EA Link service will offer "much more content available for download, including demos, trailers, wallpapers, patches, and more... exclusive bonus content when you pre-order and pre-load select titles... real-time notifications when new content becomes available for download." To find out more about the retooled EA Link service, whose original version was launched back in November 2005, Gamasutra caught up with EA Link lead Chip Lange, who we quizzed on retailer reaction, PS3 possibilities, and third-party distribution. Gamasutra: So this is a refined version of [the formerly named] EA Downloader? What's new? Chip Lange: Yeah, I would say it's a completely rebuilt version of the EA Downloader. The biggest things I think you'll notice is that the user interface has been redesigned, from top to bottom, so it's a completely different graphic look and feel. It's a completely different navigational process that we've tested over the last three months, in order to make the purchase process easier, and easier to organize all the content. If you were a Downloader user, the list of content you had available was starting to get a little overbearing, when you just had to scroll all the way down. So now there are nice, easy organizational tools for all your content. There's also been a major feature add, which is the ability to purchase products straight from the application itself, as opposed to having to leave and go to the website, as you did before. We added some payment functions, the most important of which is PayPal, so you can now utilize PayPal to purchase products straight from the application. So everybody that's seen it has gone 'Wow! This isn't just an upgrade, it's a completely new thing.' The other thing that we've done is increased the amount of available bandwidth we have for this. So the download speeds will be a lot faster for customers. GS: This seems like a larger push than before - how are your retail partners responding to it? CL: I don't want to mislead anybody that this is a larger push, I just think that this is a more refined service that we're offering. And so we're not out actively beating our chests on how great this is. We think this is a much more refined service for our customers, that is being done in collaboration with our primary business model which is retail sales. So this isn't meant to be a way in which we're hijacking customers. It's a way in which we can developer the relationship with our customers, which a segment of our customer base has asked for – to be able to have an established digital link with them, which enables us to do a whole lot more, quite frankly, than sell products. It provides autopatch technology, it allows customers to preview products with trailers and marketing activities, to get the tool design to enable people to customize their experiences, whether that be through themes or desktop applications or what have you. It's ultimately going to be a tool designed to improve our community. So the concept here is by enabling all those different functionalities, the overall desirability of our PC products will increase, and the market will grow. GS: So you're not anticipating a lot of retailer concern? CL: Well we've talked to them all, and yes, there is concern about the category in general. But I don't see this as being something that's going to increase or quite frankly decrease that. It's just an experiential improvement for the user, and I think any time you make using a PC less frustrating, everybody wins. GS: The PlayStation 3 has sort of an open-platform strategy that they're putting forth. Do you think that something like EA Link could be integrated with the PS3 online service? CL: It certainly could be, but it's not currently scheduled to be. One of the things that we're talking a lot to Sony about is how we can bring our franchises' online potential to life through their service. I guess the best answer is we're in discussions with them about what's the best user experience to build, and how are we going to make that come to life. There are lots of options, and we're considering all of them. GS: Do you have any interest in doing third-party distribution through EA Link, or is it going to be EA exclusive? CL: We haven't decided one way or the other. Right now what we're focused most on is getting to a seamless user experience that the users understand how to use, and begin actively making part of their PC experience. When we get there, and we're not there yet, though we think this is a big step in that direction, then we'll start to explore what our different distribution options are. We want to make sure that with our titles, we get it really right, first. We feel like this is a major step forward.

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