Blog Games

Collector’s editions have become a backdoor for AAA publishers to charge for early access

Cover image for Collector’s editions have become a backdoor for AAA publishers to charge for early access

Photo: Padraig Treanor

Photo of Rhys Elliott
by Rhys Elliott

Since publishers first increased AAA game prices from $60 to $70 in 2020, many people have asked MIDiA if publishers will raise that price further. Our answer: they already have – sort of, anyway.

Via collector’s editions – more expensive versions of games with extra content – publishers are already leveraging superfans’ FOMO to grow launch revenues.

Collector’s editions have been a part of the games industry for decades. Yet over the past few years, the strategy has been hijacked as a way to charge more for ‘early access’ – AKA delayed access for those consumers unwilling to pay the markup.  

A new tier of collector’s editions has emerged where early access is the main unique value proposition. Most major AAA publishers now leverage the strategy, including:

  • WB Games (three days early access with Hogwarts Legacy’s $80 edition)
  • Xbox (five days early access for Starfield’s $100 edition)
  • EA (a week of early access for FC24’s $100 version)
  • Ubisoft (three days early access for Star Wars Outlaws for $110)

Xbox has even used the strategy to maximise revenues from Xbox Game Pass subscribers, who can access all Xbox first-party games on ‘day one’.

Game Pass subscribers could pay $35 to access Starfield early last year. Forza took the same route, with similar upgrades made available for Forza Motorsport in 2023 and Forza Horizon 5 in 2021.

Why publishers are employing the strategy: Forza Horizon 5 case study

Forza Horizon 5 had an in-game leaderboard with player counts, letting us see exactly how many people played early. Over a million paid for early access:


These one million early access players either paid an extra $20 ($100 overall) for the early access version or $45 for access via Game Pass.

Therefore, the strategy netted extra revenues of somewhere between $20 million and $45 million for Xbox, on top of all the Forza launch sales. It is clear to see why the strategy is so popular.

Xbox is also partially offsetting Game Pass’ biggest drawback: adding first-party games to Game Pass cannibalises premium game sales at launch. By charging a little extra for early access, Xbox is having it both ways: reaping premium revenues from subscribers and giving access to first-party Xbox titles on ‘day one’.

Xbox could even let third-party publishers offer similar premium passes on Game Pass, easing the risk of forgoing early premium revenues on Xbox, and adding a new revenue stream for third parties.

Other advantages of early access upsells

Game development costs are rising, but the console and PC userbases are mostly static. Early access upsells can help offset this challenge, generating stronger launch revenues from superfans. Launch periods are pivotal and set the tone for a game’s success, so the advantages of early access upsells are clear:

  • Superfans are already excited to play, want to be part of the conversation early, and are happy to pay to avoid missing out. 
  • The early access period builds buzz for a game, kickstarting the launch period hype in earnest. The early access discourse and network effects create momentum ahead of the true launch. Superfans are the most likely advocates.
  • For online games, early access launches offer a staggered influx of users, helping developers keep on top of heavy server loads and limit launch connectivity problems that limit the first-time user experience.
  • Marketers can set different messages for different fan segments – what appeals to the most dedicated superfans might be different to what works for casual fans.

The risk of publishers crossing the line

That said, taking things too far might limit this strategy going forward. Striking the balance between offering users value and not exploiting their fandom is vital.

Gamers are seemingly OK with paying an extra $10 for early access, but it might cross the line when publishers withhold content at launch (unless players pay for more expensive editions).

For example, fans and critics negatively received the $110 version of Ubisoft’s Star Wars Outlaws, which offers three days of early access and a season pass. At launch, a mission from iconic Star Wars villain Jabba the Hut will only be accessible via the season pass, included in the $110 and $130 versions of the game. This disgruntled the game’s community across Reddit and Discord.

Simply put, Ubisoft has locked nostalgia-inducing content behind the upsell versions, which is creating negative sentiment around publishers and franchises among superfans.

FC 24 had a similar activation, but the included value adds make all the difference. The main offering of FC 24’s $100 Ultimate Edition was a week of early access and 4,600 FC points (in-game currency for players to build their online Ultimate Team). It is not an exclusive offering that alienates standard-edition players.

Over a third of FC 24 players spend $10 or more on in-game purchases like cosmetics and currencies each month, so it also complemented something important for superfans: a headstart online. The value add of in-game currency is not as anger inducing as gating actual unique mission content. 

The bottom line: upselling for early access is a sound strategy that publishers are already leveraging to great effect. However, publishers must not cross the line to avoid something sacrilegious in growing brand loyalty: excluding day-one fans and making superfans feel exploited.

The discussion around this post has not yet got started, be the first to add an opinion.


Add your comment