Like many others, I joke with friends who regularly line up for the new edition of Madden NFL or NBA or NHL or whatever annual sports game they choose, that they are really just paying an annual subscription fee for roster updates and tweaks. Apparently EA Games was listening, and has released the dominant golf video game – Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf – as an online web browser-based game based on an annual subscription model.
I have been playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf for many years across PC and (more recently) PSP, and was fortunate enough to participate in the closed beta and recently ended open beta. In short, it is the same good old Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf game … but played in a web browser.
Logging in to the game via a web browser you enter a lobby area where you can spend the various points you accumulate on clothes, clubs, and so on for your golfer. You can also track your progress and see how your skills are advancing.
When you decide to actually play golf, you choose which of your golfers to take, then select a course, and away you go! Of course, there are restrictions on what things are available to you based on various things, but more on that later.
When you first sign up, a browser plug-in downloads to allow you to play. I have played on FireFox and Chrome and Safari and on Mac and PC and netbook without issue. The game itself opens up in a new browser window, leaving your account window behind.
If you have ever played a computer golf game, they are all pretty much the same as far back as I remember playing MacGolf on a Mac SE nearly 25 years ago. You choose a club, assess the wind and distance and aim your shot. You press the space bar to start the swing, press again to halt the backswing (for power), and then a third time to hit the ball (slice / hook / mis-hit).
Of course, while the core mechanics are the same as ever, Tiger Woods Online plays very much like a modern game – if you have played on the PC or console in recent years, the enhanced options will feel like second nature.
You can choose to alter the spin with fine granularity right from the main interface, which allows you to play strategically to work with the course and your own strengths. For myself – I am good at short or very long putts, but have missed more 6-10 footers than I care to admit. So I try to pt the ball just on the green so I can get a long putt and get it very close to the hole for an easy birdie.
In terms of gameplay, I found the game played very much like the most recent entries in the franchise I have played – the ’10 PSP game and the ’08 game for Mac & PC (they stopped the PC games at that point). The graphics match the ’08 PC game nicely, but some of the widgets and interface features have been updated to match the ’10 version.
The game is a fully online experience, and with that comes a few options: you can play alone, pair up competitively or cooperatively, or join a huge tournament and see how you fare against others. But even if you choose single player, you are never alone – you will see others shots landing on the same course, and see their comments in the course side-bar.
You can add your own ‘hole-based’ comments, and even comment to others – in fact, last night I had a sweet approach shot that landed about 4 feet from the hole, only to watch someone else right after me land one that spun back to about 3 inches from the hole! So I said ‘great shot’ … it is a nice way to allow for hole-based interaction in a completely non-competitive setting.
If you don’t have time for a whole round, you can easily suspend a game and pick it back up later.
So … in terms of the gameplay, Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online really delivers a great experience. As I mentioned, I got to participate in the beta test over the last several months, and throughout that time they continuously improved performance, added features, and generally took feedback and shaped a great game.
One of the biggest concerns in a game like this – particularly when it comes from EA Sports – is how much it will cost. It wasn’t initially clear what would be free – if anything. And I’m not sure if I missed it, but I was unclear of what the subscription rate would look like until late in the beta process.
An annual subscription costs $60. There are a couple of free courses and some options available for non-subscription players, but it is very clear the bulk of the content is aimed at those who pay to play … which is obvious.
Joining up gives you a cluster of points to use on your character (and as you see, playing the beta got me even more points). It seems pretty clear how they chose that price point: they put out new Tiger Woods games on consoles every year, and they cost $60. It is a direct translation. The only upside is you can play free to evaluate and even buy points a la carte to avoid the long-term commitment.
There is a problem with the pricing model which I think will definitely limit the appeal of the game: many folks – myself included – typically skip years with the Tiger Woods games. The reason is simple: there aren’t really ‘roster changes’ like you get in the Madden NFL games, and overall the game doesn’t change enough to warrant an annual purchase.
As I mentioned, I still play Tiger Woods ’08 for PC & Mac, and the PSP ’10 version was the first I bought for the PSP since ’07 edition. For my own budget $60 a year for a golf game seems excessive – I was ready to sign-on at $30 and knew I would get the value out of it, but at $60 I signed up for a single year and will re-evaluate next year to see how much I have used it.
There is no doubt that EA has delivered an excellent video game golf experience in a web browser that is portable across different browsers and operating system platforms. The downside is a pricing model that assumes most gamers would otherwise buy a new game every year. I honestly think $60 a year for this game is simply too expensive, and so while I encourage everyone to head on over and give it a try, definitely exhaust all of your free options before paying the annual fee.
Where to Buy: Tiger Woods Online at EA.com (Digital Download)
Price: $59.99 annual subscription
What I Like:
+ Some free content
+ Nice graphics
+ Full-feeling game for ~$5 a month
What Needs Improvement:
- Not as much content as the console game for the same price
- $60 a year is steep for a browser game
Source: Personal game purchase