PC gaming isn’t as big as it once was in terms of market share, but within gaming circles the PC gamers tend to be the ones that are knowledgeable about games and have considerable clout. (You can read that as an opinion, if you want. I’ve found this to be true.) They really do embody the “vocal minority” spirit on the internet.
So when you mess with PC gamers’ beloved distribution service and community-builder (Steam), you tend to get a bit of flak. So is the case with Electronic Arts’ new Steam-like service, Origin. Announced at E3 last year, EA essentially looked at Steam and decided to “do that”, but instead of Valve getting a cut of the profits, they’d keep it all for themselves.
I can’t take issue with that. It is perfectly reasonable for a company to try to maximise profits, and this is really just EA’s way of trying to do that. As you may have heard, the problem is in the execution.
EA’s recent military-shooter juggernaut Battlefield 3 required Origin to be played on PC and has as of yet not announced plans to come to Steam. Future games from EA look to be doing the same, like Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Origin connectivity is reportedly integrated into the console versions of their new games, too. (Post-Battlefield 3, that is.)
What people sometimes forget is that Steam had a rough launch, too, and it was a forced part of Half-life 2. In the years since that, Steam became a respected service and is today regarded at the top of its class. The difference between Steam’s rough start and Origin’s rough start is that Steam was at launch one of the first platforms to attempt digital distribution. It wasn’t perfect, but it still really was the best option out there. Now, Origin has a model to compare itself to and copy so that it didn’t make the same mistakes- but it did make the same mistakes. Origin has downloading problems, billing problems, and poor customer support. In a world in which Steam exists, many find this unacceptable and criticize EA for putting together a shoddy service just for the sake of getting Valve’s fingers out of their already-lucrative pie.
The saddest part is that the game developers that EA publishes for have no control over this, and the games they’re making actually seem quite good. Battlefield 3 is a good game, and EA deciding to stick it with the burden of being the first over the wall reflects poorly on Dice, even though they probably wanted nothing to do with the service. Mass Effect 3 and SW:TOR will probably take hits to sales, and many will probably turn to piracy as their way of voting with their wallets, so to speak. It’s unfortunate, it really is, and those of us out there who just want good games wish that EA would either improve their service or back down on it.