Electronic Arts has launched a direct-to-consumer online portal for the PC that looks to directly rival Valve’s Steam platform. Called Origin, the service will feature downloads of the PC versions of EA games, as well as the ability to preorder. The service – which is downloadable in beta form from the website – will also have social networking elements, as well as mobile integration.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the service will launch post-beta with 150 games, one of which will be the upcoming MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic. Origin will be the only place outside of retail that will sell the game. It is unclear whether or not Origin will be required to play the game, similar to how Steam is necessary for Valve’s games, and how some games like Super Street Fighter IV require Games for Windows Live. There is still no word on a release date for The Old Republic, nor an MSRP.
EA CEO John Riccitiello is bullish on the service, calling it a cornerstone of his company’s business. David DeMartini, SVP of Global Online, told told Industry Gamers that while they have learned a lot from Steam, they do not see it as being a “choice” between Steam or Origin, saying “Just because a gamer chooses to play Battlefield 3 doesn’t preclude them from playing another shooter game, just as the fact that I’m on Facebook doesn’t mean I don’t also use LinkedIn.”
Analysis: Just what I always wanted: another games “portal” that sucks up my system resources and wants me to join their all-inclusive network. “All-inclusive”, that is, provided I don’t want to talk with my Steam friends.
EA can sell this all they want as being a new type of social network, and being full of glitter and rainbows, but it is what it is: EA taking retail further out of the equation and forcing our hand in terms of digital integration, while using The Old Republic as the cudgel to beat us into line. EA is offering nothing of note that would make anyone join their service. There are two ways of breaking in something like this:
1) “Come to us! We would like to have you, and here, here’s something we’d like to offer you to make you consider us!”
2) “You will come to us, because you have no other recourse if you want to play our highly anticipated game. Oh, you don’t want to deal with Origin? Tough crap. That’s right, fall in line.”
I’m not sure if forcing integration with TOR is the “right” way to do this, simply because it’s looking to be yet another horribly expensive MMO competing with World of Warcraft. But you can bet that every other digital offering EA gives via the PC will be forced via Origin. Furthermore, I expect some kind of forced integration of their console offerings as well. After all, EA has stated before that they are looking to marginalize their packaged goods business. Why wouldn’t they? Digital takes away middleman costs such as packaging and shipping, removes retail from the equation, the games can’t be resold, and they still get to charge the full monty price of $60 for AAA titles. The customers always complain, but then they always fall in and buy what they’re told to anyway, so EA knows any resistance will be token.
If any good comes from this, it will probably be that we’ll get rid of that GOD awful SecuROM. EA’s loved that in the past.