The Monday 'Joe: The Origin of Origin

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

Origin has been controversial since its inception. The last time a piece of software so widely used was so widely derided by those using it, Windows ME was on the market. The difference between Origin and ME, however, is that while one could always go back to Windows 98, there are no alternatives to Origin. If you want to play Battlefield 3, you will install Origin; and if you want to purchase Star Wars: The Old Republic online, you will use Origin. The upcoming Mass Effect 3 for PC will also require Origin, which is going to stick in the craw of those who bought the first two on Steam.

Recently, Peter Moore did an interview with Kotaku where he stated that he expected people to come around within two years. Our own Brandon Mietzner roundly trounced the interview, using Mr. Moore’s words against him.

We’ve heard from Brandon, but what about the rest of us?

This week’s question:

What are your thoughts on Origin? Would you install it just to play a popular game? Bonus: would you use it beyond that?

Crystal Steltenpohl: As I’ve said several times before, I refuse to use Origin—despite the fact they make games I like to play—until they clean up the mess they’ve made for themselves. This includes not buying for the PC if I can help it, which sucks because the PC is my main gaming device. Recently, I put my money where my mouth is as well: in preparation for Mass Effect 3, I purchased the first two. They were cheaper on PC, but knowing that ME3 was coming to Origin only, I went ahead and bought the 360 versions… used. If I would’ve been able to use Steam for all three, I would’ve purchased the first two from Steam instead and maybe even pre-ordered ME3, finances permitting. And like I’ve said before, I don’t really see why anyone would want to use Origin with the exception of absolutely requiring it to play certain games—and even then, I’m tempted to just skip over those. It’s nothing against EA as a company, and I’m not opposed to Origin as an idea. I just don’t like how this particular service has been implemented.

I’m sorry. I don’t want EA to have access to my web site history, even if I have absolutely nothing to hide; an invasion of privacy is an invasion of privacy, period. Origin’s EULA wasn’t even legal in Germany for some time due to their laws dealing with user privacy and data protection. Their EULA was described by several people as “defective by design.” What a vote of confidence! I also don’t agree with the business practice of banning people over forum violations, especially when that prevents someone from playing the game s/he paid for and that person can’t get adequate help through EA’s (reportedly) terrible customer service. I don’t even ban people on my own forums unless they do something absolutely terrible, and “Have you sold your souls to the EA devil?” does not on any level register as a Terrible Thing (TM). I liked being able to buy games through Steam and I don’t want to install another digital distribution software just to play, say, two games. It also sucks for people who use Origin that they have to settle any issues through arbitration. Why should I trust this company again?

This doesn’t mean that Peter Moore is wrong, though. There’s nothing that says people won’t like Origin in two years. It’s quite possible, actually. People have a short memory, and if EA manages to not screw up too badly between now and then, people will like it well enough to buy games on it, and that’s really all that EA asks for. But even beyond that, EA has a chance to do good by their customers right now. They can adapt their EULA, as they did before, to fit the laws of the country involved and can work harder to protect their customers. They can maybe work with Steam instead of against it; or at the very least, they can learn from Steam and what people like and don’t like about its services. They can stop banning people for stupid reasons, they can stop preventing people from playing the games they bought, and they can better train their customer service representatives. They’re getting plenty of feedback over what works and what isn’t.

It just doesn’t seem like Peter Moore is really all that interested in listening.

Mohamed Al-Saadoon: Battlefield 3 was one of my most anticipated games of 2011. I pre-ordered the title many months in advanced and was as giddy as a schoolgirl waiting for its release.

And then all of EA’s games were pulled from Steam for some strange reason, and then Origin was announced as a competitor. At first I was like, “That’s okay; I just won’t use Origin. It’s got to be optional, right?” But no, EA had to make it compulsory and unavailable to any other distributor for no real reason other than to control their consumers better, and who can blame them? They have Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, and The Old Republic as Origin exclusives. They timed this to perfection to get the maximum number of AAA titles on their platform exclusively, and gamers are lemmings who don’t have the will to boycott Shiny New AAA Game™.

I’ve said this many times before, but Battlefield 3 is like Jesus, EA are the Romans, and Origin is the cross they nailed him to. I refuse to use it and canceled my pre-order for Battlefield 3. It might take several years due to EA’s deep pockets, but I think Origin will eventually fizzle out and all these games will return to Steam. Until then, I will never play Battlefield 3 or The Old Republic as I already have too many clients running on my system to bother with shit like launching a browser to search for servers like I’m back playing Age of Empires 2 on Microsoft’s “The Zone” service.

Nathan Wood: As someone who left PC gaming behind a few years ago, I’m grateful I don’t have to deal with Origin. More and more in the last few years, gaming as a whole has become a hobby that likes to waste your time with doing countless other things before even booting up the game. And this extends beyond just Origin. Nowadays when you buy a game, you have to install some game data first and maybe even download a patch as well as enter an online code if you want full access. Sony puts out new firmware like it’s going out of fashion; and with cases like Resistance 3, it can take thirty minutes before you actually get to enjoy the product you purchased. I’m sorry, but an industry where this is becoming the norm isn’t something I look forward to, and companies have no right to waste their customers’ time.

Getting back on topic, EA has actually recentlyspoken up claiming that they actually hope other big publishers like themselves create their own digital service moving forward, and if this does become true, it’ll be an incredible annoyance. Having to create a new account for each service, manage passwords, accounts, friends, and details is something I don’t see myself doing and can only serve to confuse consumers. Some of the convenience of making games digital is lost while things like groups and chatting on a service will be gone if everybody’s split up playing different games. Gaming has come a long way in becoming a social element to people’s friendships, and the creation of different services just seems to put a strain on the ability to do this.

This doesn’t mean Origin can’t be successful. Competition is always good, and I think Steam and Origin will continue to improve in an effort to appear as the superior provider, which can only benefit consumers. EA is a company that does release quality titles that consumers want, including myself. Now I own a PS3, so I could easily just buy it on that. If you’re on a PC, though, is the fact you have to sign up for a whole new service for maybe one or two games even worth it? Some will say sure, others will say no, and a bunch will end up pirating the title and avoid having to deal with Origin completely. You can see who the winners are in this circumstance, can’t you?

What bothers me the most is that, on Origin, you aren’t buying the game. No, the way the purchase is set up by EA, you’re only paying for the rights to play and that they have every right to take away those rights and not give a refund if you break one of their rules. I can’t emphasize enough how bullshit this is; in fact, it has to be one of the shiftiest business practices I’ve ever heard of.

I sound cynical and that’s because I am, but don’t get me wrong: if Origin is successful, I’m happy for EA and it can only mean good for us as gamers and consumers. However, I doubt that EA will be able to treat their customers as actual human beings rather than money bags with all the time in the world to waste. I also worry about the possibility of all the big publishers having their own Origin-like services. People like Steam because it unifies them all onto one service as well being convenient and incredibly cheap. Until EA understands that, I don’t see Origin being successful, and I can only hope that the future isn’t flooded with unnecessary Origin lookalikes.

Brandon Mietzner: My thoughts are spelled out pretty well in the blog post on why I don’t trust Origin or EA’s intentions with it. I’m of two minds for its requirement for games mainly because I accept it for Valve and I should be able to accept that from another developer/publisher. The biggest problem I have with EA’s strategy is that they won’t sell on Steam or any other online distributor, and they’re acting like their titles are too cool for Valve when they’ve been supporting EA for years. There are a few titles on other online networks including Steam—big titles, even—but they don’t require you to install Origin. The games released by Valve all require Steam, which is fine since they’re sold on other platforms as well. If all EA games required Origin, I’d be fine, but I should be able to buy it where I want because of my own personal reasons, end of story. The main reason I want my games through Steam is I have confidence in the platform that stems from a certainty that I wont be screwed on billing, lack customer support, won’t be lied to, and Valve won’t try to invade my privacy.

I’ll use Origin only for the games that require it, but I have to want it and want it bad. BioWare is the only reason why I’m considering multiple titles on the platform because I’m already a long-time fan of theirs and their established IPs. I’ll never use it for anything I can buy elsewhere, end of story. There’s no reason to think that EA won’t try to screw its customers again, and I want to make sure it does as little damage to me as possible.

Aileen Coe: I only really started getting back into PC gaming when I got a computer that was better able to handle it, though I’m still not that heavy a PC gamer. I like Steam fine as it’s relatively unobtrusive, so I don’t mind needing to have that up when running games I bought from there. But considering all the things EA’s pulled, I’m rather reluctant to use Origin for anything. I sure wouldn’t want to take the risk of losing all my games on a whim, especially if I have other options. I also don’t see any good reason to have to disclose my browsing history to play anything, even if I don’t have anything particularly interesting or taboo in it. Possibly the only game I’d consider using Origin for would be Mass Effect 3, but even then, I could just get that and its two predecessors for another system.

I also worry about the possibility of other publishers trying to follow suit and launch their own Steam-like digital distribution service. I’d rather have as few things running in the background as I can, and juggling game libraries and friends lists across multiple clients would quickly become onerous. Plus, what I like about Steam is that everything is in one place and they often have sales. Valve has also established good rapport with its users, something EA doesn’t seem interested in doing.

Christopher Bowen: Something stands out to me: a lot of people are complaining that EA and Peter Moore “aren’t listening” to gamers. Sadly, the last time they did that their share price tanked, and analysts wanted to hang John Riccitiello by his testicles. This was during the era when EA started actually paying attention to gamers because the alternative was the fallout from the ea_spouse issue, which exposed EA’s sweatshop-like mentality towards game development and publishing. In short, when it comes to making money in today’s AAA environment, listening to your gamers—by and large a vocal minority—is the worst thing a company can do. Why would you listen to 100 nerds dressed up as Han Solo when 10,000 more will buy whatever they’re told, and even out of those 100, 60 of them will capitulate anyway?

If I was a corporate decision maker for Electronic Arts, I would actually follow the playbook they’re following. Goodwill is good for surprisingly little in this field because gamers have proven time and again that they have no willpower. I hate to say it, but Brandon himself proves this: he hates Origin but only uses it “when it’s necessary.” Those seemingly minor concessions are all these companies need because they don’t care if they’re hated; we still buy them because, in our worlds, this is a necessity. Microsoft proved that people are willing to pay to go online if forced; why would they go back? There are millions of suckers who choose to (while using choice names for the dissenters in online forums, naturally), which forces suckers like me—who needs to be able to go online to do my job—into being forced to capitulate. Electronic Arts is therefore using Origin as the vanguard: Allow it to penetrate the market by holding big name, highly anticipated games hostage, and exploit the market from there. Meanwhile, get choice user data to sell to advertisers as a bonus. (I know they took the term out of their EULA that states they’re collecting data, but really, they already have it; they can modify their terms for their service and the games themselves at will.)

EA’s corporate decisions are effective for their shareholders, but for a consumer, they’re abusive. EA’s entire PC lineup now bears the scarlet letter that has previously been reserved for the other members of the Trifecta of PC Gaming Hell, SecuROM and Ubisoft. Those three names are poison; I simply refuse to touch anything bearing them. It not only affects me going forward, it affects my look at past games, too. When Steam had their holiday sale, they had the first two Mass Effect games available for an insanely low price—something around 80% off—and both of them are superior to their console counterparts. I didn’t touch them, because I knew, without its being confirmed at the time, that Mass Effect 3 was going Origin only. I was right, meaning I’m not forced into using Origin to finish the trilogy. I can’t even really look at PopCap games anymore, knowing that there’s going to be synergy between PopCap and their new corporate masters, synergy that in no way benefits the end user in any way, shape, or form. Simply put, the business relationship between Electronic Arts and myself is irreparably harmed, and when it comes to PC games, it’s destroyed. The only benefit I see out of this is that, because this is Valve versus EA, I don’t see many other companies coming out with their own services. This isn’t the kind of gun fight you can bring a butter knife to.

This won’t affect EA, naturally. They’ll stay the course and make bushels of money because gamers will go as far as allowing themselves to be branded like cattle to play their shiny games. The gaming press will capitulate because that’s what you do to keep in their good graces and continue to be able to pump out those hit-driving early reviews. Nothing will change. That doesn’t mean I have to play along with the farce, however.

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Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.