What’s The Deal With EA’s Origin & Is It Really That Bad?

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ea originThere’s been a plenty of uproar, whinging and general dismay at EA’s decision to combine their online store and download client into one “Steam-beating” package: Origin.

Forgive me for noticing, but EA are probably not the most well-regarded publisher out there and it seems the launch of Origin hasn’t helped their name at all. Designed as a direct competitor to Valve’s Steam, Origin launched in June as a rebranded EA Download Manager, previously used to download digital copies from the company’s online store.

Since its announcement the software has been on the receiving end of bad press, much of it from disgruntled gamers on forums, message boards and social networks. Is it time to shut up, or put up?

EA’s Point of View

According to Forbes magazine, Valve offer a 70% gross margin (that’s revenue before other costs) to third-party publishers wishing to sell their products via Steam. This means Valve lap up 30% for their part, which is all but done – establishing, maturing and maintaining a content delivery system is no easy task, and Steam has been in development since 2002.

ea origin

Comparably, retail games carry a typical gross margin of 30% with everyone from the delivery boy to the retailer wanting a share of the profits. Steam quite literally reverses the figures – making a 30% cut look pretty reasonable (which is also in-line with Apple’s 30% of all app and in-app purchases).

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Clearly, EA are a big company who regularly turn out some of the biggest releases, with massive franchises like FIFA, The Sims, Need for Speed and Battlefield under their belt. This year’s big release is Battlefield 3, and it’s caused quite a stink amongst PC gamers.

Battlefield 3 is not only set to be an incredible feat of games engineering but also a real money-spinner for EA. Steam will not get Battlefield 3 – despite the previous release (Bad Company 2) calling the platform its home.

The game is listed as being available on similar, smaller services (like Direct2Drive) but the main platform will be Origin – that’s right, EA stands to make a full 100% from their own delivery platform. That’s fair enough, right? Sure. So why might gamers be displeased with this decision?

The Gamer’s Point of View

If you’re at all serious about your PC gaming, chances are you’ve got Steam. Why? Because there are new releases every week, an unthinkably huge catalog of both retail and indie games and awesome weekly offers for those who love a good bargain.

It took a while, but Steam is a great way to communicate with friends, meet new gamers and generally get your entrails handed to you at 5am on a German server. Back in the day Steam was often suffixed with “-ing pile of…” for all the right reasons – but now, we’ve got a decent platform and many of us have built up quite a catalog over the last 9 years.

ea origin review

Except now you’ve got to install another store. Then it’s time to find all your friends again – you know, like the friends you regularly play with on Steam. Indeed, inconvenience is the main reason many dislike Origin. Another piece of software to run, another account to register, another service that requires personal information – all without the catalog, user base and mature system that Valve have got going on.

ea origin review

All for that extra 30%, remember!

So What About Origin?

Origin itself is still beta software, so to pass judgement at such an early stage would be unfair. Clearly there are still kinks that need ironing out, but the platform has been out in the wild since June and had over 4 million downloads.

ea origin review

Naturally at such an early stage the games just aren’t there. Aside from a demo of The Sims 3 and the new Pets expansion, I couldn’t really find anything to download for free and even EA’s own free-to-play titles don’t use Origin, and launch in a new browser window. This is a stark contrast to Steam which is littered with cracking downloadable freebies like Team Fortress 2.

ea origin

Valve also have a reputation for encouraging, hosting and promoting third party mods, and there are plenty of these available on Steam (most now work even without Half-Life 2 if you download Team Fortress 2). EA has a history of making poor decisions when it comes to the modding community, including dubbing the new Frostbite 2 engine “too complex” for modders, so don’t expect too much of that on Origin.

EA does plan on tempting third-party publishers over to the new platform, but how many are set to be swayed remains to be seen.

Conclusion

Origin isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t really offer gamers anything new. From an end-user standpoint this is just another piece of middleware, sitting between the internet and your purchases. For EA the move makes more sense, and with all new boxed retail games installing Origin the number of users is naturally going to climb.

Still, it might take a few innovative features and some well-priced bargains in order to build-up a community that’s even half as vibrant as Valve’s. It is said that competition is not only good for business, but good for consumers – so in that light; what do you think about Origin?

Have you installed Origin yet? Will you be buying Battlefield 3 (PC)? Disgruntled? Nonplussed? Have your say in the comments.

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