The State Of Origin: EA's Attempt To Build A Head Of Steam

EA’s new service, Origin, has been at the center of controversy since its announcement – but what is Origin? And what are EA’s intentions? We spoke to EA’s Vice President of Global Online David DiMartini about Origin, Steam, Battlefield 3 and the future of Digital Distribution.

“So what happened with Crysis 2,” I began. “Could you guys elaborate on precisely why you guys removed the game from the Steam service?”

Silence. A hesitation. David DeMartini, Senior Vice President of Global Online, began talking, but Jeff Brown, Senior Vice President of Corp. Comm, interrupted. It sounded like a patient laugh, but it may have been an impatient snort. Over the phone it was difficult to tell.

“We did not take Crysis 2 off of steam – that did not happen,” Jeff said, his tone a little... tetchy. “Steam has some restrictions and Crytek has a relationship with another company, Gamespy, which was in conflict with Steam. The decision to remove that had absolutely nothing to do with EA.”

“Thanks for the clarification,” I said, tactfully.

This interview had gotten off to a great start.

BUILDING UP STEAM The announcement of EA’s new Digital Distribution service, Origin has raised eyebrows, and more than a few questions. Since its inception Origin appears to be stumbling from one misunderstanding to another. Will Battlefield 3 be releasing exclusively on the service? Why challenge Steam? Will Origin open up the floodgate for other publishers in the digital space?

To get the correct answers, we had to speak to the correct people and David DiMartini, Snr Vice President of Global Online, is among those people. With EA’s experiments in Facebook, Mobile Gaming and Digital Distribution, it’s DiMartini’s job to help piece together CEO John Riccitiello’s vision for EA as a company.

Origin, resolutely, remains at the center of that vision.

“Origin is the centrepiece of what we’re trying to do in the online space,” begins David. “When you think of the pieces that John Riccitiello has, I think, very astutely put in place - we’re the leader in the mobile space, we’re number two in the social space, we’ve partnered with great services – this hasn’t happened by accident!

“There is an overarching strategy. And Origin is one of the cornerstones of that strategy.”

So far, as a result of circumstance and arguably planning, Origin hasn’t quite gotten off to the greatest of starts. The controversy over Crysis 2’s removal from Valve’s Steam service – regardless of who or what was to blame – has only served to highlight one simple fact: Steam is the undisputed leader in the online Digital Distribution space, and it may take a small miracle to dislodge it.

DiMartini's view, however, is simple: the ubiquity of Steam’s service is hardly a reason not to compete.

“We want to provide choice and choice is better,” claimed David DeMartini. “We have a feeling that with a service like Origin - where we’re providing not only a commerce piece, but a social area that allows people to combine their games with their friend lists - we feel that this service is going to enhance your gameplay experience.

“And when we more tightly integrate this over time with our game development teams, Origin will create a better gaming experience for gamers.

“Although there is some element of commerce in this service, it’s really targeted at the idea that if gamers are having more fun playing games with their friends, then other friends are more likely to participate in those same games.”

COMPETING ON THE BATTLEFIELD There’s no disputing it, competition is positive, but it will be very difficult to compete with Steam – a service loaded with community features, a service that every PC gamer is familiar with. Still, EA and DiMartini appear convinced that Origin will, eventually, find its niche.

“What we’d say about Steam is that, you know, Steam’s been around a long time,” says David, “and it’s certainly a service that people are familiar with. I think that Origin is going to be another service that gamers will become incredibly familiar with, and when they see the exciting things we’re going to be doing over time to create that enhanced gaming experience, I think people will come to love it.”

Of course, EA’s strength lies in its vast array of intellectual properties – Battlefield, Mass Effect, FIFA, Dead Space. As a publisher EA has access to perhaps the most extensive list of AAA franchises in gaming. If the removal of Crysis 2 reminded gamers of Steam’s ubiquity in the digital retail space, it also reminded us of another potential outcome – EA could, if they so desired, simply take their ball and go home.

Could we be looking at a future where EA software is sold exclusively on the Origin service?

“That is not our intention,” states David, resolutely. “We’ve been huge supporters of an open market place and a level playing field, we’ve got great partnerships with retail, we’ve got a great relationship with the guys at Valve.”

But what about the Star Wars: The Old Republic? Isn’t that being released exclusively on Origin?

“Obviously we’ve announced that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be exclusively available on Origin,” he retorts, “but Star Wars is a unique property as an MMO, because you establish a subscription relationship with customers.

“Though Star Wars will be sold at retail, on the digital side, since we are establishing that subscription based relationship with the customers, it was kind of obvious to move in that direction - at least to start with.”

So will key properties such as Battlefield and Mass Effect continue to be released on Steam?

“As it relates to Battlefield and Mass Effect,” says DiMartini, “I think we’re trying to reach as many customers as we possibly can, and we’re trying to give customers as much choice as we possibly can.

“If gamers feel like the feature set of Origin, and Battlefield’s relationship with Origin creates a situation where that’s where they want to purchase and play that game? Then by all means we would encourage that.

“However, if consumers are more interested in purchasing from their favourite retailer, or digitally through other partners,” he continues, “then by all means we would encourage those who earn their business to gain their business.”

PLAYING CATCH-UP In comparison to most other major publishers, EA does appear far more committed to transitioning seamlessly into online retail– as evidenced by its success in the mobile space – but what happens as the balance begins to shift. Does EA expect competition from other publishers, such as Activision and Ubisoft? How long until others begin to focus their resources in a similar direction?

“I guess that would be up to the other publishers,” begins David. “The analogy I would empoy is our use of social networking services. I’m on Facebook, but I’m also on LinkedIn.

“But ultimately, I think publishers that have the kind of IP we have are few and far between. Those on that level potentially could do something similar, but they’d have to commit a significant amount of internal development capability to do so.

“It’s certainly something that some of the significant publishers will explore. Some will have the ability to go there, and others will potentially partner with others.”

The idea of a splintered, publisher based way of shopping for video games online may not be ideal for a consumer base used to shopping on one, unified service – would EA ever consider selling games from other publishers on Origin?

“Well, since we’ve announced the service, many other publishers have enquired as to whether or not we’d be interested in handling their titles,” states David, openly. “We’ve had our EA partners program for some time now and that has thrived and flourished, so it’s not a significant leap to extend that partnership to other publishers.”

But what about local pricing in specific territories? Would EA allow publishers to set prices specific to each region ala Steam? Australians in particular have had to suffer through some rather unfortunate price hikes – would we see similar practices employed with Origin?

It’s a question most likely outside of DiMartini’s specific remit – but we had to ask regardless.

“That’s probably a little beyond the scope of my responsibility,” claimed David “With prices we work with our various territories and our sales people are way more knowledgeable on that matter. The local guys are probably in the best position to discuss that.”

And at this stage, it’s all hypothetical regardless. EA’s Origin, for now, is a service through which you can buy EA’s video games and not much else. What is interesting, however, is EA’s intentions for the service, and how it fits into a strategy that could see EA best placed to take advantage of gaming’s inevitable move towards Digital Distribution.

But Origin is more than just a place for consumers to buy product – EA’s ambitions appear to be far more sophisticated than that. If EA has its way we’ll be interacting, sharing, building our own communities through the service.

It’s a smart manoeuvre. As the move towards online distribution moves ever closer, we suspect that many publishers will struggle to redefine themselves in an industry that will most likely have little need of the middleman role most have been content to play.

EA, it seems, is at least attempting to secure and forge that new identity - proactively. The rest may find themselves playing catch-up.


Comments

    But steam is already good! I don't want "Choice". "Choice" isn't always better

      Competition is good.

        I would say yes but with a caveat, I personally don't want to have to go through multiple online stores and then multiple clients to find the games that I want to purchase and play if the games are not available in all the stores...

        That's what I tried to tell everyone.
        Something about gamers these days makes them all whiny bitches though and nothing is ever good enough, have to complain about everything.

          and somehow the internet is filled with people who whine about whiners.

          whats worse, the complainer or the ambulance chasers that troll the forums and tell people not to complain about a product? it happens in legit gaming forums EVERYWHERE. where it should happen. welcome to the internet.

        Being forced to use Origin doesn't promote competition.

        To everyone saying competition is good, I agree, but this is NOT competition, its the total opposite and is a very bad thing for gamers. EA are going to put exclusive games on origin, just like valve put exclusives onto steam e.g. Portal 2. If you can only get a game from ONE place, there is NO competition - you are forced into a monopoly. Steam should allow their games onto origin and vica versa, thats the only way this could end up a good thing.

      Steam is good, but it could be better. Without competition, Steam has no impetus to become better.

        How exactly could Steam be better?

          Download scheduler, downloading of games whilst playing single player (offline) games, allowing users to purchase items from other countries (at the other countries' prices and with the other countries' content, ala GOG), Ownership of games (ie, explicit right to the games you've purchased, once purchased Valve cannot take them away from you via cancelling your account or by them going bankrupt and ending the Steam service for example).

            Download scheduler? Are you that hard up for time that you need it?

            You can download in the background whilst playing a game.

            Region pricing/availability has NOTHING to do with Steam, that is controlled by developers/publishers.

            Your steam games are safe if they close down, they've already stated this. As for your account getting cancelled, if you fuck up and break their ToS then that is your problem. If it's a mistake though, they can and do rectify the issue.

              A download scheduler so you can schedule the 10GB download to happen during your offpeak times on your ADSL plan.

              Regional pricing has EVERYTHING to do with Steam in so much as they offer it. It was Valve's decision to offer regional pricing to publishers. If they changed their policy so it was 1 price world wide then the publishers wouldn't be able to charge Australians more. Simple really.

                I was unaware that Valve offer the region pricing/availability to developers/publishers. Can you point me to where you obtained that information?

                As for off-peak...why not use a content server that is unmetered for your ISP?

                  Well it's pretty simple actually, you go to the Steam store in Australia and you will see a different price to that in the USA. It's a feature built into the Steam platform. It's very widely used and quite publicised.

                  I naturally do choose an unmetered content server to download from, however it will only use said content server when the content I wish to download in available from that server, otherwise it will obtain it from another server that IS metered.

              A download scheduler for Steam is coming in a future update amongst other things.

            You already can download while playing single player games simply alt tab and tell it to resume the download.

            Though only time ive ever needed to do so was during sales time.

            As For GoG they had region pricing on 1 game, and most likely until another witcher related release comes out would never have had it occur again.

            GoG has the advantage that they don't sell new releases so they aren't pushed to the region pricing as heavily

            Turn off Steam when you're done using it. Don't let it run in the background; turn it off.

            Then use Windows Scheduler. Windows Scheduler basically runs a program at any given time and terminates it at another.

            So at the start of your offpeak time, launch Steam, and at the end, turn it off.

          No regionalisation, less DRM, rejection of any game which uses GFWL... :P

            cant argue Steam improving regionalisation considering EA are the kings of regionalised pricing.

          could have moar dinosaurs and have those dinosaurs let me just use certain content servers to download from so that i don't have to gamble to downloading from a content server that is going to be metered.

            You can select your content server...have been able to for a looooong time now.

              No you can't. You can select what content server you prefer, but it doesn't HAVE to download it from there.

                it does if you couple it with steam watch.

                Realistically if they made it so you could enforce a specific download location then you would be bitching that the content you want isn't on the content server you want to download from

                  Yeah about "solutions" such as steam watch and Freys., i have used both and at one time or another have been burned once or twice where it simply failed to work and i got done in with it downloading 10gigs. It only seems to work 99% of the time, which is good but i would rather not have any surprises waiting for me...

                  Also - i thought valve controlled what goes onto content servers? Simply why not let public servers that are hosted by third-parties such as GA let them host what content they want and everyone would be a lot happier?

                  Wrong, because then you can CHOOSE to download it on a different server during the off-peak time when you prefer to download it.

                Unless the content is not available on that server then it WILL download it from there and the only content not available on Aussie steam servers are brand new releases but they do get put on Aussie steam server very quickly.

              As was already said - You can "pick" what region you prefer but it will not download from there even 50% of the time, regardless of whether the content can be found on that server or not. I most likely would be using steam alot more if it let me only download from the GA content servers so that i can get a crapton of free unmetered usage. Alas, i only use steam just for the specials.

                Then I'm a miracle man and so are my mates. We all live in different suburbs, some use Adam, some use Internode, all have Internode-Adelaide as our server and save for when we get a game straight away on release day suffer no unmetered content downloads.

                  That was supposed to say "Internode or Adam" not Internode adelaide...whoops.

      When the single largest online distributor feels they can make a decision to cut a game from their list simply because they don't like who else the publisher or developer was working with, it's time for a change. Competition prevents them from doing that because it offers other choices for both the customers and publishers/developers to go to, just like we have several different large-scale retailers carrying the same products. We shop around for the best deal, and whoever can provide that wins. This is contrary to the steam policy where currently it is a case of they can almost make or break the digital distribution of a game.

    This is actually quite a re-assuring article, it almost openly states that games like Battlefield and Mass Effect will continue to be an option available at many other digital retailers, which is probably a big sigh of relief for many.

    Seems to me that they are seriously struggling to explain how this service does anything more than Steam...aside from sell exclusive titles.

    If this keeps up, if you want to play 3 different games in one night, you'll need to run, and log in to, 3 different digital distribution applications.

    You can keep your "choice" if it's also going to have arbitrarily higher prices for Australians, as Origin already does.

    The responses to exclusivity were more encouraging than I expected. I thought they would push along the routes of "no, you can only buy here!" and "you must install Origin to play this game!". The latter still hasn't really been answered and we won't see it til the end of the year.

    "Playing Catchup"

    Sums up the service when compared to Steam - for better or worse. EA and anyone else entering this market has a long way to go.

    Firstly major kudos for the headline :)

    Secondly, I agree that greater competition in digital distribution is definitely a good thing. It forces competitors to innovate and might even bring down some of the prices if they want to attract more customers.

    When Origin was announced, a lot of people were concerned that soon we'd have 19 separate platforms for games, all exclusive to one publisher and clogging up desktops.

    I don't really see this happening; like the VP said EA has a huge range of IPs (particularly blockbuster franchises) and it simply wouldn't make sense for smaller publishers to create a platform when they could use some of the bigger ones. Designing and maintaining a platform of Steam or Origin's complexity - especially if they're tied into exclusive game features - just wouldn't be possible for a lot of the smaller companies.

    Didn't borderlands also use Gamespy also? Not only was that title on Steam, it was pretty heavily promoted on the service

      Battlefield 2 still uses it and it's still on their

      My guess is theres some dlc issues coupled with it

        There* :P

      He said the issue related to Crysis agreements with Gamespy, not EA agreements. Something might also use Gamespy, but it might not have an exclusive arrangement.

      Using Gamespy for multiplayer matchmaking is one thing. Using it as a shopfront, as Crysis 2 is, is obviously a very different thing.

    Could we be looking at a future where EA software is sold exclusively on the Origin service?

    “That is not our intention,” states David, resolutely. “We’ve been huge supporters of an open market place and a level playing field, we’ve got great partnerships with retail, we’ve got a great relationship with the guys at Valve.”

    ^ That's what I wanted to hear.

      “That is not our intention,” states David, resolutely. “We’ve been huge supporters of an open market place and a level playing field, we’ve got great partnerships with retail, we’ve got a great relationship with the guys at Valve.”

      So Bob, are you planning on murdering anyone today?

      “That is not my intention,” states Bob, resolutely. “We’ve been huge supporters of an level playing field where murder doesn't occur, we’ve got great partnerships with the police, we’ve got a great relationship with the guys in the Justice System.”

      Bob then goes and murders someone. Gets angry at his landlord or he matches his GF cheating on him. Who knows. He pulls out a gun and kills someone stone dead.

      He might not have 'intended' to murder someone, but he still did.

    Steam currently has Monday night Combat for $3.75 - that's what I look for in a digital distributor - cheap as games!

    I won't install origin unless there is an unbeatable bargin to grab me :D

    Jeff or Geoff?

    Big relief for some, I'm sure, that the big titles will continue to be distributed through a number of channels. :)

    Origin already employs region pricing and region pricing that in half of the cases is $10 more expensive than the regional pricing that EA has enforced on steam which makes no sense

    Well, that answers one question about the Crysis 2 issue... Gamespy hasn't been mentioned in any other dispactches that I've read on this issue.

    Apart from that, there's very little substance within here that I can see - the corporate culture of non-answers does get a little tiring at times.

    While I love Steam, competition is great also. I just hope I don’t have to offer a different online digital distribution system every time I want to play a game from a different developer. Who knows maybe with competition we will even see some additional pressure on the localised pricing issue.

    EA really need to improve the Origin service if they ever want me to use it. I just finished playing Mass Effect 2 that I got via EA Download Manager initially (free with DA2), this was a kinda annoying program that seemed to provide nothing extra. It was then "upgraded" to Origin without any input from me, when this was done it actually broke the overlay, so you lost the ability to Shift-F1 (or whatever hotkey you set up) to a web browser and stuff like that (not that it worked that well anyway, but it was better then nothing). I also decided to buy some DLC for ME2, but you can't simply do that through the app, instead you go to the Bioware Social site, then add Bioware points to you wallet, then buy your DLC (one at a time, there is no "cart"), then download a SINGLE .exe file for each bit of DLC you purchased (a single .exe files is a horrible way to package stuff, especially when it's 1.5GB in size), then you install that DLC on your PC like any other application, then you run ME2 again, and need to log into the Cerberus Network so it can verify your DLC (which for some reason NEVER worked when I first opened the game). That is FAR to much effort/hassle to simply get some DLC, Origin added NOTHING to the experience at all, it was just another step in the process (that didn't even need to be there), compare this with how Steam can handle DLC and you can see how far behind EA is.

      while im not fond of Origin at the present time.

      one would argue that those issues are a result of the way the Bioware DLC downloads were done(same with Dragon Age Origins.

      And that hopefully with future releases they use Origin/Steam as a content delivery method instead of the terrible system they were using.

        Yeah I'm aware it's very much a BioWare problem with how they do DLC, but BioWare has been a part of EA for years now, these are the kind of things they should really be looking to improve by providing new services (such as Origin).

          Bioware did in-game DLC purchase (with points rather than dollars, which is probably why it doesn't violate Steam's terms) in Dragon Age Origins. Should have been a smooth process, but it had technical issues. And rather than fix it, they went backwards with ME2 and DA2 and reverted to the torturous process Cameron describes (and he is NOT exaggerating!)

    Dead Space 2 on Origin, $80. Dead Space 2 on Steam, $70. Dead Space 2 from ozgameshop $32.

    Excluding the fact the Origin and Steam prices are for the AU stores, I think I'll just stick with physical copies.

    Why are EA games more expensive on their EXCLUSIVE service than they are on Steam, their competition. Way to shoot yourselves in the foot EA.

      Hell, I'll even take it one step further... Dead Space 2 $69 at GAME, and $45 at EB Games... You know your digital distribution model fails when it's nearly twice the price of EB Games.

        http://store.steampowered.com/app/47780/?snr=1_4_4__13

        Dead space 2 US steam store 29.99

        Regional pricing ruins everything especially because it seems on australian steam prices rarely go down even in comparison to the US price.

        I mean it's dropped 20 USD in the US, wheres our 20USD drop in australia

          Yep, like I said, Regional pricing aside, it's all still rediculous.

          Because not everyone has the means to buy from the US store, you have to look at it based on the costs of the average consumer.

          Maybe Mark can ask EA for us :P

    I don't think EA's aim is to 'beat' Steam, they just seem to want to give gamers another option.

    If they did want to become No.1, I think they would need to take some big risks, such as make Origin required for any EA title and/or make Origin the only digital distribution option for EA titles.

    Sure they would alienate a lot of gamers but I'm sure there are many gamers who don't give crap and just want to play their 'AAA' titles.

    It is interesting to note that Origin's Australian Store uses AUD pricing and has "including GST" against all its prices.

    This may not matter in the battle for the US market, but if they're charging GST and not letting us benefit from the exchange rate, then they're doomed down here.

    I just hate that I have to register a physical retail game on Steam before I can play it. Then I can't lend that game to anyone else unless they log in as me.
    Its a massive pain in the a55.

    Origin: no longer creating worlds...

    So in the Digital Distribution Witcher 2 article it says that "the local offices of EA, Activision, etc – they’ll say that the decision is made overseas." and here David DiMartini says "With prices we work with our various territories and our sales people are way more knowledgeable on that matter. The local guys are probably in the best position to discuss that." Wonderful EA.

    I can tell as an South American user that Origin's is BAD. Prices are in Euros (we are not Europe EA) and very few games available, while in Steam I can buy in USD (a lot cheaper than euros) and 95% of games available. FY EA!

    Only thing i'm worried about at this stage is the DLCs and whether EA will make exclusive ones only provided via Origin.

      EA tried to make weapon DLC for BF3 exclusive to retailers. You can bet your bottom dollar there will be origin exclusive DLC

    It's good that Steam now has competition and therefore has to improve its service (always a good thing) to stay on top but...it's EA.

      This is a bullshit argument. Since steam has been out, it's done NOTHING but improve it's service. Off the top of my head, steam sales, improved security, cross-playform mac play and the new 'free-to-play' features have been added in the last year.

      Origin wont force steam to improve it's service because it is ALREADY constantly striving to improve itself. Origin is just selfish EA wank that refuse to admit steam's merits because they didn't think of it first.

        Well no, Origin specifically won't force Steam to improve the service cause expecting EA to have good customer services is dumb. But Steam still has a long way to go in terms of improving DRM measures (checking every ten offline tries is annoying and it really feels like I'm renting the game from steam) as well as connection issues (does steam have a fix yet for that cannot connect error beyond deleting random files and crossing your fingers?). But a competitive digital distribution store can force Steam to improve prices. GoG gave Australians a chance to bypass region price increases by allowing them to change location (doesn't check IP), not to mention being DRM free- if GoG was a more competitive source of games then Steam would have to start improving as well to keep up.

          I mean, kudos to Valve for constantly trying to improving Steam on their own- but, let's face it, a lot of the more intrusive features are things they'll never fix until a competitive digital distribution store does it.

          First off, what is this ten offline tries thing? Second, the connection errors are so unbelievably uncommon and random that fixing the issue would be a waste of time for everyone.

          Secondly, GoG wouldn't be able to offer those same things if they were a competitive source of games. The reason publishers are more lenient with GoG is because there catalogue is comprised of old bargain bin priced games (with the exception of The Witcher) where sales are so minimal that the leniency is worthwhile to encourage almost non-existent sales.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now