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

Image: EA

EA’s new service, Origin, has been at the centre 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.

Image: EA

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.”

Image: EA

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.”

Image: Valve

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.


    heres the thing, the EA downloader (now origin) isnt as good as steam, but it sure as hell is a fuckload better and easier and with no issues compared to mircoshaft's gamesforwankerslive bullshit.

    I've got no qualms with Origin itself, in fact, it's better to have competition (you know... because of a free market and all), which will strive to make the existing choices better themselves, even though as it's shaping up, Steam wont really have to change that much... Some guys here are seriously starting to sound like John D. Rockefeller "Competition is a sin."

    Anyway, there are plenty of options out there for you if you dont like one service (such as buying the game from the store and manually adding it to your Steam account, for example), so I say bring on the Competition (and bring on a third party service that melds them all together into the one program :P).

    “We want to provide choice and choice is better,”

    Bullshit. If you truly wanted to provide 'choice', you wouldn't have removed your games from steam (or rather, made some bullshit change to your DLC policty that forced steam to remove your games due to their own completely transparent policies)

    F*** origin and f*** fuck EA. If BF3 forces me to use origin, I simply won't buy it.

      It was a deal with Crytek and GameSpy that resulted in Crysis 2 being removed...

        And CryTek have a major relationship with EA.

        You really think EA wouldn't know about this? That they wouldn't have let this happen if they didn't want it? Pfft.

    How bout asking them why they're price gouging Australians even more on Origin than they did on Steam?

      That question was asked.

        any chance you can use your ace reporting skills to talk to the moron responsibile for it

        Coming next year

        Mark Serrels: Ace Reporter

    This guy on Youtube made a video about this a few days, and he makes a few good points:

    A comment on it reads:

    "EA is claimed that they were forced to sign new terms of service that were "unreasonable" so Steam removed the games in question... EA refused to divulge said term, implying it could be detrimental to their position (its Steams Fault) if revealed. My Guess is that Steam added a clause preventing EA from yanking the game and making it exclusive to Origin so EA/Crytek refused to sign, forcing Valve to yank it instead as they could no longer keep it on Steam legally."

    This comment could be right. EA doesn't want you to have "choice". No big company wants consumers to have "choice". Ask yourselves this:

    Does Activision want you to have it with you paying monthly fees for multiplayer features if you don't want to be stuck with a watered-down version of it?

    Does Microsoft want you to have it with a broken-ass, DRM filled system like GFWL?

    Does EA want you to have it with Origin and volunteer you to atrocious terms of use and privacy statements and force you to use another client just to play a handful of games?

    Do either of the above want you to have it by either taking content off the disc and marketing it as "Day 1 DLC" so you pay even more money, as if $120 wasn't enough? Or better yet, putting this "DLC" on the disc but making you pay extra to access it? Or even paying extra to buy an "Online Pass" just to access online features if you buy a preowned copy of said game?

    Think about this.

    "That's not our intention?"

    Maybe next time tell him to answer the friggen question.

    I don't care what your "intentions" are, what are you going to do.

    Are you or are you not going to have BF3 on Steam for pre-order.

    Simple question. Doesn't need a BS answer.

    Any word on the Crysis 2 competition from last year?

    Excellent Headline BTW - I LOLed!

    What I love is that EA shafts us with all these really bad ports of their console games and then tries to then force us into using this platform that like most EA things they will stop supporting after a year and then wander why people continue to pirate from them.

    I'll take Origin pre-EA takeover instead thanks.

    "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."

    First of all, what is this based on, and how is this any different to the way people interact on Steam?

    If your choice is where to buy, that's great. If your choice is buy or don't buy, but only from one place, that's not exactly choice.

    (Note: Where to 'buy'. There may not be any buying going on at all.)

    Can you guys just put the game in steam community
    and how can we play Battlefield 3 beta on September?
    We need steam. Steam opened in 2004 so just put the game steam.

    Can you guys just put the game on steam? And how we play beta version of Battlefield 3 in September? We need steam because billions of people play steam games.

    Im kind of sick as a buyer of a game having to put up with DRm whilst knowing peeps who pirate wont.

    Its the same stupidity that means people who buy dvds are the ones watching the 2 minutes of crap before getting to the thing they bought.

    Cutting through many layers of crap, this is your ideas on how t make gaming better.

    Steams good as its what weve got, its not perfect.

    Fanboys should realise they do more harm than good. When you simply chant praises and scream down legit criticism, you weaken the brand not strengthen it.

    Its like the console wars never ended.

    Few people mentioned GOG, to my mind they are the superior online retailer, if they had a wider and more recent library I would go completely through them.


    I've had such major issues with legit copies of games in the past I've resorted to pirating a game I own just to get around all the crap you force on us. Ubisoft, you are the worst.

    Please.. please don't make MORE of this mandatory.
    Because pretty soon you'll lose my business altogether.

    I just don't want to be locked to a specific client to play a specific game :/
    If I choose Steam to play, so be it.
    If I choose Origin, so be it.

    I tried Origin and actually liked it. You don't have to have it running in the background to play your game. It's almost like I installed from disk just with no disk cluttering up my drawer.

    That being said I don't have anything against steam either. Back in the day when I first bought a box copy of hl2 I was ticked that I had to install steam in order to play it. That actually still ticks me off but because of the sales they constantly have it's just a minor inconvenience. Don't think I've bought a full priced game in over a year.

    Both allow you to back up your game files. Origin you can actually backup the install file and I don't know for sure but I guess you could then burn to disk and have a physical install disk. I really like that. Steam does have install problems sometimes.

    I dont really care what happens as long as their is some sort of competition to steam.

    Although I admit I like steam and how they keep pushing out features and good sale prices. Competition wouldnt hurt them at all.

    Plus how come no one complains that Valve games arnt available on Impulse or Origin or whatever else there is. Yet EA do it and they are the big bad mean company.

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