PC Gamer Vitriol Subsiding, EA Promises Origin Will Be Excellent Within Two Years

Less than a year ago, EA told PC gamers it would give them something that many PC gamers probably thought they didn't need: a competitor to Steam.

Another PC storefront for downloading games.

Another PC service for connecting PC gamers.

Another thing to install and… wait, where'd the EA games go on Steam?

EA's service is called Origin. It's been notorious. But now EA can tell you that it's popular. And the man who has most championed it, the company's chief operating officer and number two exec, Peter Moore, tells Kotaku that after a rocky launch and major customer scepticism, he's sure EA will get Origin right.

"If you go back and dust off the transcripts of when Steam first came out, it had the same reaction," Moore told me during an interview at an EA Showcase in New York City. "People didn't like it. You were obligated." [Note from Stephen: here's a 2004 Steam Sucks thread. And here's another.]

But Valve boss Gabe Newell made sure his crew kept improving it. "They provided, over the years -- to Gabe and the team's credit -- value to the gamer. Those first 12 months were very rocky."

Origin is less than a year old. It's mandatory to play Battlefield 3 and encouraged for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Four out of 10 players of The Old Republic use it. Origin lets you chat with friends but has no message boards. It mostly just sells games. It's got 9.5 million registered users, as of last week, who have spent some $US100 million on in-store transactions.

And it exists why?

"We felt the PC business was having a little bit of a renaissance," Moore told me, "and we felt great opportunity with both Star Wars and Battlefield. Mass Effect to come. That this was the time to build out a true platform."

Moore says Origin will help EA improve its connection to PC gamers as EA, in general, takes a more active role in selling stuff directly to gamers at the right price and frequency in the right way (i.e. the kind of access they wish they had to console gamers but don't because Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are in their way).

Getting close to gamers has its downside, and that is what has been freaking some gamers out who see Origin as a way to get way too close to a gamer's life. This is big-conglomerate EA we're talking about. (As opposed to big-conglomerate Sony or Microsoft, EA might say; but the comparison is still, for consumers, to the cozier Valve).

"We need to continue to add social layers so there is value to the consumer," Moore said, "so it doesn't feel like, in their words, 'something that is mandatory that I don't want.' And it got off to a rocky start for all the wrong reasons which were mostly inaccurate: accusations of spyware. The EULA… We were clearly focused on by some folks who said, 'We don't like this. How can we start picking things apart?'"

All criticisms of a new thing can't be invalid. They can't all be coming from anti-EA axe-grinders, and Moore knows this.

He also believes that Origin is already past the worst criticism it's going to get. "It's quieted down," he said. "I don't think you see the initial level of vitriol. And I've been in gaming long enough [that I know that] if you try to add something that's different and particularly if you add the layer that it's EA and everything that goes with it."

It didn't help EA's goodwill that they named their Steam competitor after a beloved old game development studio that the company bought and then shut down, I pointed out to Moore.

He said Origin's name was not meant to refer to the old Ultima creators at Origins Systems. "I'm in Silicon Valley and the [new product] names have become unpronounceable because they've run out of real names," he said. "I felt it was a great name. We knew we could protect it, which in the world we live in, is job one."

EA's latest push on Origin is to add more games from third-party publishers. They're up to 21 of them, including THQ, Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment and Capcom.

It's unlikely that EA rival Activision will ever show up there. But what about Valve? "It's an open platform," Moore replied. "There is nothing I would love more than to have Valve's… everybody's games. We're talking to every publisher, as you can imagine.

"I think it's healthy for the industry to have more opportunities to go, if you will, to shop around, to find different things that you like, different content. The more stores there are for me in the mall, the more entertaining it is. Sometimes my wife will drag me to a little boutique mall that's got like eight stores. [groans] I like the gamut. I like choice."

For Origin to be a choice that gamers don't resent it will have to be more than mandatory or heavily-promoted. It will have to be a great service that offers obvious value. Steam currently does that. Moore knows Origin needs to step it up.

"It's one of those things where I would ask give us 18 months to two years. And if we sit here two years from now, start looking at it then," he said. "I think the ability to have your own direct platform with the consumer is going to be very important in the digital world going forward."


Comments

    My problem with Origin is never going to be it's quality, it definitely needs to improve but I doubt any amount of improving will ever convince me to use it.

    1. Games Library Software like Steam and Origin are from a customer view point a convenience service. It's a convenient way to purchase games and it's a convenient way to store and manage your ever expanding library of games. There is however, nothing convenient from having to use two separate Game Libraries, in fact I'm fairly certain that's what you might call an inconvenience.

    2. Even if I wasn't already an extensive user of Steam and both systems were of equal ability I'd still go with Steam because I just don't trust EA. Valve have worked hard to build a reputation of looking out for and valuing their customers. EA on the other hand has shown that it will always chase the money first and customer satisfaction second.

    3. None of the reasons EA have come forward with about pulling their games from Steam sound true. It's not a big deal (and somewhat connected to problem 2) but if they came forward and just admitted that it's a straight up marketing ploy to get more Origin users then I'd be less inclined to view EA and Origin with such distrust.

      Yeah agreed. I had discussions with my older brother on point 3. The timing was a little too convenient to ignore.

      #conspiracytheories :P

        This. Especially #1 for me. I wish less people supported Origin, and EA would give up on it and put everything back on Steam. And then make their multiplayer games with Steamworks.

    If hes all for having more opportunities to shop around, why have they pulled a heap of their games from Steam? I then cant shop around for their titles, theres "only one shop in the mall" so to speak that I can buy them from.

    I love how EA are trying to paint the numbers of people using Origin with positive spin.. If you could play EA games without installing Origin, I think we'd see the numbers far lower than they currently are - especially when you factor in that Origin Australia is just as expensive as EB or Game for a digital download, despite the $A being stronger than the $US..

      Are those prices the same for EA games as well? Cuz it's EA games on an EA platform, kinda strange that they have those same prices as EB and Game too considering they own the digital distribution platform and not selling it through a third party.

        See for yourself...
        http://store.origin.com/store/eaapac/en_AU/home/ThemeID.850400/ccRef.en_US
        http://imgur.com/5U2lP

      What I find rather interesting is that on Origin Kingdoms of Amalur is $90 but on Steam it's $60. I'm not sure if that's a mistake or if it's intentional what it means.

      It's interesting enough for me that Amalur is on Steam at all. Apparently "direct connection" with the customer is only important when the product is an already proven big money franchise.

    The problem for me is that instead of learning from the mistakes of Steam EA has gone ahead and is simply happy to drag their customers through the learning curve again.

    I also agree with RantOClocks comment that people wont trust EA, especially given the TOS issues they have had so far.

    I have Origin, I even bought Dragon Age II on it in a bit of misguideness as it was cheap enough at $8, but I'd have padi $15 for it on Steam...I dont mind it but I dont like the exclusive content. I'd like to get games where I want them. I'd probably own Crysis 2 if it was on steam, but its price on origin hasnt made it worth it to me yet. I have it but virtuially never boot it up, so we will see what happens.

    It shouldn't take 2 years! You've had more than enough time to see how Steam does it and now you come out with all the same mistakes they made 7 years ago and then give us a huge 2 year forecast to let us know you're gonna patch it all up?

    Not only that EA but I hope you're prepared to compete with Steams holiday sales, there are a lot of PC gamers that ONLY buy during this period because the super-low prices offset the digital DRM and game-rental service that is digital distribution.

      If they can use that excuse for why SWTOR is lacking features compared to WoW then I don't see why they can't use it for any other product they sell :p

    Hang on... he says give Origin 2 years to get to the stage Steam was a few years back, but does he think Valve will be suddenly resting on their laurels for that time? I'm interested to see what 2 years is going to do for Steam's capabilities!
    Something like Desura works because it covers niches (like alpha-funding), but for trying to encroach on Steam's territory I've barely touched Impulse outside of a Sins of a Solar Empire update! Meanwhile it's been a few years since I bought any EA or Ubi games at all!

    Umm buddy you had other clients before like that EA downloader bullcrap.
    You had time to learn from both your own products and your competitors and you did shit all.

    Try and spin it all you want Origin is still shit

    They have had just over 6 years to get their client up and running and somewhat on par with Steam and they want another 2?

    As an Australian I just want to throw yet another voice into the chorus "I'm sick of being price gouged" How do you justify doubling the price for digital distribution?

      not to mention the fact that it is all digital. not cost of shipping, no cost of physical distribution. Just a server somewhere that hosts a file that can be downloaded an infinite# of times.

    Not sure I buy in to the reasoning for giving it 2 years.

    We know steam was shit in 2004. But it's 2012. You need to be up to scratch. I remember when Age of Conan was relevant (remember that wow killer?), the forums were full of apologists over it's shitty launch (bugs, crashes, queues etc) by saying wow (and other mmos of the past) weren't very good on launch.

    Except WoW launched years earlier and had smooth launches up to and surpassing Conan's own 2008 release.

    Same deal. You can't point at the past and say it's ok because it isn't. You have to deliever a product that at least matches the competition.

    Stop price gouging us, and I might pay more attention, sure I get gouged on steam too, (still not ok) but patience can deliver on specials...unless your Activision.

    Origin might be 'ok' but OK isn't good enough, we know damn well you had to use your biggest exclusives to push the platform because no one would choose origin by choice based on it's current state.

    Give them two years, EA have had an online store almost as long as Steam's been around, why only now after all these years should we take you seriously? Oh because now it's having a renaissance.

    And there's lots of talk of value for the consumer, but it's all talk. A quick perusal of origin... Saints Row 3 for $90, FIFA 12 for $80, Dragon Age II $80, heavily advertised specials that aren't available to over 50% of their customer base. If that's value for the consumer, then I'm a monkey's uncle.

    It's quite simple really, value for the consumer isn't crappy little chat applets, or an origin exclusive t-shirt for your game character, it's competitive pricing. Without that, you're just an unpopular shop nobody wants to deal with in a crowded market.

    A few hints:
    - Lower the prices!
    - Less clunky/amateur interface
    - Have the program run as clean and quick as possible (almost ignorable)
    - Parity on price on digital only goods.
    - Genuine commitment to customers, even if that means forgoing potential revenue streams from data gathering to sell in-game advertising.

    I'm not a fan of Origin, use it for Battlefield, TOR and the Bioware stuff, but I'm glad it exists. I've had nothing but good experiences with Steam, but more competition is good. If Origin keeps its prices high, people (including me) will simply get games from Steam, which gives them incentive to match or beat Valve's price. Competition is good for all of us.

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