When EA Games president Frank Gibeau touted Origin, the company's restructured download service, as the next “worldwide leader in digital publishing,” it was easily evident that the publisher/developer powerhouse issued a direct challenge to Valve's gargantuan online platform Steam.
The latest salvo came with the removal of blockbuster shooter Crysis 2 from the Steam store for its sudden violation of the terms of service, a suspicious occurrence given its publisher's recent push for more exclusive titles in its own shop.
EA wants a divorce — and just like the real deal, the process might become pretty messy.
EA's intentions constitute a bold business decision that leverages the company's powerful accumulation of successful franchises. And more digital distribution platforms foster stronger competition and better prices for consumers…at least in theory.
It seems Origin's destiny lies in a happy coexistence with Steam, complete with rainbows and doe-eyed puppy dogs. Cue the acoustic guitar. Roll credits.
In reality, however, Origin's purpose proves far more complex (and slightly more diabolical) than a counterpart to Steam. Instead of providing the same level of social tools that Steam offers, Origin's only incarnation as a required component for nearly the entirety of EA's library results in a massive headache for computer gamers.
Installing a separate store client simply for obtaining a single company's games doesn't bring more choice into the market — it bestows a higher degree of control over pricing and content delivery than ever before, effectively leashing customers into abiding by the rules if they crave access.
Yet, EA's shrewdness becomes painfully acute after appraising this entire issue. It knows it's sitting on a sizable gold pile of profits via its triple threat of coveted franchises: Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Players will (probably) flock to these games in droves; TOR's potential user base of thousands — if not millions — ensures Origin's propagation throughout a significant portion of the community, and both ME3 and BF3's dedicated following are firmly embedded within EA's core consumer demographic.
Admittedly, Origin's odds of usurping Steam's reign look rather dim. But even though EA's ambition often eclipses its wisdom, one can't help but acknowledge the popularity (and in many cases, high quality) of its software.
Time will tell, but for now, consider this divorce in progress.