Origin: Why rivalling Steam is a bad idea

So, EA have launched Origin as a service to rival Steam, the digital distribution platform for games. As a company that likes money, preferably lots of it, their reasons for launching a rival service are hardly a secret, and it’s not really all that surprising that they’ve started removing some of their bigger games from Steam, but here are a few reasons why I think it’s a mistake.

First of all, the convenience. I’ve never been particularly reluctant to use Steam, even back when it started with Half-Life 2, but as the service expanded it actually became a convenient place to “store” games. Launching HL2 was a chore when you had to open an application to run an application, but when you have 150 games on an piece of software that runs in the background it isn’t annoying anymore.

Third-party publishers’ games appearing on the Steam store ensured its success. I launch Steam before I even know what I’m going to play on when using the PC, and if I could, I’d run all my games through Steam*. It’s become a games hub. Unless Origin (formerly “The EA store”) starts accepting third-party publishers (or more importantly, get them to choose Origin over Steam) then it will be like the early days of Steam forever. Or until every game is published by EA, but that might be a while off.

Secondly, the bar is too high. Steam launched eight years ago and is now unrecognisable from the version that originally launched. It’s easy to use, and has now become synonymous with the incredible sales that appear from time to time. How do you beat that? You probably don’t.

Now, I haven’t looked at the actual software for Origin yet, so it may be a joy to use, but based on previous EA Store sales I know that it won’t become irresistible to gamers who love a bargin. In fact, the whole ‘games hub’ aspect mentioned above ties in closely with the sales. I have to talk myself out of buying games sometimes, as I often want them so they’re in ‘the collection’.

Origin may add features that Steam doesn’t have, but in all honesty, I don’t see what they could add that Steam needs. Part of it’s brilliance is in it’s simplicity: the store and the library are the only two parts I ever use – one section for buying games, one section playing games. Sorted.

Finally, we don’t want a rival to Steam. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good, and while it’s often nice to have choice that isn’t what this is; Origin isn’t an optional piece of software for EA games, it’s essential for some (and no doubt, eventually all) of their games.

There will be people who won’t buy games because of this service. I don’t own that many EA games on PC and in all honesty, I’d be in no rush to buy any if it means messing around with an unnecessary application. I’m not stupid enough to boycott it though, it’s not much of a protest when a few million other people will go ahead and use it anyway.

That said, maybe EA have a few surprises in store. Third-party games would change things, however unlikely it is, and it’s very early days, so it’s definitely too early to guarantee it’s failure, especially for a company of EA’s size. And let’s face it, it can’t be any worse than Games for Windows Live.

* I’m aware that it’s possible to add games installed outside Steam, but that sort of defeats the objective.

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