Why EA Will Come Crawling Back to Valve

Dragon Age II is the second (mediocre) EA effort to disappear from Valve's Steam store. Good riddance, I says...

Vaporware

Recent reports seem to indicate that Electronic Arts is pulling some of its titles from Steam, namely Crysis 2 and Dragon Age II to start, with others potentially pulled in the future. While according to EA this is due to Valve imposing restrictions on how EA may market DLC to customers, there is quite a lot of grumbling from the ranks about how this is simply a way for EA to beckon users to their new Origin service, which is essentially their own version of Steam that only sells EA games.

To start, I’ve had dealings with the problems of EA’s DLC with Mass Effect 2 (still on Steam, by the way). Rather than have the DLC available through the Steam service, EA thought I would like it more to have to go to BioWare’s site, sign up for an account on their forum and then purchase points, and then use those points to purchase DLC (oh, and the transaction took about three days). Frankly, I don’t like the “points” systems that Microsoft and EA offer. Having to purchase DLC from a source different from the one I purchased my game from? Ridiculous. Having to purchase packs of points even though I only want to buy one item? Well, I’m either going to have some left over or have to spend it on something else. I’ve still got 100 Wii Points sitting unused since nothing in the Wii marketplace costs that little.

In the common tongue, this is what is referred to as a “massive pain in the ass”.

In my opinion, it’s a better idea to have your game and additional content available for purchase all in the same place, which I think is what Valve is going for. I’m guessing that what EA wants is to be able to direct gamers to their own sales services, which I think Valve is within their rights to refuse. Steam is, after all, Valve’s proprietary virtual sales floor. I don’t imagine Best Buy would be too pleased if you went into their store and tried to persuade customers to go to Fry’s to buy CDs.

The chief problem with EA’s Origin service to me is that, if successful, it could create a very different and very bad environment for PC gamers. If every game company decides to open their own online stores and dictate their own prices, then we’re largely in the same boat as console gamers. Steam has won over the PC crowd through things like its excellent service, its openness to smaller independent games, and its frequent sales. Valve is a business as much as any other, but they have won the trust of their fans through quality products, services, and fair prices.

I’ve seen EA make both questionable and way-too-safe decisions too many times to think that Origin will amount to much. Whether it’s yearly Madden rehashes, the gradual destruction of the Command & Conquer series, or…the Sims in general, EA has shown that they are not ones to take risks. In fact, it comes off as kind of hilarious in hindsight that they’re so concerned about restrictive terms, considering their DRM debacle with Spore and other titles. They’re simply jumping on the digital distribution bandwagon because they stand to profit slightly more than they do when operating with Valve as the distributor/middleman.

It’s all well and good for a business like EA to try and make money (like George Lucas, enough to fill the Grand Canyon with one dollar bills is not nearly enough), but they’re also pretty much digital distribution virgins. Valve has been doing this for years, and they’ve ironed out most of the burrs. If Origin is the only way to get Mass Effect 3 and Battlefield 3, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but the way I see it, Electronic Arts is going to have all their games (even crap like Dragon Age II) back on Steam within the next year. I think they’re jumping into a marketplace they don’t fully understand and have little to no experience with. In any case, Steam still has 2K, Activision, THQ, and a bevy of other publishers on hand. It’s in no danger of going anywhere.

We’ll just have to wait and see how long until EA comes back.


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