Since its announcement and subsequent inclusion as a pre-requisite to play Battlefield 3, EA’s re-branded online store, Origin, has been causing plenty of discussion. Opponents argue that Steam already serves as an online digital distribution service, as well as a match-making system, day-one DRM system and game browser; with Steam already providing these services, why must EA force Origin on us?[break]
It’s certainly a fair point, but one that forgets that Steam is lurching nearer and nearer to a monopoly. A victim of its own success and Valve’s forward thinking, it dwarfs the nearest digital distribution competitors such as Direct2Drive, and has the added benefit of driving more and more users to its doors with Steamworks DRM being integrated into games such as Football Manager 2012 and The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.
The result is a service that, unchecked, is speeding towards a monopoly of the PC gaming digital distribution market, and it’s one that needs competition.
Click to enlarge - BF3 might be the first game that requires Origin, but it certainly won't be the last
Of course, Origin is a bit rough right now; it's still a fledgling system, but it’s already remarkably robust. You’re able to register old EA games to it, in the same way as you’d register Steamworks games to Steam and, as the Battlefield 3 beta is proving, its social and friend systems are fairly solid too. It even managed to cope with the huge data demand of the BF3 beta client, which is testament to EA’s forward planning; some might recall Steam grinding to a halt on the launch day of Half-Life 2 as millions of gamers all tried to download the game at once.
However, while EA is large enough to pull off its own, sole store/DRM/distribution service, it’s perhaps the only publisher that's capable of such a feat. Ubisoft’s laughably poor attempts with Uplay have only served to enrage gamers, and THQ’s re-launched ShopTHQ
is similarly out of touch. Even the might of Activision would struggle with its own similar service; outside of Call of Duty, its PC portfolio is surprisingly weak. Basically, the market just can’t cope with every publisher creating its own service and is in danger of over-fragmenting, not to mention driving customers insane
However, there's certainly enough room for two sufficiently supported and fully-equipped services such as Steam and Origin, and for those arguing that Origin is yet another program to have to install, I’d suggest you look at the online chat market; it’s not uncommon to use two or more services, including Windows Live, Google Talk, Skype, AIM and the dozens of other online communication services, yet few complain about the individual advantages of each service. Hopefully Origin and Steam can manage to similarly compete, and co-exist, to the eventual benefit of customers.