Could Origin’s Rise Eventually Threaten Steam?
We look at how the announcement that EA Origin has gained thirteen million users could lead to it challengng Steam and further changing the downloadable PC games market.
For all the talk over the last few years about how PC gaming is dying, and the recent indication that Valve might be looking to create a Steam Console out of sheer frustration, its been interesting to see how some big publishers like EA have decided to break into the direct download PC space dominated by Steam over the last few years – and how successful they appear to be at it. Before it launched there was a question mark over Origin’s chances of success but it seems to be going from strength to strength. Just this morning EA boss John Riccitiello claimed that Origin has become the second biggest direct to consumer game service after Steam .The service now has more than 11 million registered users, being only second to Steam, which has 35 million users. Despite the apparently rough state of the PC games market there are still serious dividends to be made in direct downloading, especially given how the retail presence of PC games often leaves a lot to be desired. For a long time no one was really tracking those sales in the UK, but in January UKIE, the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment started collating direct download charts and its been clear by the differences in the retail charts and this new chart show how vibrate that market often is. With the huge numbers involved its easy to see why EA took the risk and set up its own download service: control of that space could arguably give anyone with a big enough service huge clout over the direction of downloadable PC gaming in the future.
What’s interesting about the evolving direct download PC market is how the publishers involved have increasingly started to use the muscle they’re acquiring in contrast to Steam’s more laissez-faire approach. Steam is a service very much modelled on the traditional approach to PC gaming, more or less totally open to any publisher or developer they can do a deal with. For the most part it’s the same with story with platforms like direct2disk and GOG , just to name just a few. Publishers and developers don’t run most of these traditional companies, with the obvious exception of Steam. They have no vested interest in anything other than providing as many games from as many sources on their platforms.
Origin, being owned by EA, is of course a little different, and the publisher has already rattled its sabre on a couple of occasions – most notably over Battlefield 3, which still isn’t available on Steam due to what EA called a “set of restrictive terms of service” that limits how the company can provide patches and Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is totally exclusive to Origin. In the case of Battlefield 3 there was arguably a legitimate reason for the game to be withheld from Steam, and EA hasn’t prevented Battlefield 3 from appearing on other direct downloading services. But the digital version of Star Wars: The Old Republic is totally exclusive to Origin, and perhaps gives an indication of how the publisher might increasingly leverage these growing direct download services to their own advantage in future. It isn’t anything new, Activision Blizzard, has been doing it for a while, and you won’t be able to play or download Diablo III or the upcoming StarCraft II expansion without using it’s Battle.net service for example.
Thirteen million users is a big number and it’s easy to see how if Origin becomes big enough to mitigate the losses from freezing out other direct download services, most or all EA games could become exclusive to Origin. EA is already clearly gunning for Steam’s business with the addition of non-EA publishers like Capcom’s games on the service, and with this rise in Origin numbers more publishers are sure to follow. Few believed it could be as successful as it has been and it’ll be interesting to see whether EA will start to really try to throw its weight around in the near future in order to gain more business at Steams expense. If Origin is big enough, it has very little to lose and a great deal to gain after all. What could be problematic for gamers is that a publisher having such tight control over delivering all its games, and no other download options could mean PC gaming prices rising – something none will relish, despite the possibility of more bespoke support for products bought on a publishers service. A more open downloadable market is arguably better for gamers pockets, but today there are thirteen million more reasons that might change.