Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Dear Origin, You Stink

Shamus Young | 20 Jan 2012 21:00
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I am on record as saying that I would like for Steam to have a worthy rival in the digital distribution market. Nothing against them, but a little competition is good for us. The problem is, very few companies have the clout, the cash, and the connections to build a proper competitor to Steam. Microsoft does, but Games for Windows LIVE is a comprehensive failure and has been so for years. They don't care. There are a few other smaller players who have interesting approaches to a digital marketplace (I might talk about them in another column) but there isn't anyone in the same weight class as Valve. So now we look to EA's Origin service to see if they're up to the job.

I would like to offer the following advice directly to the people running Origin, in hopes that they will bring balance to the digital market:

Dear Origin,

For brevity, I'm not going to pick on Origin from a technical standpoint. Yes, your game install mechanics are clunky, your system of installing DLC is reportedly horrible (disclosure: I haven't tried it myself) and you're missing a lot of features that Steam users take for granted. I'm not even going to get into detail about your creepy and borderline predatory data-harvesting. We can leave these issues for another time, because you have problems that can't be fixed with a simple patch.

Remember that Steam entered an empty room in 2004. Yes, their early days were a mess of bugs and frustration. They could afford it, because they weren't facing a mature and deeply entrenched rival in the marketplace. Your customers - the people who buy EA games on the PC - already have Steam accounts. Some of them have libraries of dozens or even hundreds of games. They have friends lists and achievements and Steam is already a part of their computer. They don't see a need for you. You have to approach them in such a way that they will be willing to set all of that aside and begin building a new library on your service.

You seem to be operating under the idea that, "If we build it, they will come". The problem is, someone did build it. Seven years ago. Building it is no longer enough. Now you must build it and bribe people to show up.

The first thing you need to fix is your complete lack of a catalog. Why does Steam have Jade Empire and Knights of the Old Republic, and you don't? Where are the indie games? I find it hard to believe that Electronic Arts is having this much trouble finding people interested in their digital shelf space. If someone gets out their old copy of American McGee's Alice and discovers the disc is scratched, it's better that they come to Origin and give you $5 for it, as opposed to just trading for it at a used game swap. You make a little money, and your customer becomes that much more invested in their Origin game library.

Speaking of five bucks: You really need to open up Steam during a sale and take careful notes. As of this writing, Steam has almost 600 games for under $5. I couldn't find any such games on Origin. (Not saying they don't exist, but if they do they're rare.) Even your really old games are sitting at a $20 baseline, as if you're worried about covering the cost of printing manuals and burning discs. Start thinking digitally.

It takes willpower to avoid dropping money when I look at the Steam store, because everything is so dang cheap. I went into Origin this week specifically looking for something to buy so I could try out your service for this article, and I didn't see a single thing I wanted. I either owned it already, or you were asking way too much.

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