Origin and Steam – Tweedledum and Tweedledee

So EA’s Peter Moore has asked gamers to give them another 18 months to two years to sort out the problematic Origin service – the one that most PC users are obligated to use for games like The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3.

And in a separate and yet simultaneous move of utter lunacy, he went on to add;

“It’s an open platform. There is nothing I would love more than to have Valve’s – everybody’s games. We’re talking to every publisher, as you can imagine.”

I agree that healthy competition is a good thing in any market – when one brand becomes especially dominant, that is often when things go a little awry – with no threat from rivals to your market share, things change and develop at a slower pace. This, in a lot of ways, explains away my previous post on the speed of the pace in the app store. Competition is good – too much is bad, too little is bad. Healthy competition is good.

However, EA are correct that Steam definitely isn’t perfect; it goes without saying, because whilst it is a very good platform, often the sales deals are cyclical and limited to blow-out sales three or four times a year, rather than putting many really good games on offer all year round. And when it was released originally, there were many laments that it was both restrictive and unusable – both leveled at EA’s Origin service.

But the cheek is saying they would be happy to have Valve’s games on Origin, when they themselves have pulled their games from Valve’s Steam service.

This is an example of having ones cake and eating it; not that that makes sense, but let us just use that line here. EA want everyone to have their games available through Origin; yet they themselves have taken active steps to limit where their own games are on sale. The net result? Valve will likely tell them, “We can’t have your games, you can’t have ours. Deal with it.”

And it will be this fundamental disagreement which may spell the end for both platforms, when you realise that GameStop have their own service where both co-exist – the Impulse service. This service appears to circumvent both platforms, and may in the future end up a viable and interesting alternative to both. Other store attempting this are Gamefly (formerly Direct2Drive) and GamersGate.

If EA and Steam are not careful, this disagreement in ownership and who owns what rights to what content will end up turning many off, rather than allowing them both to provide a decent service. Especially when neutral companies are more than happy to provide an alternative solution to the issue at hand.

It is a deeply worrying scenario; Origin needs more than development, it needs EA to look long and hard at what it is doing, and what it is asking, if it wants to remain even remotely relevant in the market. Equally, Steam is quite restrictive in regards to DLC and extra content, and unless it takes a more relaxed approach and attitude to it, it may find some games won’t be released on it – because some publishers will go elsewhere where they can monetise their product with the maximum amount of efficiency.

So, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Two services having a bit of a spat over something pretty insignificant, and yet it is a spat that could prove damaging to both if they aren’t careful.

We should all have a choice – and that means EA needs to let its games on Steam, for those of us with a list of games in it that frankly looks embarrassingly long, and Valve by token could allow some of their games on Origin in recompense. It is a simple solution that benefits both and allows them to both remain competitive.

But it is a bit odd in terms of business sense, so I expect to see this escalate.

Me? I’ll wait. I came to Mass Effect late, I’ll admit it, so I’m not too worried about waiting to see what becomes of the game in the coming months.

Hopefully when I do, EA and Valve will have agreed a compromise.

At least, I hope so, for both their sakes…

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