Monday, September 24, 2012

We Won't Be Doing That

  Valve Software, maker of hit games like Half-Life, Portal, and Team Fortress, has revolutionized the distribution model for PC gaming with their Steam online store and gaming client. Much to the chagrin of traditional game publishers like industry giant Electronic Arts, the success of the Steam online service has proven large scale online distribution of PC games to be not only viable, but wildly successful. Go figure.

  You mean people would rather just be able to download any game they want, whenever they feel like it, sitting in their pajamas in the comfort of their own home? Yes, yes we would. At the time of this writing, during the day, on a Monday, Steam has 5.3 million concurrent users online. EA Games (the largest video game publisher in the world) has grown to appreciate the market position that Steam occupies after years of selling their games on Steam; so much that they cooked up a copycat service of their own, and named it Origin

  I have had a Steam account since a time when the only games available on it were Half-Life and Counter-Strike. Things have changed a lot over the years. These days, if a publisher doesn't have their games available on Steam, they are at a distinct disadvantage.

  In the summer of 2011 (after the launch of Origin) EA and Valve had some issues which lead to several of EA's top game titles being pulled from Steam, and offered exclusively on Origin. One of the games that got pulled was the state-of-the-art shooter: Crysis 2. Game developer Crytek then went to work making the necessary changes in order to get "Crysis 2: Maximum Edition" (back) on the Steam store, despite EA being their publisher. That was a smart move by the folks at Crytek.

  Now don't get me wrong, competition is good. The fact that game clients like Origin, BigFish, and others like them exist is a good thing for the progress of the industry. Besides, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? However, EA has made a point of mentioning the ways they want Origin to be different from Steam. Which brings me to the humorous portion of today's blog:

* June 6, 2012 *

"David DeMartini is Senior Vice President of Global E-commerce for Electronic Arts, and that means that EA's much-maligned Origin digital distribution service is his baby."

Steve Peterson ( One of the things that Steam does is this random deep-discounting of software, and it works well for them. Do you see that as something you want to do?

David DeMartini (EA): We won't be doing that. Obviously they think it's the right thing to do after a certain amount of time. I just think it cheapens your intellectual property. I know both sides of it, I understand it. If you want to sell a whole bunch of units, that is certainly a way to do that, to sell a whole bunch of stuff at a low price. The gamemakers work incredibly hard to make this intellectual property, and we're not trying to be Target. We're trying to be Nordstrom. When I say that, I mean good value - we're trying to give you a fair price point, and occasionally there will be things that are on sale you could look for a discount, just don't look for 75 percent off going-out-of-business sales.

Steve Peterson ( Strategically, what's important for you over the next year? Any specifics?

David DeMartini (EA)
  ...Most importantly, cross-platform. You probably don't just game on a PC or just on an Xbox; we're playing on PS3, we're on Xbox, we're on PC, we're on social, we're on mobile, and we want to be the centerpiece, the hub, where all those achievements on all of those platforms come together. Because that's how you challenge amongst your friends. ...Origin has the opportunity, being platform-agnostic, to be that centerpiece, to be that hub.
[ source ]

* September 20, 2012 *

"EA is offering six Battlefield titles for $10 each, only through Origin and only for today."

"To celebrate the 10th anniversary of EA's Battlefield series, the publisher is now selling select Battlefield PC games for $10 each. The drawback is that the discount is only through EA's Origin platform, and the sale is only for today. Sorry console junkies, you're not included in the discount."
[ source ]

  Oh what a difference 4 months can make. It seems that being the "centerpiece" of the gaming universe means (most importantly) protecting console gamers from getting their hands on your flagship FPS title for $10.

  A quick check of the game's official website shows the normal price of Battlefield 3 at $59.99. Now I'm no rocket scientist, but according to my math, that means EA just had an 83% off "going-out-of-business" sale, as Mr. DeMartini put it. Consider EA's Battlefield franchise, in their own esteemed opinion, officially "cheapened".

  The current installment of a well known game franchise is usually excluded from heavy discounts for quite a while, even on Steam. Perhaps EA is feeling the squeeze from taking so many of their headline products and hiding them in a corner. See, competition is good.

  So anyway, it's like they say: if you can't beat them, act like you are better than them, eat your words, and then join them. ;)