Jul 282011
 
Battlefield 3

Yesterday, DICE and EA expanded their BF3 multiplayer alpha test by inviting a seemingly large size of previous BF players (DICE/EA likes to call them “veterans”).  While giving explicit details about the alpha test is strictly forbidden, it’s been widely reported that if you were one of the few who did get an alpha code and invite, to participate in the test, which runs through August 1st, you are compelled to install Origin and link your EA account to the Origin store.  This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a publisher force a brand new download service and client on gamers just to get a highly desirable piece of content.  Remember Steam and Half-Life 2?

While it’s been confirmed that BF3 will be available for purchase from other downloadable services like Direct2Drive and Impulse, EA and Steam have been at odds which may lead to BF3 not being available on Steam.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen EA titles disappearing from Steam, most notably Crysis 2, the delayed appearance of Alice: Madness Returns and now Dragon Age II.  Both Crysis 2 and DA II were previously available and now have been pulled completely.  EA’s official word is:

“Unfortunately, Steam has adopted a set of restrictive terms of service which limit how developers interact with customers to sell downloadable content. No other download service has adopted this practice. Consequently some of our games have been removed by Steam.”

Valve hasn’t said much, if anything on these accusations, and we’ve yet to hear similar complaints from other publishers or developers (aside from standard Steam complaints).  What this almost sounds like, is Apple’s App Store guidelines for selling in-app content or subscription services.  Is it that Valve has a similar policy in place?  Could it be the DLC has to be made available through Steam, and not link through to a different marketplace which requires a separate checkout process?  You could make an argument that streamlining the experience through a single storefront benefits both the customer and obviously the storefront — but that’s a debate for a different day.

For many gamers, this issue may not matter much.  Steam isn’t exactly a perfect service and has its share of problems.  However, no matter how you feel about it, Steam is the biggest PC game storefront on the market, and as of right now, there is no indication that the one of the highest profile PC games to come out in a while (BF3) will make an appearance on Steam.

Jun 162011
 

Yes, I’m a fan of bad puns, get over it.  After yesterday’s news over Crysis 2 getting mysteriously pulled from Steam and then the assumed demise of future EA games on Steam, we get news that the Crysis 2 deletion was done by Valve, not EA,  over Steam policies.    EA was quick to direct the internet’s wrath directly on to Steam, although I don’t think it’s safe to put your Origin conspiracy hats away just yet.  Here’s a quote from EA on the matter:

“Steam has imposed a set of business terms for developers hoping to sell content on that service – many of which are not imposed by other online game services. Unfortunately, Crytek has an agreement with another download service which violates the new rules from Steam and resulted in its expulsion of Crysis 2 from Steam.”

No word on what “new rules” are in place and what Crytek agreement with another service (Origin?) is at fault with Steam’s terms.  Basically, it’s business deals that most gamers don’t and shouldn’t care about.  It doesn’t have an impact on those who previously bought Crysis 2 on Steam, they will still be able to re-download it if need be — but right now, no new purchases are available, hardly a tragedy on a 3 month old game, except for those holding on for a great Steam deal.  Valve is typically tight lipped about this things, so it’ll be interesting to see if they ever address this issue publicly.

What remains unclear is if this will affect future EA games, since Crytek specifically was called out and not EA in general.  Will this weaken any relationship between EA and Steam, especially with EA pushing it’s Origin service, or will it force the companies to work things out?  It is interesting though that Steam is one of the few places where you can’t pre-order Battlefield 3 today, although previous Battlefield titles remain on the service.

Jun 152011
 

A couple of weeks ago, EA essentially re-branded their EA digital download store as “Origin.”  Nothing exactly Earth-shattering, and it didn’t even feel it was worth discussing at any form here.  Yeah, there was the bit about Star Wars The Old Republic being an Origin exclusive, but for a yet-to-be-released MMO, it didn’t really register as note-worthy.  Now things are starting to get interesting.  RPS posted an article alerting us that Crysis 2 has been pulled from Steam and Alice: Madness Returns is no where to be found on Steam as well.  Also, interesting is that there have been zero hints of Battlefield 3 pre-orders on Steam, especially with EA and DICE pushing pre-orders hard elsewhere, as we discussed yesterday.

Of course the conspiracy theorists already have BF3 as an Origin exclusive, meaning if you want to buy BF3 digitally, direct from EA will be your only choice.  While that may end up being the case, there is one small problem in that logic: you can currently preorder BF3 on Direct2Drive and also on GamersGate (at 10% off).  To make things more interesting, you can still by Crysis 2 digitally on Direct2Drive and Amazon, so it doesn’t appear to have become an Origin digital exclusive, at least not yet.   Is Origin solely targeting Steam?  We’ve heard in the past from other retailers and some publishers that they felt that Steam carried too much weight by dominating the digital download market, and maybe EA is trying to strong arm Steam by not making available some high profile titles there.  They’ve done it on the used game market of console games with “Project $10”, so maybe Steam is their next focus.

I understand from a publisher’s perspective the downside of Steam.  Obviously, Steam takes a cut of the game sales, but that’s true of D2D, GamersGate, Amazon, and even brick and mortar stores like Gamestop and Best Buy.  Steam, however, works a bit differently on the technical side, requiring a somewhat rigorous approval process for not only the games but all patches — and let’s not forget that Steam games need to have separate patches applied to them which isn’t true of games purchased digitally elsewhere (except, obviously, if it’s a Steamworks game.)  So, maybe it’s more about having to maintain two different versions of a game and less about trying to forcefully limit market share of Steam.  Or maybe it’s some crazy argument over fees or other back-room deals that have really nothing to do with anything gamers should care about.  The point is, we really don’t know and I’d wager that most gamers don’t care.  They want to buy the games they want, where they want to, that’s it.

I have some, friends, actual real people, who only buy their games from Steam.  They will buy their games from Steam, even if better deals can be found elsewhere, and many times, will never buy a game simply because it’s not sold on Steam.  The question is, if BF3 is never sold on Steam, will those people buy it?  Between this and the pre-order shenanigans, have you been soured on BF3 any, or are you full steam ahead?  Yes, the bad pun was necessary.

Jun 142011
 

Pre-order bonus are nothing new.  The fact that it’s a trend that upsets many gamers doesn’t seem to be decreasing the wide-spread usage of pre-order bonuses.  Many games, you’d have to buy multiple copies from both brick and mortar and online retailers to compile all the various extra weapons, levels and perks being offered, which is obviously a non-customer friendly practice.  Even stranger, it’s not uncommon to see codes for bonuses sell on eBay for $10 or sometimes much, much more.  Now that details of BF3’s “Physical Warfare Pack” and “Back to Karkand” have been fully explained, many gamers have been fighting back against DICE and EA on these practices, claiming that if you don’t pre-order the game, you’ll be at a disadvantage online because you won’t get the extra weapons pre-orderers will get.  Also, you’ll have to pay extra to get the “Back to Karkand” pack, which includes some old favorite maps like Strike at Karkand and Wake Island, that any BF veteran will want access to.

What kicked it off was a threat of boycotting the game over at Reddit, which then prompted a response by DICE.  Of course, gaming boycotts rarely work — and we all remember the CoD:MW2 Steam boycott group (over lack of dedicated servers) who many of which were found to be playing the game on release.  However, the internet reminds us it was Sarcastic Gamer who promoted a boycott of the original (console only) BF Bad Company game, which tried to pull a similar stunt on pre-order exclusive weapons scattered about various retailers.  After hearing the outcry of the internet, DICE and EA backpedaled on the idea, and everyone was happy.

This time around, DICE doesn’t seem as willing to compromise, stating that pre-order weapons won’t imbalance the game, and will just offer a “more varied arsenal.”  As far as “Back to Karkand” — well, if you don’t pre-order the game, you can still get it post-release at an undisclosed extra price.

I’m definitely not a fan of pre-order shenanigans like this, although I have been known to pre-order games, mostly at Amazon.  My main motivation for pre-ordering is usually monetarily based, due to the plethora of $10 and $20 credits offered pre-release on high profile titles.  I usually won’t pre-order a game that only offers exclusive content as it’s usually just throw-away items — most developers won’t offer “game changing” items because it throws the whole balance of the game out of whack.  DICE says they are most definitely not doing that here, almost alluding to the fact that these extra weapons are worthless.   However, the extra map pack, offering some highly desirable maps, could save you money by not making you pay full retail for the game ($60 on all platforms) plus conceivably another $10 or more for the Karkand pack which includes Karkand (duh), Wake Island, Gulf of Oman, and Sharqi Peninsula which represent the best maps from the previous BF games.

Who’s pre-ordering this one?  I’m still on fence, but don’t appreciate DICE explaining the pre-order bonuses as “rewarding our core fanbase.”  We know what these incentives are for, please don’t insult us.  A better way to reward your core fanbase is to offer these 4 map remakes to all purchasers of the game, included in the base price of $60.