Jan 162012
 

If you’ve been paying attention to the EA / Steam battle, you could have guessed that Mass Effect 3 wasn’t going to be on Steam, regardless of the fact that Mass Effect 1 and 2 are currently available.  If you were really in tune to the situation, you would have also guessed that Mass Effect 3 would require Origin to play on the PC.  Bioware has confirmed both facts over the weekend, explicitly stating that Origin will be required even if you buy a boxed copy and that it wouldn’t be available on Steam “at this time.”

While both of those things are true of BF3, and did cause some outrage, it didn’t seem to hurt the game’s sales or popularity online, and I suspect a similar outcome for Mass Effect 3.  Both games are high profile with a large following, and even though the Origin requirement will cause complaints, the number of players boycotting the game due to this alone will be low.

Origin still feels clunky even months after its wide scale debut with BF3, still calls itself a beta in its window title bar, and still shows me games that have permanently expired like the BF3 alpha and beta tests.  At this point, it’s added no value for me and only serves as EA’s latest attempt at always-on DRM that just so happens to come bundled with a game store and a friends list.  What’s your opinion of Origin after you’ve been using it (or not) for the past few months?

Bioware source.

Aug 122011
 
Origin

Now that it’s confirmed that BF3 won’t appear on Steam, the only mystery was why. While it’s not any great shock to hear EA was pushing Origin hard, now we have definitive word by the BF community manager on Twitter that BF3 will require Origin.  We now know BF3 uses the Origin equivalent of  Steamworks, which means no matter where you buy the game, you’ll need to activate it on Origin — including retail disc formats.  Obviously, if you bought a game on Steam that you had to then activate on a Steam clone, requiring both to run to appease their DRM demons, rips in space time would occur.  That’s why Steam is out of the loop but services like Direct2Drive or GamersGate are still in, because they don’t tack on any extra DRM or client restrictions.

Now we know, and knowing is half the battle.  Anyone not buying BF3 because of the Origin requirement?

Aug 072011
 
Origin

Ok, so you gave in to EA and installed Origin, and you caved and preordered BF3 after not letting yourself get excited about the game all Spring and Summer.  Well, maybe I’m describing myself a little bit here, but that’s beside the point.  So now that’s Origin is installed, it works just like Steam, right?  Mostly yes, but I noticed a few things that might be helpful to new users.

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First off, I made the assumption that the directory that I installed Origin in will also house all the games that I install through it.  Steam works that way, right?  In Origin’s case, this is actually false.  By default, Origin wants to install its games on to C:\Program Files\Origin Games (at least in my case).  For some, this may not be a problem, but if you’re anything like me (and most other PC gamers I know) you install your games on a different drive than your system drive.  This is especially important if you run a small SSD as your system/OS drive and have a conventional drive for games and applications.  To change this, click on the gear icon near the top right-ish of the main Origin window and click “settings.”  Right on the General tab you’ll see an option under “Downloaded Games” you can set to tell Origin where you put your games.  Keep in mind, Origin will not move any existing games installed, this will just take effect for new games downloaded — so do this now before you try to install BF3.  There’s also an option for keeping Origin game installers, but unless you feel a need to keep them, I don’t see why that would be worthwhile.

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One thing that Origin has that is Steam-like is an in-game overlay which at this point is pretty much just in-game chat.  Pressing Shift + F1 is the default setting here, not to be confused with Steam’s Shift + Tab. You can configure the hotkeys for that combination also in the settings under the “In Game” tab.  Only one obvious tip here; don’t set your Origin hotkey combo the same as Steam or anything else that you may have running while gaming.  I’m pretty sure something disastrous will happen.

Aside from those two things, there isn’t much else that Origin can do at this point that is worth tweaking.  I’m sure as time passes EA will build out their platform much like Steam has, but until then, it’s main purpose will be to serve as a BF3 delivery platform, soon to be followed by the exclusive place to get Star Wars: Old Republic when that arrives later this year.

Aug 052011
 
Battlefield 3

After making Origin mandatory for the BF3 alpha test, EA isn’t letting up on the Origin hard sell.  They know they have a valuable piece of content that can make or break Origin and they’re pulling out all of the tricks.  First off, if your pre-order BF3 through Origin, you’ll get all the “Back to Karkand” DLC for free, which is no big deal, since that’s true of everywhere else that is selling the game.  To sweeten the deal, they are giving early access to the beta in September.  No exact word on how early “early” is, but it’s dangled out there.  If that’s not enough, they are guaranteeing you can pre-load the game so you can play the game the second it becomes available and are also throwing in some Battlefield Play4Free items as well.  The final icing on the cake is that those who were alpha testers can also get a free game with their BF3 pre-order and can choose from Mass Effect 2, Dead Space 2 or Medal of Honor.  Short of coming to your house and cooking you dinner, EA is throwing everything possible to make Origin the place to get BF3.

Obviously, all this is a smart move for EA, who is desperate to get Origin off the ground and help put a few dents in Steam’s armor.  It also provides them a marketplace that they control so that they don’t have to play by Valve’s rules and also not share a cut of the profits of games sold on Steam.  My experience with Origin so far isn’t that great; the interface is clunky and at time feels sluggish — but the same could have been said when Steam first hit the market.  Time will tell if Origin will gain a significant market, but considering the size of EA and the number of games they publish, it’s a safe bet that Origin will be hanging around for a while.  It can’t be any worse than the Games for Windows Live Marketplace, can it?

Where are you planning to purchase BF3? Has Origin offered a sweet enough deal for you to give it a shot, or will you look elsewhere?

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 152011
 
Battlefield 3

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.