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 062011
 
Battlefield 3

After it was already almost a forgone conclusion, we now have word that BF3 is really, really, really not coming to Steam — for reals.  The word comes from both the official Battlefield Twitter account and a forum post on the EA forums from staff.  Again, they mention Valve’s restrictions on DLC and post-release support.  Interestingly, we haven’t heard much from Valve’s side of the story, and we still haven’t heard much from other devs and publishers about these restrictions EA keeps bringing up.  The exact details are still unavailable as to what EA is looking to do with BF3 that Steam won’t let them.

Unfortunately, Steam has adopted a set of restrictive terms of service which limit how developers interact with customers to deliver patches and other downloadable content. No other download service has adopted these practices.

Of course, there is still a chance that EA and Valve come to some sort of terms before the launch of BF3, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.  In turn, with BF3 not being available on Steam, it provides EA will a bit more leverage to sell it on Origin, as we discussed here.  So while I’m sure EA would love to sell BF3 everywhere possible, not being on Steam can’t be bothering them too much.  EA squarely places the blame on Valve, but rarely things are that simple.

Is no BF3 on Steam a deal breaker for you?

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 252011
 

If you have been living under a rock and had not heard the news yet, TF2 is now free to play.  You can download it at the TF2 website for both Macintosh and Windows.

The free to play will now be supported by microtransactions within the steam store.  You will be able to purchase new weapons and items.  Valve also claims that they will continue to offer free items as well.

Valve also seems to be taking a pragmatic approach to supporting the community:

“It’s a belief of ours that in multiplayer games it’s generally true that the more people playing the game, the higher value the game has for each individual customer.

“The more players, the more available servers in your area, the wider variety of other players you’ll find, the greater the opportunity for new experiences, and so on.”

This would be bucking the trend of AAA titles coming out at $50-$60 range and support disappearing.  It also seems to be a lesson that some companies *cough* Epic *cough* could relearn.

According to Steam, I only have 2.8 hours played in TF2.  Unfortunately, the Orange Box came out at the same time as CoD4.  CoD4 got a bit more playing time.  However, if more people pick up on TF2, I could certainly see myself devoting more time to it.

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
 
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.

May 182011
 
money

Today marks another day of all video game deals on Amazon.  The deal of the day is [amazon_link id=”B004S73HS8″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Crysis 2[/amazon_link] for PC, 360 and PS3 for $35 and the PC download version for $30.  Don’t be afraid of Amazon’s game download service, it’s easy and you can re-download at any time, as we previously detailed.  Other games to look for in today’s gold box could be Dead Space 2, Madden, NCAA Football, a couple PSP games and what ever you can guess for the others.  While not part of this gold box event, definitely take a look at [amazon_link id=”B002I0J5UQ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]L.A. Noire on Amazon[/amazon_link].  They are now offering a $20 credit with purchase.

Also worth mentioning is now Steam is doing a daily deal of the day, on top of their other reoccurring deals like “mid-week madness” and their weekend deals.  Just another way for money to leave your wallet.  With gaming deals running rampant across all major retailers, no one should be paying full MSRP for games anymore.  It definitely seems to be a relatively new phenomenon, and I can distinctly remember a time when video games cost the same exact (full) price in every store you went to.

 

Apr 132011
 
portal2

Next week, 4/19, to be exact, marks the release of Portal 2.  Valve has already unlocked Steam pre-loading for the game if you pre-ordered directly from there.  If you were one of the many who held out for the PS3 version, which also includes access to the PC and Mac versions, you may have wondered how exactly that whole process would work and how Steam would interact on the PS3.  Maybe you have no intentions on playing it on the console, and were just a savvy shopper who figured that Amazon’s $20 credit on the PS3 version actually turns out to be less than the PC version.  Hint: [amazon_link id=”B003O6E3C8″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]that deal is still available here[/amazon_link].

What’s interesting is that they are bringing pretty much the full Steam overlay to the PS3 (you press the “select” button in-game to access it).  When you link your PSN to your Steam ID in game, you’ll also be able to see and chat with all your Steam friends.  While it’s great to see Steam branch out, I can’t help thinking that it’s a bit odd to have an additional, duplicate functionality layer on top of PSN.  So now you’ll have your PSN friends and separately your Steam friends.  You’ll have Steam achievements and PSN trophies, which, if you’re playing on the PS3, will unlock both sets of “cheevos” simultaneously.  Playing on the PC or Mac, however, does not unlock any PS3 trophies.  Cheevo whores take note.

If you did buy the PS3 version only for the cost savings mentioned above, and could care less about the PSN interaction, you’ll be happy to know that each PS3 copy includes a one-time use code which you can activate on Steam.  Valve does indicate you will have to link your PS3 account to your Steam ID before you do that — so don’t buy the PS3 version if you don’t actually have a PS3.  Duh.

Also, the PS3 and PC/Mac interaction doesn’t stop there.  The co-op game can be played across those platforms without any issues.   The Steam Cloud save game feature is also available on both the PC/Mac and PS3, however save games between platforms are not compatible, so no starting the game on the PS3 and finishing on the PC — each system will have separate saves.

Lastly, those who were looking to do local co-op with one copy of Portal 2 will be disappointed to hear that this is not allowed (unless it’s split-screen on 1 PS3).  You’ll need two copies of the game if you had ideas of playing with a local friend on the PC and the other on a PS3 in the same house.   Too bad, it would have been nice to see that supported.

I think Steam on the PS3 is an interesting experiment for Valve.   It’s fairly obvious that this is the next step towards them trying to make Steam become a de facto standard across multiple platforms.  Since it’s clear that Microsoft would never let an additional layer be bolted onto games on the Xbox, the PS3 was the next best thing and allows Valve to showcase their Steamworks package to console publishers as well.

Valve PS3 Steam support page