Look, I love Steam as much as the next guy. Hell, I probably love it a little bit more than the next guy having spent a few hundred dollars in digital doodads since its launch. As far as online platforms goes, it’s far and away the best.
But Steam won’t be #1 forever. It won’t exist forever.
Just like every online giant, competitors will appear. And while EA Origin may ultimately fail in the same way Games for Windows Live failed at toppling Valve’s monolithic structure, we as gamers need to recognize that ultimately, something will. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Does anyone actually want a monopoly?
The fact of the matter is that as much as we love Steam and want to trust Valve, leaving their platform to exist in a nearly unchallenged monopoly for more than a decade isn’t ultimately going to be good for gaming. Yes, they’ve been benevolent kings so far, but how long will that last? And where will you, the gamer go, if Valve changes its tune, or you find issue with one of their practices? As of now, you don’t have a lot of viable options. Unless you actually like GFWL.
Competition breeds innovation, yes, but it also creates a social safety net. As it stands, Steam is surely “too big to fail” for many PC players who have stored dozens (if not hundreds) of games in Valve’s digital space. What would you do if you were banned from Steam ? Or Valve went out of business and took its virtual content with it? Or if the company introduced something like a “Steam Gold” premium membership you couldn’t afford? For most of us, our entire basket of electronic eggs would be cracked, fried, and served in a heaping pile directly into Gabe Newell’s coffers. And while I find all of these scenarios currently unlikely, one of them will eventually happen.
The next best thing all over again
EA Origin, along with other download-only gaming storefronts, may not be comparable… yet. They don’t have the robust infrastructure, the fully integrated achievements and stat tracking – all the bells and whistles Valve has tacked on over the years. But neither did Steam when it launched. Anyone around for Half-Life 2’s hotly contested digital release will remember the fire and brimstone being rained down on Valve for introducing always-on DRM to the PC gaming world. Back then, Steam had almost no upsides and a few humungous downsides, including the games didn’t fucking work half the time.
Personally, I have had absolutely zero problems with Origin. I downloaded the software and installed it, agreeing to its very Steam-like End User License Agreement. I purchased Battlefield 3 Limited Edition on Amazon, granting me an Origin download code, which I redeemed for the game with no issues. When I ran the game for the first time, the file executed flawlessly, throwing me instantly into the campaign. Yes, the game has frozen a few times since then, but anyone who uses Half-Life 2 or even Team Fortress 2 as their benchmarks for software stability can’t really complain here. Overall, my experience has been quite pleasant.
Ulterior motives and hidden machinations?
If there’s supposed to be a part where Origin deletes all my personal information and Tweets my porn collection to all my friends, sorry, it just didn’t happen. Origin itself runs quietly in the background, using up less RAM than does Steam, and let’s me play Battlefield 3, which is all I wanted from it.
“But WiNG,” you might squeal, “Origin is spyware! It just has to be, because Electronic Arts is evil!”
While a few initial reports from my fatherland, Germany, may have fanned the fanboy flames in this regard, continued testing has repeatedly shown that EA’s Origin isn’t spyware, at least not any more so than Valve’s client is. The data it collects isn’t personally identifiable, isn’t reported to EA, and isn’t considerably different from the stuff Steam does to your computer. If there’s some NSA-level security breach Origin is capable of, it hasn’t been found yet, which should speak volumes considering just how many computer-savvy hackers out there hate EA.
It’s only fair to conclude that until proven otherwise, Origin is a benign digital storefront.
Let’s go back to the beginning
Is EA Origin better than Valve’s Steam? No.
At least, not yet. But neither is it spyware, and neither is it wrong for a company to want to opt out of feeding into Valve’s near monopoly on the PC digital storefront market. If we want the industry to move forward, part of that is going to be accepting competition among the big publishing players. You shouldn’t be surprised to see other companies do the same, though their success will depend as much on their implementation and game libraries as did Steam’s.
It’s part of the natural business cycle. And eventually, one of Valve’s competitors will succeed at dethroning the company, either by beating Valve at its own game, or by rendering Steam obsolete with something new, better, and leaps beyond what we can imagine today.
Until that time comes, it’s up to you to decide what games you’ll play on which platforms. But I hope you can open your mind, give Origin a chance, and meet me on the battlefield.