EA’s Origin vs. Valve’s Steam: How Do They Stack?

EA looks like it wants to muscle in on some of the action in PC digital and online gaming with the launch of Origin, its own digital game distributor, which is a smart move considering the PC gaming market continues to grow, while PC retail sales are absolutely dismal. It’s been made absolutely clear in the past few years that digital distribution for PC is king. With a third party digital distributor like Valve’s Steam, a gamer can buy a game and be downloading it within the same minute—often for much cheaper than the game’s retail counterpart. Not to mention, Steam and Microsoft’s Games for Windows LIVE offer achievements to keep gamers’ egos warm, fuzzy, and well-stroked. Nothing says returning customers like happy customers. Retail doesn’t even stand a chance.

As it stands, Steam has a tight fist on digital distribution. According to Forbes, Valve is estimated to hold about 50-70% of the digital market share, although its refusal to publish sales figures makes this number a bit of a wild stab in the dark. EA has the trouble of pitting Origin against not only Steam, but also other rising 3rd party competitors such as Amazon and Gamestop, who are beginning to take a crack at Steam’s market dominance.

Microsoft had tried to compete with Steam with Games for Windows LIVE (even if Microsoft claims that this is not their intent) and pretty much… well… failed. It does have a small portion of the market share (if only because it is forced upon certain games, even those bought off Steam), but it still has nowhere near the popularity that Steam does with PC gamers, even after being around for four years on the market. Then again, Microsoft made a critical mistake by doing a sloppy job with Games. It’s an obvious cut-and-paste from Xbox Live and once even bore “Xbox login” on its login page. Not exactly a good way to try and win over PC gamers, especially the hardcore ones who swear by PC gaming, and only PC gaming.

EA OriginThe only way I see EA’s Origin service really taking off, or at least enough to be profitable, is if they expand their gaming distribution to rival Steam’s and have their application be better than Steam’s. Their gaming distribution is going to launch with a dismal 150 titles, no doubt all related to EA. Although such a lineup size is decent for an initial launch, they’re going to have to touch bases with (ahem, pay off) other publishers and developers to get them to put their titles on Origin. One of the reasons why Steam is so popular is that it’s a relatively cheap and easy way for indie developers to distribute their games. EA is going to have to find a way to provide a similar service.

There really isn’t much of a compromise in this case, unless they decide to force Origin on all gamers who buy EA games, just as Microsoft has done with Games for Windows LIVE. Whether or not they’re really looking to compete with Steam, they’ve already taken off their gloves, promptly smacked Valve in the face, and declared a duel at noon. If there’s no competition, gamers will continue to buy from Steam. EA is going to have to pull its games off of Steam (which I think is unlikely since it would be an extremely unpopular move), offer lower prices, or offer exclusive content worthwhile enough to draw gamers away from Steam (or at least draw them away enough to start buying from Origin). Even then, I know most PC gamers won’t make the move or only do so reluctantly, since having two applications for gaming that don’t in anyway relate to each other is a bit of a hassle. I think EA realizes this and it’s the only reason it’s offering The Old Republic exclusively on Origin as some sort of desperate move to try and draw some users. If all other publishers pick up and decide to do the same thing as EA, users are going to have to put up with opening up seven different applications to play different games. It’s why many gamers go for Steam in the first place over other distributors. All games, achievements, user-specific settings, profiles, and a chat service that integrates decently into games are all in one place. And since Steam has been around for a while, EA’s going to have to slay the beast of customer loyalty.

Not all hope is lost for EA, however. If it offers decent enough cross-platform support, particularly with mobile devices, which Valve has yet to integrate with Steam, it may be able to win a gamer base that games on multiple consoles who won’t necessarily stick with Steam if EA provides better prices and perks for playing mini-games on different platforms.

We’ll see how EA’s Origin application initially compares with Steam.


Well, here’s an update after I tried out Origin. This is just a first look. I’ll probably post an update again after I’ve bought an EA game retail to redeem it and had a chance to try out the chat/game integration:

If anyone’s popped Origin beta open and gave it a spin, you’re going to notice immediately that it looks and feels exactly like Steam. The navigation up top is almost exactly the same. Steam has the Store, Library, News, and Community sections, but so far Origin only has My Games and Store.

Sadly, any EA games that I already bought off Steam did not register on my Origin account, even though they do allow users to redeem retail editions of the game with the same CD key (asSteam Valve already offers with their retail games). I might get around to buying something off of Origin to see how games and the chat integrate, or maybe I’ll just end up buying the retail version of the game. Either way, so far not a fan.

The store layout looks like the mutated baby of Steam and the EA Store. The offers of Games Under $5 and $10 that Steam offers, EA copied over… just upped the prices to $10 and $20 on Origin. EA also has a section for EA game points, for things to use such as the Bioware Store. Nothing much to it… you just have to buy them.

Anyway, the content available now is rather small and exclusively EA. All the pricings are the same as the offers up on Steam.

The chat and profiles work quite similar to Steam. As of now, I don’t see an option to voice chat just yet. I don’t believe EA has integrated any achievement system of any sort into Origin just yet, but since this is just a beta, we’ll see what happens.

My first impressions of Origin? The interface is decent, but EA is offering nothing new that Steam already doesn’t. So far, they only offer less. With the meager pickings on the Origin catalog, and not really any perks that would draw gamers to it away from Steam, Origin’s future looks grim, indeed. However, keep in mind that this is only the beta, and I may be a little too hasty in my judgment. New features with cross-platform integration will come later, although Origin is only (disappointingly) going to support iOS on mobile devices for now. No word on Android support just yet, which doesn’t go over well on me since I’m an Android user.

Update (6/15/2011):

Many Steam users have probably noticed that some EA-published games such as Alice: Madness Returns, Crysis 2, and Battlefield 3 are no longer on Steam. EA officially stated in response to Crysis 2‘s removal from Steam with,

“It’s unfortunate that Steam has removed Crysis 2 from their service. This was not an EA decision or the result of any action by EA.

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.

Crysis 2 continues to be available on several other download services including GameStop, Amazon, Origin.com and more.”

Considering this, in conjunction with EA’s constant Origin namedrop during E3 shows that EA is trying for the big leagues in digital publishing. Putting Valve at fault for Crysis 2‘s removal gives EA a good excuse to start holding back their newest titles from Steam without an outcry from fans, which is in fact happening with the names that I’ve mentioned above.

I think it’s clear now that my fears about Origin have been proven true. PC gamers, get ready to see all of your new favorite EA titles on Origin exclusively. EA doesn’t just want to be the biggest gaming retail publisher, they’re ready to take on Valve.

Source: gamesindustry.biz

9 Responses to “EA’s Origin vs. Valve’s Steam: How Do They Stack?”

  1. Another big difference between Steam and Origin: Mac Support. Steam has it, Origin doesn’t. It’s pretty clear which one I won’t be choosing. (Because I don’t have a choice!)

    This is especially annoying, considering EA makes quite a few titles that are playable on Mac. (Dragon Age, The Sims 3, Spore) I get that most of EA’s games don’t have Mac support, but they’re definitely not going to get any new customers from a growing Mac gaming market.

    • Well, Origin is still in beta. I’m sure if plenty of people protest enough, EA will give Mac support… eventually?

      Another alternative (that would be far too complicated for it to be ok) would be to use a virtual machine like Parallels or to dual-boot Windows.

  2. I wasn’t aware it was EA’s intent to offer other Publisher’s titles on their service, or else you were just guessing. If other Publisher’s were to put games on Origin, wouldn’t they be removed for similar reasons as Crysis 2? And that “agreement with another download service” could very well be Origin. The blame hasn’t gone anywhere for those intelligent enough to see it. It says this “other download service” violates the “new rules”… is Steam already fighting back against Origin?

    • Ah no. I stated that if EA wants to be competitive, they would probably have to implement other publisher’s titles in Origin.

      And it is most likely that “another download service” is Origin, although I’m a little confused as to how this agreement works, since Crysis 2 is also offered on Direct2Drive.

      I really doubt Steam is really trying to fight back against Origin, considering it really isn’t a threat just yet. There isn’t much that Valve could do anyways, considering their agreements with publishers simply state that they can digitally publish games at the publisher’s discretion. EA is allowed to withhold any game they want from Steam, which I’m sure they’re going to take advantage of with Origin.

  3. This is nothing new. Tho still in it’s early stages you should check out the “OnLive” service. Now this is new and interesting.

    • The OnLive service is definitely something I’ll probably be looking into, although I mostly wrote up on EA’s Origin because of their aggressive comments on taking over the digital publishing market and because Origin seems to be uncannily similar to Steam.

  4. I got the complete pack of the Sims 3 from Steam but not a fan of having to have steam opening to have to play the game so I took my serials and enter them in Origin and it viewed them as retail serials, allowing me to play without having to have a program running in background.

    • That’s actually a new update they just implemented in. Before, Origin wouldn’t recognize Steam games, but thanks for the heads!


  1. Origin Users Beware – EA Reserves The Right To Delete Your Games For Inactivity | The Great Gaming Crusade - July 16, 2011

    […] EA has stated numerous times that it was not out to compete with Steam, the recent controversy over Crysis 2 being pulled off of Steam,  Alice: Madness Returns‘s […]

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