For a publisher like EA, the value of running its own digital delivery service is clear—it helps retain dollars for digital purchases that would otherwise go to another distributor. According to an interview with Gamesindustry International, capturing revenue has been one of the biggest drivers behind Origin since its inception. Gamers, though, is forced to fragment their gaming libraries across multiple services to keep up with hot exclusives. The value proposition on the customer side is a lot thinner.
Electronic Arts says that it hears gamers' Origin-focused criticism. In the interview, Gamesindustry International confronts EA Executive Vice President Andrew Wilson with the assertion that most gamers view Origin as "just one more thing they have to install, another roadblock in the way of getting and playing a game." EA took the chance to respond.
"I think your perception is absolutely correct," replied Wilson. "I think when I look at the journey that service has taken, I think the transaction component of that service has taken a disproportionate amount of the communication and mind share of what we really try and provide, and the barrier that puts in between you and the game that you want to play."
The emphasis on the "transaction component"—that is, taking revenue from consumers by selling high-margin digital downloads—has been the tail wagging the digital-experience dog inside of EA, according to Wilson. However, he doesn't just want Origin to be a no-value storefront. "When I speak to the team now, they're very energized about this concept of 'Listen, the transaction is really a very small part of the experience; that's really not what this is about.'"
From here, Wilson's comments begin to sound more tone-deaf. EA appears to understand that for Origin to be accepted, it needs to actually do something useful beyond function as a barely tolerated delivery service for exclusive titles. Yet all the attention on "fixing" Origin seems to be focused on expanding its social role: "So if you take away the transaction part of that, which for us in all honesty is a very small part of the service, and you think about consistent downloads, consistent access, and understanding of friends' presence, you think about game enhancements like chat and one-click join and in-game overlay, and all of a sudden you start to get to what Origin is—which is a service that makes your EA games better."
Even though Origin has featured some third-party games for years, the underlying purpose of Origin is still clearly stated by Wilson: it's a service that makes your EA games better. The piece ends with Wilson expressing his hopes that a revamped Origin (and its renewed focus on helping people enjoy games more) will be able to earn gamer goodwill:
The shift from a primarily transaction-driven delivery service to one that aims to add value is a good one, but it still fails to address the enormous elephant in the room: Steam. Steam's market penetration is vast—it's been available since 2003 and became a major market force in late 2004 when Half Life 2 required Steam to install and run. And Steam provides its own brand of lock-in for customers, with its own friends list and matchmaking and messaging features. In many ways, this is just as unfriendly as EA and Origin, and neither Steam nor Origin provides much of a way to interpret with the other.
EA doesn't yet appear to understand—or is choosing to ignore—that no small part of the customer dissatisfaction directed toward Origin is because it's not Steam. That, rather than a perceived lack of social features, is the service's biggest stumbling block. Origin is perceived as "one more thing to install" not simply because it doesn't have a decent friends list, but because the lion's share of PC gamers who use digital delivery services are entrenched in Steam's sticky services. Their libraries are there, their friends are there, and Steam has crossed that good enough threshold.
Origin is definitely here to stay—EA has considerable capital and marketing dollars invested in it—but whether its new form will be able to entice customers remains to be seen.