Digital Distribution: Some thoughts on EA’s Origin

Competition is needed fullstop. It has to be said that the good value currently experienced in the digital distribution market is only due to Valves experimentation with pricing models that has led them to offer the value that they do rather than competition in the marketplace. Given the recent sales, this is something I am sure we are all most appreciative of.

I am fully aware that services such as Direct2Drive, Good Old Games and others offer digital distribution and do a good job too in terms of service and pricing in comparison with Steam however EA is looking to go toe-to-toe with Valve in terms of providing an offering that holds exclusivity for anticipated AAA titles, provide an online community and communication platform as well as digitally distributing games from multiple publishers. EA, being one of the largest publishers of video games across all formats have the connections, the games portfolio and the funding to be a credible threat to Steam.

Unlike Microsofts poorly conceived Games For Windows Live, first impressions would suggest that EA have looked at what has made Steam popular as well as some of its biggest critisisms and have attempted to build a platform to rival that of Valves and it has to be said that from a user experience perspective this has largely been achieved.

There are a few teething issues which should be expected from a new platform however the experience of buying, installing, playing a game and communicating with friends feels very familiar and largely intuitive.

It could be argued that EA have missed an opportunity to innovate here and are simply building on the success of the already established valve platform unlike services such as Onlive who offer a genuinely unique service however given the amount of investment that has been required from EA to build this why rock a stable boat.

For the last six months EA have slowly and relatively quietly been withdrawing titles from the Steam platform. All other digital distribution platforms seem unaffected so far however Steam is now seeing fewer and fewer EA titles with the highest profile absentee being Battle Field 3.

EA have cited a number of reasons surrounding this gradual withdrawl, blaming valve, blaming legal requirements, miscommunication and various other factors however the shift is clear. If you want EAs future AAA titles, you will need to have an origin account.

This in itself is not neccessarily terrible as Valve themselves adopt the exact same approach with their own titles which has relatively recently got the backs up of store retailers however this was initiated in a world where there was no established alternative digital distribution platform and as such the long term effect of this on us as consumers needs some consideration.

To play valves games you have to have valves platform, the play EA’s games you have to have EA’s platform. Whats to stop Activision, SEGA, Ubisoft and others all adopting the same route? The future of your PC could well be that you will be running a plethora of distribution platforms with different groups of friends, communities and games. Worse still, should this occur rather than creating competition it actively avoids it. There is no competition if you can only buy a product from one place and therefore you can charge what you like.

PC Gaming for a long time has enjoyed comparitively cheap prices in comparison to buying a game on a console which given the investment required in the PC has always historically felt justified. As time passes however, PC hardware has become cheaper and consoles more expensive (at least at release) to the point where there now isnt a great difference in the price. Games too are seeing price hikes where before £20-25 was common and £30 was high, more and more AAA releases are seeing price points of £39.99 and even £45 at release taking them on a par with their console versions.

Back to my initial point then, competition. Should steam be the only route to digital distribution? No it shouldnt. But similarly a marketplace where everything is segregated and pricing has no competition will do far more to damage the PC games community that we currently know than the apparent monopoly we exist in.

Does Origin indicate the downfall of PC gaming? No it doesnt and it certainly shouldnt be claimed that it does, however by avoiding the aspects of competition and capturing an audience as well as the somewhat dubious terms and conditions that need to be agreed to for registration it has to be said that Origin represents a good example of what a global publisher wants you to accept rather than neccessarily what is good for you as a consumer which I think will become more and more relevant as digital distribution furthers its expansion. Its down to us to shape the service we want to receive.

Planetside 2 – BETA Signups!

OK, ill be honest, I did consider not posting this up as the fewer of you that signup the more likely it will be for me to get into this, but its not fair of me to hold back what could be the most incredible gaming experience you are likely to get involved in for years to come.

Its safe to say I’m fairly excited about this one!

If you want to get involved in the BETA the signup is now publicly available here

True Multiplayer – Co-operative games with more than 4 players

Our little group have now been hitting a bit of a wall recently where we have more than 4 players that want to play a game but can only find co-operative games that support groups of 4.

Obviously games like Bad Company allow you to have more on the same team however critically, squads can only be 4 players which makes co-ordination trickier and given that we are a friendly bunch we are mostly trying to avoid competitive games.

There has been some discussion in the forums about games that could allow us to play with more than 4 players co-operatively however our attempts so far have met with mixed results.

Any one else found a solution to this problem?

Below is a list of some of the suggestions our group has made so far:

  • Age of Empires (1, 2 & 3)ArmA
  • Artemis
  • Baldurs Gate
  • Burnout Paradise
  • Civilization (3, 4 & 5)
  • Counter Strike
  • Dawn of War (1 & 2)
  • DC Online
  • Diablo 2
  • Dino D-Day
  • Dungeon Siege
  • Hiddern & Dangerous 2
  • Icewind Dale
  • Killing Floor
  • Loki: Heroes of Mythology
  • Marathon Infinity
  • Mechwarrior 4
  • Open TTD (Transport Tycoon)
  • Rainbow Six
  • Sacred 2
  • Serious Sam (1, 2 & 3)
  • Silverfall
  • Supreme Commander
  • SWAT (3 & 4)
  • Team Fortress 2
  • Titan Quest
  • World in Conflict

The biggest challenge seems to be finding something that is readily available and isnt a complete nightmare to a) get running on modern machines and b) still has support for multiplayer

If there are any other suggestions I am definitely interested in hearing them!

Indie Galore

Both of the big indie game distribution campaigns have been in full force in the last couple of days but I will kick off with news from Indie Royale who have just launched their ‘Really Big Bundle’ which includes:

  • Really Big Sky
  • Runespell: Overture
  • Cthulhu Saves the World
  • Eufloria
  • BONUS: Breath of Death VII

All of which are available on both Desura or Steam.  At time of writing you can get all of this for less than £2.70 which is not a bad deal or if you are feeling charitable to others you can help push the price down by paying more.

Not to be beaten, the Humble Bundle team have added Dungeons of Dredmor to their previous Introversion bundle which you will recieve if you pay more than the current average ($3.99 at time of writing).  For those of you who have already paid for this bundle it will automatically be added to your account, just log back in to retrieve the code for your distribution platform of choice.

In addition to this you will also receive access to two bonus prototypes from Introversion as well as the source code to Darwinia, Multiwinia, DEFCON and Uplink!

I have to say that rightly or wrongly the Indie gaming scene never really grabbed me before but the work that Humble Bundle and Indie Royale is doing to promote them is making them almost unmissable!

Firefall: Dev Diary – Class Balance

More from the Firefall developers with this video focusing on the classes themselves.

Im still not entirely convinced by firefall at the moment.  I was hoping for Planetside meets Borderlands but I dont think that this is the scale that they are targeting.  Its looking more and more like Team Fortress 2 meets Unreal Tournament.

This is not a terrible thing I suppose, the environments are unique and very rich, the development team themselves are very experienced and I sure this product will be well polished but I just dont see it breaking any moulds.

Firefall…. prove me wrong.

Serious Sam 3: BFE is now out!

OK so Im a little late on this one but I do have a wife and child to feed!

CroTeam have provided a new launch video to celebrate the release which has got me itching to play it.  I managed to get it installed yesterday but sadly no game time yet.

The graphics and the environments look fantastic, I just hope its maintained the same level of humour as the previous games.

Cant wait to play this co-op…  Anyone else tried it yet?

Introversion Humble Indie Bundle

If you haven’t heard of the Humble Indie Bundle before now, then this really is something for you to look into.

Basically the premise is that a bundle of Indie games go on sale and you can pay what you want.  You can then split the amount you are giving between the developers, charitable organisations and the bundle organisers.  If you pay more than the average amount (which is usually less than four dollars) you will get access to bonus games and prototypes.

Buying games, supporting independent development and giving to charity?  There is basically no downside!

Best of all this bundle is predominantly from the developers Introversion giving you access to the simply fantastic Uplink and Defcon games.

For more details go to their website…  do it!

DC Universe Online sees 700% daily revenue increase

I have just read in PCGamer that Sony have seen a massive increase in not only their player base (I believe it was at 2000% at last count) but also their revenue.

For me DC Universe is the perfect comparison of the traditional ‘pay monthly’ subscription based MMO to the, becoming increasingly popular, free to play model.

DC Online represents a big budget game with a recognised developer/publisher dealing with a subject with comparatively wide appeal. More interestingly is that in the space of 2011 than have transitioned completely from the regular payments model to the free to play model and in this way can almost be used as a benchmark for how successful this transition can be.

I say ‘can be’ as credit has to be given to SOE here and their application of the free to pay model has been handled well. Getting the balance where the free players are given enough of the game but still encouraging some level of investment in value without over rewarding paying players and effecting the balance of the game is the real challenge facing any developer considering this switch. Many have already tried and failed with one of the more recent victims being the Lego MMO.

The point that interests me the most however is, is there a future for games wanting to charge a traditional model? Both the Starwars MMO and World of Warcraft follow this model and both are, or in the case of one of these, have the potential to be, massive releases.

2012 is going to see the release of a lot of new games that will fall into the MMO mould and will be competing for your cash, in the same way that DC Universe has successfully transitioned, I dont think it will be long before you see these last great releases make the change to free to play as well.