Why trust Steam over Origin?
I’ll be honest right from the start – I love Steam. There, I said it. I haven’t always though. When I first got a taste of the service, it was with the 1.6 update of Counter-Strike (which also had its share of fans and critics). The service felt sluggish and honestly, awkward.
Players knew it was going to be here to stay though – Valve created the application originally to stop the rather rampant piracy of its products, along with reducing the amount of cheats in games. Before its launch, wallhacks in CS were about as common as logging onto a server. In an ironic twist, Valve had originally approached several companies – Microsoft and even Yahoo! included, to build the client front end. They all turned them down.
It was about the date of 2004 that Valve’s Steam became a requirement if you wanted to play their games. WON (World Opponent Network) was shutdown too, leaving players little choice but to conform.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, I wasn’t sold on it to begin with, Updates felt sluggish to download, and overall it felt a little too restricted for my tastes. I quickly began to change my mind though – the constant need to update games manually had been a chore, and honestly speaking – manual updates were a pain for PC to say the least.
Shortly after Steam’s release, Gabe Newell had convinced various games publishers to sell their titles via the Steam platform, and now – well, the rest as they say is history.
So why haven’t things gone the same for Origin, and most PC gamers grimace when they must buy a title from it (such as Crysis 3)? I’d argue many (including myself for that matter) feel the same about Uplay too.
For a start – it has something to do with Valve.
People associate Valve with PC gaming – more over, people actually like Gabe Newell (including that he even replies to emails fans send him). They were first to the market too – so by now most customers are quite happy and comfortable with the Steam service as a whole.
Furthermore, there are a rather impressive array of Indie Games available on Steam too. And with their sales, it’s very easy to amass a rather impressive game collection in a short space of time.
Electronic Arts however is a different story. Despite EA’s games being popular, many gamers (especially PC Gamers) dislike EA’s business practices. Many PC gamers are bitter at what they did with Westwood Studios (original creators of Command & Conquer) and Bullfrog. Once the almighty Bullfrog were infamous in PC gaming circles; titles such as Magic Carpet and Dungeon Keeper are classics. EA effectively killed them off with their purchase – and worse, have done little with the franchises since.
Plus, EA have the reputation of mistreating their customers as a whole. it didn’t help that their Anti-Piracy methods are unloved to say the least. I’ve believe it can be summed up as “EA are great at turning their fans into customers”. Sure, Valve’s games need steam to function – but the problem is, that EA and Ubisoft tightly integrate their games into the service to the point it’s a chore.
If you buy a Ubisoft game for example from Steam, it’ll launch Uplay THEN the game. That’s so many different levels of protection, and more software that the person didn’t want to run too. It’s worse still for those with a slower PC – and extra bloat no matter the spec of your rig.
The other issue is that often, the prices of both Origin and Uplay are pretty damn expensive. A lot more so than Steam games, especially for new flagship titles. For PC games (which are cheaper to sell as their isn’t the costs of paying the platform owner as they would say Microsoft to release a game on the Xbox 360) they are expensive. Often we see titles in the 40 pounds range, which is the costs associated with console gaming.
Thus, people often associate EA (more so than Ubisoft) with a negative vibe from the very outset – with Uplay, it’s more the costs and the extra anti-piracy that upsets them.
The complaints with EA’s business practices have gained more fuel after the Sim City 5 fiasco, after it was proven that the game did not need online to function, despite Electronic Arts claims to the contrary.
EA have around 9000 people working for them, which by any companies standards is a pretty huge work force. This is completely contrary to Valve, who maintain a fraction of that number – around the 400 mark. This number certainly isn’t in the realms of a small start-up, but doesn’t feel the faceless giant that Electronic Arts are perceived as by their customers. And yet, they are easily winning in the war of PC games distribution due to trust and respect that people have with Valve as a company.It was only recently that EA’s CEO resigned, and despite many happy to lay the blame at the doorsteps of the Sim City 5 fiasco, the company and many analysts have stated that it wasn’t the primary cause for his departure.
That isn’t to say that Valve are complete saints – they have some issues which I’m sure many would like to see addressed. Not least of these would be the several security concerns with Steam. But even so, they are clearly in the lead in pure market share, and that doesn’t look to be changing soon.
From the perspective of EA and Ubisoft their strategy to create their own platform make sense. Why pay Valve a portion of their sales pie, when they could effectively make more money and gain more control by doing it on their own. In the case of EA’s Origin service they are also able to sell games from other developers too – although their indie range is far smaller, and both they and the larger publishers titles are usually more expensive or with worse deals than their Steam counter-parts. The real danger lies in alienating their customers further still. And while it’s true that PC gamers aren’t worth as many sales generally as say the Playstation or Xbox platforms, PC gaming is growing fast. Couple that with console gamers growing more dissatisfied with their services too and you can gain a bad position fast.
Especially since the new consoles are going to be a lot more PC like, with far more opportunity for DLC and sale of addons than ever before. Couple that with the always online requirements (rumoured at least) of the Xbox 360 and you’ve got an interesting mix brewing.
EA have won one award however(and are also nominated frequently for) – worst company in America according to the Consumerist. Ironically their first ‘victory’ in this was 2012 – the first full year after the release of Origin.
It’s a shame – I truly believe that in some ways, gamers aren’t giving the other services a fair go, and yes – they have their annoyances but Steam isn’t perfect either. Perhaps the lesson here isn’t so much that Steam offer a superior product in what it does, but in that the customers and more to the point, fans, feel more valued.