Over the weekend, or at least I noticed it over the weekend, EA stuck up "A list of digital retailers who will be selling Battlefield 3" onto Battlefield.com. I had a good look at it at, but it's curiously now been taken down. It included the likes of Gamersgate, Impulse, Direct2Drive, and EA's own (sort of) brand new download service, Origin. Nearly 100 different digital distributors were listed in total, but conspicuous by its absence, it seems there are currently no plans for Battlefield 3 to be made available on Steam.
Here we go. It's the next chapter of the ongoing kerfuffle between EA and Valve. We don't actually know for certain that Battlefield 3 won't be announced for a Steam release at a later date, but Steam was not on the now removed list. I asked a bloke from EA about it, and they have nothing to say except to keep your eye on the official website for news about the game. Hmm.
Maybe this list will resurface with Steam on it at a later date, but my gut is suggesting otherwise. I can't remember EA having ever previously put together a list like that, so it feels like they're going out of their way to make a point.
It's interesting to note that this is not an example of EA securing Battlefield 3 as an Origin exclusive, like with The Old Republic. From the looks of things it is going to be sold anywhere else that will take it. They seem to be living up to their promises of wanting to offer consumers a broad choice of where to buy games from, but that's little consolation to customers who might not be able to buy Battlefield 3 from their go to digital distributor.
There's plenty of signs suggesting this is part of Valve and EA's disagreement about DLC stuff. Is Battlefiled 3 going to have DLC that is only compatible with copies bought from Origin? It wouldn't be a first for EA/DICE, the Mirror's Edge Mario Galaxy map pack only works on retail and EA Store copies of the game.
Or could it be something else? Obviously BF3 is still going to be getting a retail release (how else would they arrange retailer exclusive DLC?), but I have my suspicions that perhaps future EA games will require Origin for installation. They've dabbled with this in the past, where certain retail games could be optionally registered on EA Store, but mandatory installation via Origin would be a good way for them to get their client installed on a whole load of PCs. Requiring a separate client being installed for patches and/or buying DLC could be something that is against Valve's recently updated terms, whereas plenty of the other digital distributors already do essentially that for Steamworks games, so would (presumably) have no problem selling games that require Origin. Will that big list of outlets just be selling serials to plug into Origin?
A point about Origin that should not be missed in all of this: Origin could be argued to appear like a rebranded EA Store, which had been going for years. Poking around the Origin website, they still link to their (now dead) @EAstore twitter account, which then links to the @OfficialOrigin, which then again links you to the actual one they decided to use: @origin_EA. They should probably fix that. (Update: They have done).
I'd much prefer to have seen the energy that's gone into rebranding their service, focused on developing it. The client is good enough, just about, but updating it is always more of a hassle than it should be, it's kind of slow to navigate, if you want to download and install a 5gb game you need 10gb free space, and when buying PC games that have a Mac version you only get the PC version. Maybe they could be offering features like cloud saving, or international pricing parity (since they own the entire distribution chain for Origin, it's their choice, and their choice alone, to practise international pricing bollocks). Hell, even making sure they are the cheapest place to download their games from would be a good start, but right now recent releases like Need for Speed: Shift 2 and Alice: Madness Returns have an RRP of £34.99 on Origin and under £30 on both Steam and GamersGate. I'm dreaming now, but wouldn't it be nice if they tried to compete with retail pricing for new releases?
Maybe they have new features in the pipeline that will be revealed as the games that use them are released, but if you're going to launch a new digital distribution service, I'd say it's probably a good idea to have a new digital distribution service.
We should be glad that EA are taking the PC platform seriously enough to be further pushing their own digital distribution service, but at the moment it's falling short. Publisher ran digital distribution service can be fantastic, but EA clearly could be doing much better than this. On the flip side, we're often quick to celebrate indies selling their own games directly, is it fair to have one rule for the little guy, but hold bigger publishers to a different set of standards? Maybe if PC becomes more profitable for them, EA will push more resources into PC development.
The current implementation of Origin lets you play games without having the client running, so that is one clear advantage it has over Steam.
Will you be buying future EA games if they require Origin to be installed, no matter where you buy it from? Would Battlefield 3 not being available on Steam impact your purchasing decision?
Battlefield 3 is, still, looking pretty damn hot.