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EA's Origin seeks a distinct identity in its sophomore year

EA's Origin seeks a distinct identity in its sophomore year Exclusive

June 12, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

Electronic Arts' Origin enjoyed its first anniversary last week, and while the publisher had no big announcements to celebrate the digital distribution's platform's birthday at E3, it does have a focused plan on what the service needs to accomplish in its sophomore year.

For many consumers -- and developers, too, likely -- what Origin needs to do is simple: become more like its primary, industry-leading competitor, Valve Software's Steam. That's the complaint EA says it hears most about its service.

"The easy response to that is, 'Well, gives us a few more years, and maybe we'll be better than Steam,'" says Origin SVP David DeMartini. "That said, right now we're not. ... Steam took eight years to get where it is. We're not going to take eight years, but we're going to get there and go beyond."

But while EA wants to get the platform up to par, DeMartini says that becoming more like Steam isn't the goal. "There's one Steam. I think what people want to see is, they want to have another viable option. They want us to differentiate in a way that sets us apart."

While EA spent the past year building Origin's foundation and basic features, the next 12 months will be devoted to those features that will potentially make the service stand-out from its competitors. One way Origin hopes to do that is leveraging EA's spread across both PCs and consoles.

DeMartini explains, "We need to take full advantage of that multiplatform capability that EA brings. We need to be able to visualize that in the service in a way that allows you amongst your circle of gaming friends to differentiate yourself or demonstrate your skills multiplatform versus other people you game with or who you are interested in their opinion."

Emphasizing the need to make Origin a distinct service, he points out EA's first-person shooter series and its main competitor as an example: "Battlefield 3 isn't Call of Duty. Battlefield 3 is great, it's a shooter, but it's a great shooter in its own right. I want Origin to be the exact same thing."

"That doesn't mean Call of Duty is bad," he continues. "I don't want to see Steam become bad. They're a partner. They do a lot of good things. What I want is [for] Origin to be differentiable and better as a service, which is similar to what Steam does."

Many consumers are looking for more than promises before they buy into Origin, but EA has already started to roll features that it believes will separate the platform from others, such as its new program for games that have been crowdfunded by services like Kickstarter.

With this initiative, developers can bring their small, indie projects to Origin without having to pay distribution fees for 90 days, and reach the service's more than 12 million users. EA doesn't require studios to sign any exclusivity deals, but it's won some good will from both consumers and developers with the move.

"One of the exciting things about the crowdfunding thing is we finally got there first," DeMartini said with glee. "There was almost nothing that anybody could criticize. It was kind of delightful. It was like, 'Wow, we got one. We got there first. It's a great idea. We finally thought of something that somebody else didn't think of.' We've got more ideas like that in store."

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