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EA's DeMartini: 'It's Never Been About' Facing Off With Steam

EA's DeMartini: 'It's Never Been About' Facing Off With Steam

July 6, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander

Electronic Arts is trying to take a clear stance amid ongoing discussion among gamers and industry-watchers about what its new Origin platform means for its relationships with other digital distributors. The company's official stance is that if an EA game doesn't appear on another digital download platform, then it's by that platform-holder's choice, not the publisher's.

David DeMartini, who now heads EA's Origin platform, sought to clarify the publisher's position in a new blog post today, and he tells Gamasutra: "On how we operate with all of our partners, both retail and digital distributors... we will make our content available to everybody. Of course they have a choice as to whether or not they carry that content."

The "800 pound gorilla in the room," he tells us, is Valve and its Steam service. When Crysis 2 -- which originally sported a misleading "only on Origin" tag on EA's new storefront -- was recently removed from Steam, many presumed it was because of discord between EA and Valve over their respective online platforms.

"Obviously when a big publisher comes up with their own application and launches a site where you can buy games directly, people immediately jump to the conclusion that means they're going to exclude everyone else," DeMartini says.

But that's not what's going on here, he insists. "Crysis was taken down because the DLC was not available through Steam; it was available through [Direct2Drive]. That would, I guess, be a situation where two partners didn't see eye to eye, and by their choice, they were going to take that product down because they were insisting that the DLC be available through Steam."

"We believe in absolute freedom of choice to allow customers to buy through whatever retail outlet... as long as they're buying an EA game, we're delighted," he says. "We feel like if you buy the product with Origin, where we're going on a long-term basis is we'll integrate some of the Origin feature set into many of our highest-profile IP... but by all means if your preferred retailer is Best Buy or Direct2Drive or Impulse or Steam or Amazon... we're going to make our product available to you."

According to DeMartini, EA wants the ability to manage its own relationships with the consumers, suggesting it may encounter troubles from platform holders who don't permit that. For him, it's a brand-new angle on EA's relationship with Valve -- before heading the Origin group, DeMartini led EA Partners, which saw both companies benefiting greatly from distribution partnerships around major titles.

"I've worked with [Valve] for five years," says DeMartini. "They're really smart, they've done a great job with Steam, and I just find it interesting that some of the ways they've built their business are specifically some of the areas of conflict between us on a going forward basis. That said, I have mad respect for them as game makers and people. They've built a great service, and there are times in any relationship that you find yourself in conflict."

"Occasionally, you just both feel very strongly about a position that you believe in, and that doesn't mean you've lost any respect for each other -- it's fundamentally you don't agree on how a certain thing should be handled," DeMartini adds. "In this particular case, we feel incredibly strongly about our responsibility on a going-forward basis as it relates to our own IP."

The Origin teams are working on expanding the service's feature set in the hopes of making it a worthwhile choice for gamers around EA's key IP.

"Every one of the significant franchises is working with us to integrate more and more between the game and Origin," he says. But meanwhile there's no line in the sand: "I am absolutely not at this point saying, 'hey, it's Origin versus Steam,' he explains. It's never been about that."

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