Dear Mindy: Origin

Since the success of Valve’s Steam Client in revolutionizing the gaming industry’s distribution and marketing methods many major game providers have developed their own online platforms for supplying clients with products, support, and community.  Origin is Electronic Arts’ digital distribution platform and one of the primary digital outlets for EA games and digital products.

Origin began life as EA Downloader which was released by EA in 2005.  It would transition between various iterations such as EA Link and EA Download Manager, with each new version adding additional features and capabilities.  These older versions provided both an online store for EA products as well as a profile management system and update source for digital products and hard copies.  Origin was released in 2011 and combined all the elements of previous EA online services.

Like its competitors and equivalents, Origin features the staples of a modern digital gaming client system such as a friends list, a profile with achievements and avatar customization, a games library, store access, and automated support for currently owned games.  Any game in the user’s library is available for download any number of times from Origin.  Like Steam and Battle.net, product keys can be used to redeem physical copies of certain EA produced games; however if the game is already installed on the user’s computer the code cannot be redeemed even if the user does not intend to download the game.

At this point Origin only supplies titles owned and/or developed by EA.  Origin can be accessed on PCs and recently on mobile devices but is not currently available for consoles.  It is currently unknown if EA plans to include titles from other producers in its store selection.  EA has specifically stated that Origin is a competitor with Steam so it is highly possible that Origin will eventually become a digital marketplace.

It’s worth noting that an Origin installation and account are required for more recent EA titles, primarily those released within the last few years, even if they are bought on disc or another form of third party distribution.  Origin itself is a free service and can be utilized in offline mode if the user saves his or her login information in online mode first.  Games installed from a disc do not need to be synchronized with Origin to run their single player and LAN functions.  However they do need to be registered on Origin to receive updates, access multiplayer servers, and communicate with other players in-game.

Origin provides all the services necessary to play and enjoy the games it provides.  It’s only glaring downside is that it is a first and foremost a store.  Navigation is heavily weighted towards the store; and community interaction, such as forums and community posts, is limited.  Games listed inside the user’s library are effectively placeholders and do not have their own pages, in contrast with Steam or Battle.net which have dedicated displays for each game.  Purchasing and accessing games on Origin is quick and easy but any utility related to the account’s interaction with those games is minimal.  Support is also lacking for older games with newer products receiving most of the attention as far as deals, advertisements, and FAQ posts are concerned.

Like everything EA touches Origin takes a popular concept and puts its own spin on it with rather mixed results.  Origin features all the services necessary for acquiring and using EA products and connecting with the community of EA gamers.  However on the flip-side Origin is heavily geared towards EA’s marketing and sacrifices its community development for customer interaction with the online store.  It’s high quality and no doubt sufficient for EA’s purposes, but Origin will certainly have to be optimized to better support and reflect the gamer culture before it can truly equal its competitors.

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