Is Steam doing wrong by developers? EA’s head of Origin thinks they could be

By Eli Cymet | Jun 7, 2012 |

On the heels of our e-mail chat with Brawesome about valuing the games you make, a headline-catching talk with the chief of EA’s Origin download service seems like the perfect way to cap off the day here at Gamezebo. In a detailed interview with gamesindustry.biz, David DeMartini dished on Origin’s plans to win over the public, and his thoughts on a certain download competitor you may have heard of.

As Origin heads into its second year of existence, the fledgling, EA-powered download service has gotten mixed reviews to say the least. Many have complimented the interface and selection, but that’s about where the praise stops. On the worse end of the spectrum? Feelings that the service is irrelevant. A derivative of what’s already out there, powered by a company with a less-than-stellar track record with the consumer, hoping to ride the coat tails of success seen by friendlier faces in the space. And so uniquely, EA and Origin have had to fight the man and be the man all at once.

And yet, the way DeMartini sees it, there may be a better target for gamer and developer ire. At least where certain practices are concerned. Specifically? The much-talked-about deep-discounting of indie games that Steam has become famous (and infamous) for.

“Obviously they think it's the right thing to do after a certain amount of time,” he postures. And then, the rub: “I just think it cheapens your intellectual property. I know both sides of it, I understand it. If you want to sell a whole bunch of units, that is certainly a way to do that, to sell a whole bunch of stuff at a low price. [But] the gamemakers work incredibly hard to make this intellectual property, and we're not trying to be Target.”

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What, then, are they trying to be? As the interviewer points out, Steam’s methods are far from detrimental across the board to the titles they discount, many of whom often go on to see more overall revenue during their sale period than ever before. What, if not discounting, is the method to drive traffic and numbers? EA’s answer: secret sauce.

“Without revealing too much, what I'll say is... there are other ways, which I can't really talk about, of dealing with product as it ages over a period of time,” says DeMartini in a statement so shrouded that could have been an episode of Twin Peaks. “Where you present a value to the customer and you engage them in your service on a going-forward basis. We don't believe in the drop-it-down, spring-it-up, 75 percent off approach, but we've got something else that we do believe in that we'll be rolling out.”

With that said, he made it clear that he wasn’t stirring the pot for the sake of stirring, and that EA’s impending alternative isn’t a direct attack on Steam, but rather a different approach to the question of creating buzz in the digital space. Because at the end of the day, warns DeMartini, it’s about consumer behavior and the way it affects games in the long term.

“What Steam does might be teaching the customer that "I might not want it in the first month, but if I look at it in four or five months, I'll get one of those weekend sales and I'll buy it at that time at 75 percent off." It's an approach, and I'm not going to say it's not working for Valve. It certainly works for Valve; I don't know if it works as well for the publishing partners who take on the majority of that haircut.”

For a more in-depth look at EA’s stance on Origin, and where it’s headed in its second year, head over to the wonderful Gameindustry.biz piece and give it a read!

Read more: EA, Origin, Steam, David DeMartini, gabe newell, digital download, Indie

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