The last few months have been a bumpy ride for Valve and EA. Due to various problems in contractual agreements and plans, Steam has had to remove a number of EA games from the service, and recently EA stated Battlefield 3 would not be coming to Steam at all.
Dragon Age 2 and Crysis 2 have been removed from Steam because of issues with the games’ DLC. The Dragon Age 2 expansion “Legacy” is distributed directly through the game and from EA’s servers, bypassing Steam’s DLC service completely. Steam’s policy requires the DLC for games to be available directly through the Steam Store, and therefore had to remove the game. Crysis 2 was removed for similar issues, EA had made exclusive distribution deals with other retailers that would exclude Steam from having certain DLC, which again violated their policy, and required them to remove the game.
Recently EA announced that Battlefield 3 would not be distributed on Steam because “the service restricts our ability to directly support players.” What EA wants to do is distribute DLC directly to customers, like they wished to with Dragon Age 2. EA also wants no restrictions on how patches are distributed to players. However EA has not said how Steam restricts them. EA is the only major publisher to come out and say they have issues with Steam’s policies.
Valve takes issue with DLC being provided outside of their service for two reasons. For one, it makes the process messier for customers by requiring payments to go through another system and requires users to manage content separately from Steam. The second reason is that it excludes Valve from getting any cut of the sales.There are many sides to this problem. EA recently relaunched and re-branded their digital distribution service, Origin. The service is a competitor to Steam, providing digital downloads for EA’s games and social networking components It’s possible these claims of “restrictive policies” really sprout from the desire to strengthen their own digital distraction service.Steam is also not as restrictive as EA would like users to believe. They claim ” no other download service has adopted these [restrictive] practices.” However it’s not like Steam is forcing publishers into unreasonable agreements. Steam allows patching through a pretty pain-free process (especially compared to the approval process for Xbox 360 software) and lets developers have special access to game-specific forums on their site. So it’s hardly difficult for developers to communicate with users. Steam simply enforces stricter rules to keep their service running as smooth as possible and to make it as simple as possible for gamers.EA has had no issue distributing DLC through Steam in the past. Battlefield: Bad Company 2, which released before the launch of Origin, uses Steam’s DLC system to distribute the Vietnam expansion pack. The Sims 3 also has eight different DLC expansions on Steam.
Valve has also allowed EA to distribute DLC outside of Steam before. Mass Effect 2, which released in 2010 (months after Steam added DLC support), uses the Cerberus Network to distribute DLC, which is outside of Steam. Mass Effect 2 was never removed from Steam.
So why is this a issue all of a sudden? Speculation says it’s because of EA’s own Origin Store, which is a direct competitor to Steam despite what EA says. Valve and EA have also had a rocky past. Despite Steam’s success, EA only partnered up with them in December of 2008, after their original online store (EADM/EA Store) failed to gain popularity. When the announcement originally was made, it was a huge gain for Steam, who finally attracted one of the biggest publishers to their platform, and only a few years later they risk splitting again. By keeping their big titles as Origin exclusives, EA could pick up a lot of market share, and potentially make a lot of money. The actual percent of earnings that Steam takes is not publicly available, but if we assume it’s 30% (which is how much Apple, Microsoft, and others take for their digital distribution services), EA stands to make a lot more selling directly to customers.
With over 30 million active members, and an estimated 70% share in the digital distribution market, the Steam community is nothing to scoff at. While the Battlefield series is one of the most popular all time PC series, many users (myself included) do not want to deal with another program and games library, and only buy games digitally if they are on Steam. EA is taking a gamble, while they stand to make more money per copy selling only through Origin, it’s not known how many sales they risk losing from customers who exclusively use Steam.
It’s also possible EA is just being difficult. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has a news ticker in-game which updates players with information on news and new content (and those messages are not moderated in any way by Steam). If this solution was satisfactory for the current iteration of the Battlefield series, why can’t it be used for the next release? EA has also released Alice Returns on Steam since these issues began. Why is it that Steam’s policies don’t restrict Alice Returns like they supposedly do with Battlefield 3?
In the past EA has also had issues coming to agreement with other companies. EA refused to get on-board with Xbox Live until Microsoft agreed to let them use dedicated servers for their games instead of the existing Xbox Live infrastructure. Maybe it is actually EA who has “restrictive policies”.
Gabe Newell, President of Valve, is not intent to just sit back and let the problems continue. In a recent interview with Develop, Newell said that “we have to show EA it’s a smart decision to have EA games on Steam, and we’re going to try to show them that.” Newell did not give many specifics, but it sounds as if he is looking to negotiate with EA and possibly meet some of their demands.
Over time, Steam has relaxed their restrictions regarding DRM and third-party services. One issue that originally kept EA games off Steam was the SecuROM copy-protection they featured, which was removed from the titles before their debut on the service. Now Steam allows third-party DRM and software, such as Games For Windows Live, and UPlay (for Ubisoft’s From Dust), to be requirements for installation. So requiring a download of EA’s Origin software would not be too farfetched.
Newell said, “Companies have to earn the right to install content on their customers’ PCs on a regular basis.” In the case of From Dust, which required registration and installation of the UPlay software, Ubisoft didn’t exactly earn their customer’s trust, and Valve didn’t either . Not only was the port a technical mess, the company also lied about the DRM used in the game, telling customers it was a one-time activation, when in reality it checked if the user was connected to the internet after every launch. Steam users fear these third-party requirements for exactly this reason. Games that require these third-party methods often feature bugs and incompatibility errors, as well as serve as an inconvenience to users.
Newell said, “I think at the end of the day we’re going to prove to Electronic Arts they have happier customers, a higher quality service, and will make more money if they have their titles on Steam. It’s our duty to demonstrate that to them. We don’t have a natural right to publish their games.” Hopefully a compromise can be made that will get Battlefield 3 on Steam; one that will be beneficial both to EA and gamers.