EA has just arrived on Steam in a big way with Spore, Warhammer Online and Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 to mention just a few of the big names that have taken residence on Steam. However I want to take a bit of a look beyond the obvious fan boy reaction about how great this is, and yet not get lost in the cynical view that this is the death of Steam. Hopefully this will provide you with a balanced look on how this latest development may impact on Steam (and in turn Valve), EA and maybe some other topics. If you wish to learn more, then read on.
The arrival of EA games on Steam is on the face of things a very positive move, both for EA and for Valve. EA are getting their top new games out there to an audience which is now host to over 15 million users. With the recent economic down-turn and costs cutting measures taking place within EA, any chance to get their products to a wider audience is something that the company had to jump on. This in turn is a good business move for Valve as they now have three of the biggest game developers/publishers in the world on Steam; Activision, Ubisoft and now EA. These three companies, love them or hate them, constantly release big budget AAA games, and whenever on of these games is sold on Steam Valve will get their own cut.
However, it is important that Valve maintain their identity and the ethos of Steam, while we can’t deny that having these big games companies on Steam is great for business, there is a downside. These big budget games are going to be eye catching and very popular on Steam, largely because of the promotion they receive. The fear must be that the less mainstream games and smaller developers will find themselves being marginialised now on Steam. Getting EA games on the platform is a great move for Valve, but the question has to be asked; where are games from developers like Positech and the whole host of other indie game studios? Just because EA is on Steam doesn’t mean that Valve should turn their focus away from the games which don’t have such a wide base of support.
The announcement of the availability of EA games on Steam came with a big caveat, another big publisher using Steam has taken the choice to limit their products to North American customers only. With a new era of localised currencies (which is another issue entirely) EA’s decision comes across as being decidedly narrow minded. This is another example of the Steam service appearing to give all the love to North American customers, leaving the rest of the world, well frankly feeling a bit shafted. This issue has already caused fury amongst many users of Steam who would love to purchase these EA games, but can’t due to the region restrictions.
Valve are big boys with an enormously powerful distribution tool in Steam, they should be taking a tough stance against companies that are limiting the access that certain people around the world have to their products. EA have pretty much admitted defeat in the digital distribution market, their EA Downloader service will surely fall by the wayside now.
Looking at this development in the wider context of the relationship between EA and the PC gaming community is important. EA (and lets be frank, many other people and companies) have had a very up-and-down relationship with the PC gaming community in the recent months and even years. The DRM policies found on Spore caused outrage amongst a very audible group of people. The issue of piracy has also been alluded to as part of EA’s decision not to release the latest editions of games like Madden NFL on the PC this year. Their decision to put some of their catalogue on Steam shows that they may still have some faith in the PC market, in turn it is up to us PC gamers to show EA that they would be foolish to abandon the PC. We also have the chance to show EA that services like Steam are the way forward to help combat piracy, not intrusive forms of DRM. Things are looking positive though, early reports are that the EA games on Steam are not coming with any other forms of DRM.
It will be interesting to see what EA do with their frankly massive back catalogue, will we see games like System Shock 2 make an appearance on Steam? I know that many people would be extatic to see that happen. With such a huge PC game library, EA would be foolish to limit themselves to only releasing their new games on Steam.
This is a pivotal moment for both EA and Valve. If both companies play their cards right, then this deal to sell EA games on Steam could be the beginning of something special for Valve and become seen as a significant moment in pushing the Steam platform forward to a much wider audience. Imagine having The Sims series on there, that would be massive. Likewise, this can be a chance for EA to turn things around, both as a company, and in their relationship with the PC gaming community. It will most certainly be an interesting few weeks for both companies, and also for those of us who regularly use Steam.