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Why Valve needs to come clean on Steam’s EA-aversion

Tuesday, 12th July 2011 08:11 GMT By Brenna Hillier

As EA games drop quietly from Steam’s catalogue, the mega-publisher is painted the villain. But has Valve been given too much credit?

Valve isn’t as popular as incredible profits might lead you to believe. Detractors fear its hold over the PC market is alarmingly close to a monopoly.

While competitors exist, Steam’s collusion with territorial price fixing and censorship can be swallowed; without them, this gamer’s favourite could end up as much a part of the corporate, business-first machine as the worst of traditional retailers. More concerning for those who fear a fixed market, Valve has apparently not reacted well to the arrival of a rival: EA’s Origin.

EA has the financial muscle – and the IP – to turn Origin into a major drain on Steam’s customers, but it has taken a disarmingly mild approach so far. Although hinting that it may offer its services to other publishers and indies, Origin as it stands seems to be nothing more than a glorified revamp of the pre-exisiting EA Store, with some community features, exclusive but optional content, and DRM tacked on.

Nobody’s quite clear on what’s going on between the two companies in the wake of Origin’s launch, but EA has said Valve made the decision to pull EA’s games from sale on Steam.

Angry armchair commentators are crying foul – but Valve is not. If EA had pulled its games from Steam and falsely accused Valve of doing so, Valve could resolve the situation in a heartbeat by making a public statement to the contrary. It has not done so because, it seems, EA is being entirely truthful.

Post-release support

We don’t know why precisely why Valve made the call to pull EA games, but EA has said Valve will not allow it to do something that every other major digital distribution service will. Whatever this forbidden practice is, it’s got something to do with post-release support, according to Origin head David DeMartini:

“Any retailer can sell our games, but we take direct responsibility for providing patches, updates, additional content and other services to our players. You are connecting to our servers, and we want to establish on ongoing relationship with you, to continue to give you the best possible gaming experience.”

Why would Valve object to the same kinds of direct user communication it demands of other platform holders?

Few of the concepts touched on in this statement seem new. Currently, EA requires PC gamers to forge an “ongoing relationship” with it – by registering an EA ID in order to access multiplayer, DLC, and other online features. It has implemented a DLC system which allows players to buy a core game from one service, and then install DLC purchased elsewhere. The only possible new idea in DeMartini’s statement is the circumvention of Valve’s own patch certification process and hosting.

Why would Valve object to the same kinds of direct user communication it demands of other platform holders?

Valve’s relationship with both console networks fell apart after the launch of The Orange Box. Team Fortress 2, the collection’s most enduring success, has gained notoriety for its constant updates, but the certification processes for both the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live are lengthy, troublesome affairs, and Valve got well and truly tired of jumping through hoops for every new hat.

Sony, astonishingly, has since opened its tightly-guarded borders and let a rival platform in. To wield a loaded analogy, Steam is a parasite, sneaking onto PS3 consoles with every copy of Portal 2, building a nest inside the box’s body.

This is, in fact, great for Sony, who can boast the “best” console version of Portal 2, and it’s great for players. Portal 2 can be patched much more quickly and efficiently on PlayStation 3 than on Xbox 360, should the need arise, and console kids can team up with hardened PC fans to conquer the game’s co-operative multiplayer.

It’s also great – more than great – for Valve. For one thing, PS3 owners see the company’s games at their best, making them more likely to buy the next. For another, the chances of “infecting” console players are not insignificant. Almost everyone has a PC or Mac in their home, even in these days of Internet-ready refrigerators, and once they’ve got a Steam ID, why not fire it up on the other box and see what’s available?

It was a triumph for Valve – and precisely what it is denying EA

Gabe Newell publicly denounced PlayStation 3 in 2009, going so far as to temporarily swear off it. When he arrived on Sony’s E3 2010 stage to eat his words (as eerily echoed by this year’s Ken Levine PS Move apology), it was seen as a triumph for the Japanese platform holder. But really, it was a triumph for Valve, asking for and getting what it wanted: direct access to, and control over, the players of its games on another company’s system – and precisely what it is apparently denying EA.

Valve needs to speak out. It needs to communicate what its intentions are towards Origin and other distribution services, and its intention regarding traditional platforms. Because as it stands, it might not come come through this smelling of roses, and the one-time demon of PC gaming should know better than anyone else how fickle public opinion is.

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29 Comments

  1. ginji

    DA:O already had the requirement for a linked EA/Bioware account (seperate to Steam) for it’s DLC, so why is it suddenly an issue?

    #1 4 years ago
  2. Grimrita

    Personally, I dont think Valve is the problem. Sega manage to use Steam to update all their PC titles and always support Steam with Football Manager and the Total War games.

    Patches are quick (once Sega can be bothered)and those who play Total War have their on ‘War centre’ to keep track of personal stats on Sega servers. So EA is talking bullshit.

    Secondly, and for me most importantly, whilst all other publishers/developers were slating the death of the PC, back up by even more PR bullshit, Valve supported the platform. They kept improving and developing Steam and have turned it into more than just a download store – its become a huge community.

    I dont think Valve need to say a word on the matter and EA need to PROVE where the issue is and stop blowing more PR bullshit hot air.

    The bottom line is, EA need to start making a profit(they havent for many years) and want to cut out the middle man (retailer) from the sales of their games and take every single penny. Which is fine, but dont go around blaming others for such greedy tactics

    #2 4 years ago
  3. darksied

    @2

    I get the feeling from your comment that you’re trying to be impartial, but it’s not working; I can see the Valve fan in you. Which is fine, but you can’t give them the benefit of the doubt without knowing what’s going on, and how can you know what’s going on if they don’t say anything?

    So EA has said what the problem is, and they have said it many times. Their statement has never changed, and they haven’t contradicted themselves. It’s, so far, a game or two (I think, right?) that was removed from Steam, but their games are on EVERY SINGLE OTHER digital distribution site. So, to blame EA for this when they have officially stated why their games were removed from Steam is a bit unfair, don’t you think? Valve hasn’t said jack, because deep down I have a feeling that EA is right; Valve is doing something behind the scenes (maybe not deliberately or maliciously) that is stopping some of EA’s games to be on the service. Anything they say, I believe, will make them look bad. EA has stated their case, how do you expect them to actually PROVE it? Steam is not their service, they can only see it from their point of view.

    And I don’t think this is just about patches. I think it’s more about the social features and other stuff. But that’s just me, I don’t know much about these things.

    So how is EA blaming others for their “greedy tactics?” What exactly is greedy about it? If it’s the fact that they get all the money from Origin, then aren’t Valve and Stardock (not any more though) also being “greedy” by getting 100% of the profits from their games being on their services? You shouldn’t be hypocritical about it; either they’re all greedy, or they’re just competing with each other. Look, you’re a fan of Valve and Steam, I get that from your comment. But you can’t blame EA for things that you allow Valve to get away with.

    #3 4 years ago
  4. Grimrita

    @3 – I just find it funny how other publishers havent done the same thing, only EA. Sega is a fine example as they have games on various DD outlets but dont appear to have a problem with Valve and have kept their titles on every OTHER DD platform, so your arguement is invalid.

    And Valve DO deserve credit for being so foward thinking, when companies like EA werent. And because clearly you fail to understand that, you call people ‘fanboys’.

    EA are the ONLY ones who have a problem with Steam and its probably down to the % of revenues. EA probably want a larger slice of the pie.

    So the point is, if it works for others, what makes EA so different?

    #4 4 years ago
  5. frostquake

    Simply Put we are heading into a Future where every Publisher, Well Large and Mega Publishers will want their own “Steam” or Gateway.

    Just curious since I don’t PC game anymore, Does Steam allow you to purchase the console equivalent of an “Online Pass”? That Dreaded $10 Fee that lets you buy all future DLC at a discount. I am not talking about buying a “Used” copy Pass that lets you play the game online, but this New Sickening “Online Pass” that simply allows you to buy all future DLC at a Discount, like RockStar did with LA Noire and Mortal Kombat?

    #5 4 years ago
  6. darksied

    @4

    First, I didn’t call anyone a fanboy, I called you a fan of Valve … I am too, what’s the point?

    I couldn’t tell you why it’s only EA, only those 2 know. I will say this though: EA does try to do a lot of things that others don’t do. Like I said, it might be some patching or social networking feature that is not compatible with Steam, and so they got booted. I don’t know. All I know is Valve is being suspicious by not saying ANYTHING about it. No official statement for something that has a lot of people riled up (why, exactly, I don’t know).

    #6 4 years ago
  7. UKTomm

    I think people here are having a hard time believing Valve is the bad guy here (including myself) because they have always been good to us. In the gaming world. they’re not seen as the evil corporation.

    #7 4 years ago
  8. darksied

    @7
    Heh, that’s true. In my mind, there’s like 2 or 3 companies that support the PC well, and they’re Valve, Blizzard, and maybe Bioware (though less than before). But Steam keeps getting bigger and bigger, and one downfall of that is that they must be devoting more resources to keeping that going; what I mean is, it seems like their game development has taken a hit. We get the same quality, but it’s a long time between games (does HL3 even exist!?).

    #8 4 years ago
  9. alterecho

    At first i thought the author of this article was biased against Steam. But upon reading this, it made me think.

    Valve allowed the dreaded Ubi DRM but why not EA?
    Valve’s commencement of the daily deals seemed to coincide with the launch of Origin.

    I really like Valve (and hate it because my small balance i had is almost empty), but i want it to be truthful and good.

    #9 4 years ago
  10. RandomTiger

    This article seems biased against valve.
    Here’s a counterweight: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2011-06-17-origin-of-war-editorial

    “Yet regardless of the technical reason for the withdrawal of Crysis 2, the reality remains the same. Whatever EA chose to do with the game, it did in the full knowledge that it would result in it being pulled from Steam – Valve’s terms may be strict in some regards, but they’re hardly labyrinthine or difficult to understand, and it’s extremely unlikely that there was no communication between Valve and EA before the title was dropped. EA may not have pulled Crysis 2 from Steam directly, but it took an action (what action, we don’t yet know) which it knew would have that consequence.”

    #10 4 years ago
  11. runbmp

    EA has pulled off shady business practices towards its consumers. Its hard to take them seriously.

    besides, this whole finger pointing is senseless and if EA wants to start a drama scene let it be done on their own. Valve doesn’t need to justify its position evertime EA doesn’t get its way.

    Perhaps a better question would be, are there any other publishers complaining about this? No? Mystery solved.

    #11 4 years ago
  12. Jan

    If Valve with Steam is the good guy, why don’t they share their games with other digital distribution platform?

    It’s great that Valve got Steam on PS3 but on what cost? Are we gonna see Origen on as well? then Blizzard, MS, Ubisoft and so on?

    #12 4 years ago
  13. UKTomm

    I haven’t heard any complaints from other publishers recently regarding this – only EA.

    @10 That quote makes a lot of sense.

    #13 4 years ago
  14. viralshag

    @4,

    “EA are the ONLY ones who have a problem with Steam and its probably down to the % of revenues. EA probably want a larger slice of the pie.”

    And why not? That is what competing is all about. If some of their games sell amazingly well, Steam or not, why not try and maximize your profits? You will not always want to sell through the middle-man, especially if you have the means to provide your own distribution.

    “So the point is, if it works for others, what makes EA so different?”

    As above, they have the means and resources to do it.

    People should not forget that these are all companies out to make money. Some do it better than others but they are all after the money. To keep providing games, services and updates. I don’t have a problem with Steam of Origin. I will happily use both. I really don’t understand why people are getting their knickers in a twist about Origin.

    #14 4 years ago
  15. bpcgos

    Money,money and money. That’s the only things I reckoned that drive someone (or some “big”companies) regarding to this matter. That’s not a big deal,it’s totally up them towards their motivation. We, as a consumer, should be happy if anything like this happened. But, when they (the big companies) do something irritating us when try to achieve their goal (a.k.a money), then we should be worried. For the same product(digital distribution) they should be compete in different area (which is service) they can provide to us. They must be the one that can give us the best service in order to make us to give our money .

    Valve already done this, they understand it and they prove it by provide us with the best tools called steam client app. Meanwhile,EA just give us origin that AFAIK have no advantage towards their competitor. It’s not a bad thing, especially if they planned to add more features that can compete with steam. But, it won’t be happen overnight (like what EA hopes going to happened). STEAM can be like what it is today after years of years of testing and listening to their customer, meanwhile EA plan to get it’s popularity (and money) as fast as it can to satisfied their stakeholders.

    The point is, EA do it the bad way by putting barrier towards their customer capability to get their products. They want to push origin to the top by dissapointing some of their customer base and not by give them more reason to switch to their origin DD system.

    Both of them have the same reason towards us called money, but sadly they do it in a different way (for today, at least).

    For last but not least, I always love to use this as my last rambling:

    quote drom markcockjin @RPS comment thread of this article http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/07/02/the-rps-bargain-bucket-simply-delivering/

    “All I have to say is, Valve and Steam are doing the most important job here for PC gaming by turning a highly competitive games market into a community of people who share the love for gaming.

    Instead of fragmenting fans into die hard groups loyal to a particular franchise or developer, Steam shows you what games you missed, and gives you the chance to appreciate new genres you may have never bothered to try. Turning on Steam is like going to a party.

    To tell you the truth, I was so depressed reading about Origin and how they want their share of the pie. What pie are they referring to? Valve’s? All I see are PC gamers who are free to communicate and relate to each other when before, they weren’t even able to. You have Ubisoft who cooks up crazy plans to make it more complicated to play. Microsoft who secretly wants to kill PC gaming and port XBox Live to PC. You have Rticello and DICE saying that they are going to kill CoD and how it’s rotten to the core. On the other hand, you have Gabe who says that CoD is actually good for games like it because gamers normally want to play more than one game of a certain type.

    Then you have the Steam Summer Sale where you read comments of people having fun playing a low metacritic-rated game because there are these little prizes you can get fo-reals. These aren’t just the dudebro fratboys or the Hammer Legion Members. You see comments from people who don’t even speak English or pee standing up.
    PC Gaming does not belong to these CEOs and stockholders. It belongs to the gamers and the games we decide we like“.

    #15 4 years ago
  16. apollyonbob

    Okay so I’m going to shine some light on this from a technical stand point.

    1) Steam auto-updates everything. It also runs checksums on everything as part of its DRM. If you thought Steam was DRM free, you were wrong. Their DRM is just unobtrusive, and relatively dependent on being on the Internet. To this end, if an executable file is modified outside of Steam, or without Steam’s knowledge, it will redownload the game.

    2) A program which patches the .exe outside of Steam would trigger this checksum failure and replacement.

    3) EA undoubtedly wants to have ONE version of their game – a version that uses Origin to autoupdate. Every other digital distro is fine with this because nobody else has Steam’s autoupdate features.

    So kind of an impasse there.

    It doesn’t explain Crysis 2, so there’s obviously even more going on, but I think this is a large part of it.

    Either way, I agree with the call to communicate. Valve kind of sucks at that.

    #16 4 years ago
  17. absolutezero

    I use almost every Digital Retailer you can think of, D2D, Gamersgate, GetGames, Impulse. So I decided to give Origins a go with Alice Madness Returns. Its not that bad. Its not Steam though. Everything I ever want is on Steam, basically.

    You know what was in the Steam Summer sale this time? Lots of EA games. So it seems that EA has no problem with using the distribution platform to its fullest. They just made a mistake in thinking that giving DLC exclusivity to Direct2Drive would not upset Steam. Especially since the Crysis 2 owning Steam customers would have to go to another site in order to buy a DLC. The whole idea would be to download it through steam, everything is streamlined.

    If your an idiot and refuse to use any other site (or your Randy Pitchford and are an idiot anyway) then yes Steam might appear to have a manopoly, the reality is far from that. Gamersgate is thriving and theres a reason why gamespot bought D2D.

    #17 4 years ago
  18. UKTomm

    The only DD I use is Steam. If it’s not on there then I will just go buy a retail copy.

    #18 4 years ago
  19. Grimrita

    @ 5 there isnt a ‘discount pass’ as such on Steam. But Steam have lots of sales on stuff and their prices are starting to become sensible.

    @10 – Speaks the truth. So why do Valve need to justify whats going on? EA broke the house rules, its simple as. EA knew the rules and decided to break them. And as in doing so, have created ‘free’ publicity for their own DD service in the process.

    EA will shoot themselves in the foot in the longer term, make no mistake.

    #19 4 years ago
  20. Redh3lix

    #17 – I refuse to use any other site as I’m well aware Steam is the best DD platform out there. I don’t think that makes me an idiot, only sensible oO

    #20 4 years ago
  21. deadstoned

    I to wish Valve would come clean on what’s going on. I can see where the clashes currently are with DLC. I expect EA might be trying to have all their Steam games include some Origin features packed into it and Valves new Terms and Conditions may prevent such action. I’m kind of glad as it would prevent games coming with Rockstar Social Club, Ubi, GFWL and other such tacked on nonsense. So I just have one service running and a game to complete the experience. Buying DLC through Steam is easy and simple, trying to buy Dragon Age/Mass Effect DLC with Bioware points isn’t that simple and may even be easier to pirate than go through the official process *sigh*.

    I hope some agreement can be made between the companies in the end where either Origin and Steam are kept separate or share features neatly bundled in one program. Then I hope DLC and most games can be bought from both services. With Origin having one or two exclusives here in here.

    #21 4 years ago
  22. DSB

    It’s pretty simple. EA want to deliver their patches through Origin, ergo they want to package Origin with every copy they sell, digital or otherwise.

    Obviously that’s a non-starter for Steam, since Origin isn’t just a support platform, it’s also a retail platform. Why it isn’t a problem for D2D and the others I have no idea. It could be because they were scorned by the fact that Steam used to make similar deals.

    Valve could go out and get into a bitter shouting match with EA, but what do they stand to gain from that kind of drama? They have the best service, with the most advanced features, and apparently the better offers on games.

    There are plenty of people that are either unsatisfied or paranoid towards Steam, but Origin isn’t about to be less invasive than Steam in any way. And 50% of the digital marketshare speaks for itself.

    The “standard” move from the playbook would be to launch a media campaign to take control of the public narrative, but Steam is in the business of selling games, by virtue of wheeling and dealing with everybody under the sun, from indies to major publishers. They aren’t about being aggressive and seizing the media narrative, they’re about being diplomatic, talking to everybody, and getting the best deals. See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil.

    They have no interest in a public fight, nor do they need one to maintain their brand as long as they’re as quintessential to the PC audience as they are today.

    #22 4 years ago
  23. silkvg247

    I like valve/steam but after the last sale I have to admit I’m having my doubts. Specifically their move to rob you of “gift” copies of games you arleady own, further adding insult by not reducing the price of a package if you own a portion of the games.

    I mean, how is that even legal?

    #23 4 years ago
  24. OwningXylophone

    @DSB

    Good thought on the packaging of Origin into the game, but don’t the PC versions of Fable 3 & Dirt 3 pick giant holes in that? They come bundled with GFWL, which is a direct competitior to Steam.

    #24 4 years ago
  25. DSB

    @24 That’s another great question.

    As I understand it, GFWL Marketplace is seperate from GFWL itself, but I really don’t know. I’ve never had to look at Marketplace using GFWL, although it does seem to run in the tray.

    There’s also the difference that GFWL isn’t used to update the games themselves, it just updates the DRM.

    #25 4 years ago
  26. IL DUCE

    Gabe Newell is also a former MS employee so maybe he’s closing of their network like X Box has lol…

    And yes I believe the whole issue is about direct patching as far as I’ve heard…because something they were trying to do was against Valve’s policy…not to mention I wouldn’t doubt if Valve is feeling some pressure from Origin (just another service to compete with), and maybe EA would obv rather someone buy the game directly from them instead of through Steam and took it off after Valve wouldn’t accommodate their needs…because while maybe EA loses exposure from a game not being on Steam, Steam also loses sales when someone who wouldve bought an EA game through Steam no longer does so since its not available…

    Not to mention everyone is against the big bad evil empire EA while Valve is the most profitable company per employee…period…so maybe that money is going to their heads? Valve faithful will always defend them…and I’m not saying Valve is in the wrong, nor am I saying EA is wrong, this situation just needs to be resolved or clarified…one way or the other we need a solution or explanation that satisfies us and until then the rest is speculation and bias…

    #26 4 years ago
  27. GwynbleiddiuM

    Well well well… here we go again. Steam played a huge part in maintaining and expanding the PC market, the same market that people over these publishing giants felt is done for. I use steam for a simple yet convenient reason, it manages my games and updates them automatically and I’m not required to go out and trouble myself with updating my games manually. It’s basically the total package. They’re not trying to monopole they just protecting the rights of their customers and the efficiency of their services. Their not closing anything they have a policy to maintain and that policy demands requirements like if the game is gonna be released trough steam all the updates and DLCs should be available through steam. I hated Mass Effect 2 for that reason, simply DLCs were not available through steam.

    EA is messing up their own revenue, let’s face it PC business was going downwards before Steams bold new services. EA profited greatly through Steam on PC market, the same market they did not have few years ago and their investor reports were down and low, now suddenly they think they have figured everything out.

    Goodluck EA, know that after BF3 you wont be selling me no games, simply I don’t want it.

    #27 4 years ago
  28. klewd

    this is one of the most biased and angriest post i’ve seen on this site. this is the kind of attitude that should be expected of 4chan threads, not a news site.

    “Team Fortress 2, the collection’s most enduring success, has gained notoriety for its constant updates”
    do you know what notoriety means? how is providing (free) game content support something that should give you notoriety?

    i understand that the point is to emphasize that EA is not all to blame, but this article sounds like it’s written by an EA propaganda machine or something.

    #28 4 years ago
  29. qrter

    As far as I can see EA hasn’t ‘come clean’ about this business – they’ve made a lot of allusions, but it’s still horribly vague what the exact problem is.

    I see no reason why Valve should come clean when EA hasn’t either, why lay the burden at Valve’s feet?

    #29 4 years ago

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