Summary: It's no longer a rumor: Battlefield 3 won't be available on Steam when it's released this October. EA has been kind enough to definitively answer that, at least, however the reasoning behind it is still not quite clear. They claim that Valve's "restrictive terms of service" are to blame, but is it really that cut and dry? Today's Firing Points explores the possible motives EA may have for doing something like this in the wake of launching their own digital download service, Origin.
If you haven’t heard, EA confirmed a few days ago on their official forums that Battlefield 3 will not be available on Steam. They give the same explanation they did when Crysis 2 and Dragon Age II were removed from Steam, that it is due to Valve’s “restrictive terms of service.”
Basically, it’s the same PR bullshit we’ve been hearing for a couple months now. God forbid they tell us in plain English exactly what the problem is! Our best guess right now, judging by the timing of the removals, is that this has to do with DLC not being sold through Steam. Both Crysis 2 and Dragon Age II were pulled the very same day their latest DLCs were released, which were only available for sale in-game or through an external website, respectively. This theory seems to mesh well with a separate statement EA has posted on their forums concerning their digital distribution policies in general.
This is where it gets a little hairy. If the issue does indeed concern Valve mandating DLC be sold through Steam, shouldn’t they be enforcing this policy uniformly? Why wouldn’t Codemaster’s DiRT 3 be pulled from the store, since they sell DLC exclusively through Games for Windows Live, some of which has been released after Crysis 2 disappeared? Furthermore, EA’s own mega-hit casual game The Sims 3 has a proprietary web store that uses a virtual currency called Sim Points to sell items that aren’t available anywhere else (not even in the expansion packs for sale on Steam), so why is that still there? Again, it has had new content released since this whole mess happened, so the simple conclusion to draw here is that it’s not all about the DLC. There has to be some other reason that EA and Valve are butting heads.
Valve has the most popular digital distribution platform on Earth, and EA is one of the largest video game publishers to retail. EA sees the writing on the wall: PC gamers have gone digital. They want a piece of that pie, so they decide to re-brand their old EA Store/Download Manager and re-release it as a store client similar to Steam. They are aggressively marketing Origin as the go-to online platform for everything they release from now on, and they intend to compete with Steam on every conceivable point of service. One theory is that, in anticipating this, Valve has seen fit to amend their policy to ensure all games sold through Steam are treated fairly, regardless of where they’re bought.
EA has seemingly provided sufficient impetus for such a reaction in recent months. For example, the Crysis 2 DLC’s convoluted delivery mechanism caused some problems with the Steam version of the game. Another issue arose around some free DLC that was released for Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, wherein the patch was released for the Origin/retail version a full two weeks before it arrived on Steam. Many players were unable to participate in online races because their game was not up to date, but it turned out that the only thing preventing the patch from applying to a Steam installation was a discriminatory version check in the installer executable. Literally, changing one value in a tiny text file was enough to make the patch “compatible” with the Steam version of the game. It is entirely possible that Valve’s new policy is merely meant to ensure an even playing field, which is most certainly in the best interest of gamers.
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Here’s another theory: what if EA did this on purpose? They saw an opportunity in Valve’s new policy to get their games pulled from Steam, thus creating a vacuum in the digital demand for those titles. It’s not their fault -- no, ‘course not -- blame Valve for their policy! (Yet we’ve not heard of any other publisher’s games being pulled due to non-compliance.) There are still people that will want to buy those games digitally, so where do they go now? Maybe Direct2Drive, Impulse, or others, but if EA plays their cards right, people will be more likely to be drawn to Origin. It’s the “official” store for those games, after all, and EA has the marketing budget to make that known to all, as well as the ability to offer incentives other digital stores can’t. If they even bother to allow their games to be sold elsewhere; Star Wars: The Old Republic is a huge example of EA arbitrarily deciding to eschew their “policy” of offering their games to be sold everywhere.
Back on the topic of Battlefield 3: As you can see by the [alleged] Origin road map above, EA’s online platform is poised to become an integral part of the gaming experiences they’ll offer in the near future. Right around the time BF3 launches is when they expect to have automatic updates, cloud storage for game saves, and purchasing of DLC from in-game. If that doesn’t require the Origin client, then it will likely happen through Battlelog, which is EA’s answer to the Call of Duty Elite service. It’s a website dedicated to BF3 with all the social interactivity of Facebook, including your in-game friends list, plus a built-in server browser and game launcher. That will allow EA full control of the game, its content, the delivery of said content, and how you play with your friends. All completely isolated from Steam, their competitor. Valve would most certainly settle for fair treatment as far as DLC and patches, but EA doesn’t want to play fair, they’re in it to win it.
Firing Points is a series of frank and poignant editorials that explore popular, pressing, or otherwise provocative topics in the world of gaming. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those belonging to the rest of the FiringSquad team, or anyone else for that matter.
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