I was wary when I installed Origin. I’d heard about Electronic Arts’ digital distribution/Digital Rights Management (DRM) platform through gaming news stories, and none of these stories were reporting happy things. But Battlefield 3 had just come out and, in an attempt to bolster the success of its newly rebranded service, Electronic Arts (EA) requires all PC copies of the game to be run through its Origin client. I needed to review Battlefield and so, like everyone else interested in the shooter, I bit the bullet (ha ha) and, with a certain level of trepidation, downloaded the client, tales of hard drive scanning spyware running through my head.
It installed just fine and opened up a clean, simple-to-navigate menu. It wasn’t difficult to get going and, like Valve’s Steam, seemed to have a few decent deals up for offer. I perused the client for a few seconds, considered coming back for an $8.00 copy of Dragon Age 2, then went to input my Battlefield 3 product key.
That’s when things fell apart. After clicking on the appropriate icons, a window would launch with a lethargic, spinning “progress” bar that seemed to go on turning indefinitely. Eventually, following about half an hour of waiting it out, the window would tell me that product redemption was currently unavailable. This isn’t a horrible thing in and of itself; Origin is a fairly new service, and a game like Battlefield 3 can expect to have a somewhat rocky launch process due to its immense popularity.
The real problem with Origin — and EA’s support of the mandatory client — became apparent when I phoned to try to get the activation started manually. The customer service representative was quick to get the install going and, thinking the problem was resolved, I got off the phone. Once the game had finished setting up, though, it couldn’t launch due to Origin having difficulty in linking up with Battlefield’s second required client, Battlelog. Again I called support. Eventually they fixed this issue. The next day I tried to connect to multiplayer. After a few hours on the phone I found out that, because of the “unprecedented popularity of Battlefield 3 and Origin,” a previous service rep had entered random information into my account to get things going and move on to the next support call.
In other words, EA was simply too busy with the problems being caused by its mandatory DRM to actually make it work for customers experiencing problems. 24 hours after attempting to download the game, I was finally able to get it to work properly, with all features enabled.
It’s difficult to stick up for a gaming service that’s advertised with enhancing consumer experience as its apparent purpose and inconveniencing customers as its end result. EA, with Origin, simply want to do what Valve has done with Steam (implement unobtrusive DRM and boost digital sales) but I guess it doesn’t have the kind of infrastructure required for making something like that happen.
The stories regarding info-gathering “spyware” have, of course, been exaggerated, and Origin is at least in theory a good idea and a smart move forward for a major publisher that wants to more effectively compete in the online retail space. It’s just that, by trying to bulk up its own coffers, the customers who simply want to play the publisher’s games are forced to deal with bureaucratic inadequacy.
That’s not good! The vast majority of gamers just want to unwind and enjoy themselves after already plunking down a pretty generous amount of money on a title. Because publishers know they can use a big game’s audience as guinea pigs for their business decisions, this group is made to put up with frustrating DRM experiments instead.
It’s no wonder that game piracy continues to plague the industry when these are the solutions offered us.
Origin is the equivalent of a convenience store owner who is so afraid of potential shoplifters that s/he hires a 300 pound bouncer to thoroughly frisk every customer on their way through the door. The only reason that EA is able to get away with this is because the customer, really jonesing for the candy bar only available at that particular convenience store, is willing to put up with being treated like a criminal in order to get the exclusive treat.
What a nice feeling!
Reid McCarter is a writer, editor and musician living and working in Toronto. He has written for sites and magazines including Kill Screen, The Escapist and C&G Magazine and occasionally updates literature and music blog, sasquatchradio.com.