With the EA Blockbusters ’11 pre-order campaign heavily promoting Origin — EA’s very own digital game downloads store — and some games (*ahem* Battlefield 3) forcing you to use Origin, many of you are asking: What Origin is all about? Is there any benefit to buying games through Origin instead of my favourite brick-and-mortar retailer?
If those questions ever crossed your mind, or if you want to know exactly what you’re getting into with Origin, I’ve got you covered.
First of all, here’s the tl;dr version for people who hate walls of text:
- The Origin store and client offers a seamless buying experience. It doesn’t suck.
- You’re better off buying retail, unless you’re really lazy. If you’re in Australia though, see #4.
- You can still download games off Origin after a year. If you hear otherwise, those are half-truths.
- Games bought from or added to Origin are region-free. REGION-FREE. Good.
Ready to read on? Let’s get you all the nitty-gritty details you need to know about Origin!
1. The Origin experience is slick and nearly seamless
To test Origin, I
sacrificed added my copy of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Limited Edition to EA’s digital game library service. I’m happy to report that EA Origin is nothing like its predecessor, the EA Download Manager.
Installing Origin was painless and took less than 5 minutes to set up. Adding my previously purchased game, however, was not so painless. I was informed that BF:BCS couldn’t be added directly through Origin and I had to visit an EA software activation website to do so instead. According to a helpful FAQ, this is because certain games and premiums cannot be activated directly through Origin. Once I did what I had to do at that website, BF:BC2 was instantly added to my games library.
The download speed was fast for me, here in Singapore. I managed to download the game at 1.3MB/sec, transferring 8 GBs worth of data in under two hours. I’m on a 16 mbps cable plan, so you can probably expect higher speeds if you’re on fibre. The game also installs without prompting once the download is complete. This neatly avoids the jarring experience on Steam where you launch a freshly downloaded game expecting to play but are greeted by an installer pop-up instead.
What I didn’t expect was the Origin overlay, which functions exactly like how Steam’s community overlay does. You access it with the default “Shift+F1″ keyboard shortcut. The Origin overlay adds functionality like a web browser and friend notifications in-game, but sadly there’s no screenshot capture function — a very handy feature that I hope will be added in the future. One thing to note: the Origin overlay only works if you launch the game through Origin. I tried starting the game directly from the Program Files folder executable and also through a Steam game shortcut, but there was no Origin overlay.
2. Buying from Origin costs the same as retail
A cursory glance at the Origin Singapore store shows the prices of new game titles are exactly the same as what you’d pay if you had gone to the traditional brick and mortar store.
Really, EA? You cut out the retailer and save costs on manufacturing and shipping to get a higher profit margin for yourself, and you still charge us the same price as retail? And to add injury to insult, most retailers offer some swag (like posters!), a small discount and the physical game box itself, if you’re into that sort of thing.
This is one case where going digital doesn’t save you any money*. In fact, you probably get less value by buying directly from Origin. You’ll be forced to use Origin anyway with some, if not all, new game titles. Unless you strongly prefer to stay holed up in your fortress of solitude, my advice is to head out to a retail store to buy the physical copy.
*Unless you are in Australia, then perhaps you can use a proxy or VPN tunnel to access the Singapore Origin store and score some savings! See point #4 below for details on Origin’s region policy.
3. You can still download your games after one year
So you’ve heard that you can’t download your EA games after one year? Turns out that’s not exactly true. This little bit of misinformation started when some people found the following tucked away in EA’s Terms of Sale:
Performance of the Contract:
The products and services that we make available on the Websites may be downloaded or accessed for at least one year after you have completed your purchase.
Some careful reading will tell you that this is actually a good thing. Basically, EA guarantees you will be able to download your purchase for at least one year. Origin’s FAQ itself says that they “typically [don't] retire games” after a year. Nice. Unfortunately, by agreeing to those terms of sale you just signed away all of EA’s legal and moral obligations to keep the game available for you longer than a year. Not so nice. Then again, Valve doesn’t even promise you’ll be able to download anything with Steam. Inside the Steam Subscriber Agreement you’ll find:
C. Termination by Valve.
2. In the case of a one-time purchase of a product license (e.g., purchase of a single game) from Valve, … Valve may, but is not obligated to, provide access (for a limited period of time) to the download of a stand-alone version of the software and content associated with such one-time purchase.
So it’s Valve’s word against EA’s word; at least EA guarantees one year of access to your purchases.
Frankly, I’d trust Valve and Gabe Newell over EA any day. Sure, the trust and belief I have in Valve is emotional and goes against the hard facts present in the legal agreements, but I’m certain many feel the same way I do. This is a trust and brand issue which EA needs to overcome if they want to see real user excitement and advocacy of Origin.
4. No region-locks or blocks on Origin games. Hooray!
You know how this one works for Valve games: you buy and add a Singapore retail copy of Left 4 Dead 2 to Steam, subsequently go to Australia to for further studies, then find out that you can’t play the game because it’s region-locked. Thankfully, you’ll face no such issue with Origin.
According to an EA spokesperson I sent my queries to, there are no region-lock for games on the Origin Singapore store. This means you can log in from anywhere in the world to download and play the games that you bought. Similarly, for retail copies added to Origin, there are no region restrictions either.
The Origin store itself has regional restrictions though. Using an IP-matching system, the Origin website will direct you to the appropriate store for your geographical location.
Those living in Australia, you know what to do.