Steam and Origin – What this Means for Bioware Games

The EA/Valve rift is still going on, with no indication that any progress has been made in whatever is causing this current corporate catfight. However, with Dragon Age 2's recent removal from the Steam store, a question has arose giving exposure of the market to Bioware's releases.

For those not in the know, recent EA games have been pulled from the Steam's online store. This was first noticed with Crytek's Crysis 2. EA has since made public their side of the story - Valve's new distribution contract for the online store seems to require DLC to be purchaseable through Steam. Valve, for its part, has not made a public statement regarding its developments.

Where this new contract seems to conflict with EA's games is plans for EA to sell DLC through its new Origin online store. Though current games have other portals for their extra content (such as Bioware's DLC store), EA almost certainly plans to move this functionality to its own online store, Origin. The latest development came this week, when Dragon Age 2 was removed from the Steam store on the same day that the DLC Legacy became available on Bioware's online store.

Dragon Age 2 has likely seen most of its sales (until an Ultimate Edition comes out anyways), and The Old Republic will be an Origin-exclusive regardless. After that, however, this will spell bad news for future games unless a deal can be worked out.

While it's hard to get definitive numbers from digital distribution platforms, it's considered beyond debate that Valve's Steam platform is currently the strongest performer by a significant margin. Between 2 and 3.5 million users are on at any time, and the store has propelled Valve to be one of the most profitable companies per employee. Steam's popularity is such that some of its users take the (rather pigheaded) view that they will not make a game purchase unless it is available/redeemable on the platform.

Bioware's upcoming project, Mass Effect 3, is available for pre-order on most digital distribution stores. Notably, it is missing from Steam. This latest news is troubling if EA is interested in maximizing exposure for Shepard's last story. Steam carries such a large amount of the market share that, by minimizing the time on its store, EA is risking a large amount of sales.

Now, call me cynical, but I do expect Mass Effect to appear on Valve's storefront at some point. EA pulled a similar trick with Dragon Age 2 - withholding pre-order availability on Steam until the day after its Signature Edition promotion ended. Pre-orders are one of the methods publishers use in order to maximize profits and EA understandably wants to maximize its cut. We could see that the recent development with Dragon Age 2 is part of an EA strategy - maximizing pre-orders with stores that give a more favorable cut, release on Steam eventually for a share on the market, then watch as the game gets pulled months later due to quabbles over DLC availability.

Of course, this is all conjecture on game that's still 8 months from release. But on a game that Shepard fans have spent 4 years anticipating, it's a shame to see company bickering potentially stand in the way of such a big release.