The launch of EA's military shooter, Battlefield 3 has not gone smoothly. Server issues, privacy concerns, and instances of poor customer service have led to criticisms about EA's practices; in particular, the marriage of the PC version of BF3 with EA's Origin desktop client. With two major releases coming from Bioware offices, some gamers have been murmuring about the possibility of The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3 going down the path of Origin exclusivity. Let's cut through the FUD and talk about what we know.
Part of the confusion stems from the fact that there's two entities with the Origin name - the online store and the desktop client. This has led to some need for clarification, for instance, when it was revealed the Origin client wasn't needed for TOR, but the online store was the only place to get a digital copy. So, I'll be addressing each iteration of Origin separately to try and minimize confusion. Here's what we know so far:
TOR will not require the Origin client at all. Digital copies are Origin store Exclusive.
Desktop Client - There is no requirement for the Origin desktop client with TOR. This has already been confirmed by the Bioware Austin group. Even if you purchase the digital version, you can download, launch, patch and play TOR without ever touching the desktop client.
Online Store - The digital version can only be purchased through the online Origin store. This includes both the standard and digital deluxe versions. Retail copies, however, are not exclusive, and can be found in almost any gaming store. Think of how Blizzard sells WoW, and it will give you an idea of the scope of Origin's involvement in this MMO.
Mass Effect 3
may require the Origin Client to activate, but probably not exclusive to the store.
[Update: See below]
With a little over five months until its release, it's a bit premature to know the exacts of the DRM in this game. However, gleaming through some internet sources gives us a fair idea of what may come.
Desktop Client - BSN user N0-Future found what appears to be the Mass Effect 3 EULA (End User License Agreement) on the Amazon cloud storage service. The relevant part reads:
What this means is that the Origin desktop client will be needed for initial activation and authentication. However, it will probably be launchable outside the client, as well.
Online Store - The game itself is listed for sale on several sites beside Origin, including Direct2Drive and GamersGate. The Digital Deluxe version is an Origin store exclusive. However, unless you want to pay an extra $20 for a digital robo-dog, then you can find other options out there.
So, what's this mean?
Based on what we have learned so far, it seems that the only time you have to deal with Origin is when you initially activate Mass Effect 3. So, next time someone tells you that it's going to be Origin-exclusive, let them know you're tired of disingenuous assertions.
[Update]: After some more searching, I found myself on the collection page of EA EULAS, which you can find here. In addition to confirming the authenticity of the EULA posted on the BSN, it also includes an online disclosure for ME3 with a troubling choice of words for the anti-Origin crowd:
INTERNET CONNECTION REQUIRED FOR PRODUCT ACTIVATION. INTERNET CONNECTION, EA/ORIGIN ACCOUNT, ACCEPTANCE OF PRODUCT AND ORIGIN END USER LICENSE AGREEMENTS, INSTALLATION OF THE ORIGIN CLIENT SOFTWARE (WWW.ORIGIN.COM/ABOUT) AND REGISTRATION WITH ENCLOSED SINGLE-USE SERIAL CODE(S) REQUIRED TO PLAY, ACCESS BONUS CONTENT (IF ANY) AND ACCESS ONLINE SERVICES.
Well, shit. My initial conclusion about Mass Effect 3 may have been pre-mature, but we'll continue to update this article as we receive more information.
[Update 2]: Bioware has confirmed that the Origin desktop client will be required for Mass Effect 3. See our latest post on this development here.