Valve’s Steam is Beloved by Gamers While EA’s Origin is Loathed. Why?

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Leveling Up in the Enterprise

In our ongoing series about the video game industry and what businesses can learn from it, we take a look at two content delivery services and why one is loved and the other is reviled.

Steam from video game studio Valve Software and and Origin from Electronic Arts are two services that essentially do the same thing. Instead of going to a store to purchase a video game, these services let you do it from your computer via cloud-based direct download. In a sense, it’s iTunes for PC games. The main difference is most gamers (an increasingly diversifying market in age, race, and gender) love Steam and hate Origin.

iTunes for Video Games

Steam was first to market in 2003. Valve is a video game developer and publisher behind such classics as Half-Life and Portal. They’re a company which garners respect within the gaming community. At first, consumers were wary of this new way of purchasing video games, but the service eventually succeeded. Third-party developers began distributing their games on Steam, and it soon became the go-to online marketplace for digital distribution of video games, just like iTunes is for music. It delivered real value to its users, and gamers felt they could trust Valve.

The Taint of EA

In 2011, Electronic Arts, or EA, released its competitor to Steam, by the moniker Origin. From the beginning, gamers didn’t like it. Not only were they used to using Steam, they were skeptical of anything with EA’s name on it. Though EA’s games are popular, their business practices are not. EA is always in the running for the worst company in America by the Consumerist and even “won” in 2012, the first full year of Origin’s release. They have a reputation for mistreating their customers with invasive anti-piracy policies and greedy pricing schemes that nickel and dime people into paying for content they should have received in the first place. EA, aware that most customers would prefer to deal with Valve, decided to cease selling their new games on Steam. If people wanted to play their PC games, they’d need to play it on Origin, or not at all. Imagine if Sony decided to stop selling their music via iTunes and told people they’d need to download a proprietary Sony music player in order to purchase and listen to their music.

While gamers choose to use Steam, they’re forced to use Origin. Rather than turning customers into fans, as Valve does, EA turns fans into customers. EA takes a game that people are excited to play, and holds it hostage behind the closed gate that is Origin. Instead of making it easy to be a customer, they’re intentionally making it difficult, because it means bringing people into a service they wouldn’t have signed up for otherwise. Because of this, EA’s games are often boycotted, and trashed in the gaming community. People still buy EA products, but they do it grudgingly.

In some ways, EA’s strategy makes sense. Before Origin, they were paying a competitor to distribute their games. They don’t have to do that anymore. But as Origin prepares to open itself up to third-party developers, why would anyone elect to use Origin when they could buy the same game on Steam? EA has already made it known that they’re willing to be on your bad side for a few dollars.

This is why Valve, with around 400 employees, has the most popular PC game marketplace, and why EA, with around 9,000 employees, is having trouble competing. Trust.

For information on how to turn customers into fans, read our whitepaper.