To set the background for this story: I spent a good chunk of last year unemployed. While I’m glad that things are going much better now, I learned things about the world, myself, and my relationship with Vangie that I wouldn’t have been able to learn otherwise. For one thing, unemployment leaves you with A LOT of free time and very little money. To this end, I had to learn how to game on the cheap. Fortunately, it was around this time that I discovered PC gaming via Steam, which allowed me to purchase games for pennies on the dollar that would keep me busy throughout my free time.
Now, Steam does have its share of critics, but from everything I’ve experienced, it’s a fantastic service. I had my doubts about the digital download of games, but Valve really changed my mind with their numerous deals, wide selection, and the ease of use of their client. That’s why, when getting ready to play through Mass Effect (ME) and Mass Effect 2 (ME2) in preparation for Mass Effect 3 (ME3), I thought I’d try out Origin, EA’s Direct2Drive service and a competitor to Steam. I figured I might be able to get a deal on the ME DLC and easily install them on my system along with the main games.
Here is a list of reasons why I was terribly, horribly wrong.
1. Origin’s Stock and Compatibility is Severely Limited
I’ve had good experiences using the Steam software to manage my various games, so I thought I would give Origin a test drive by having it manage my ME games. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Origin is NOT compatible with the original ME.
OK, let’s pause to let that sink in for a moment. Mass Effect, the starting point for one of the most important RPGs in recent game history, one of EA’s flagship series, is not compatible with Origin. You’d think with release of ME3, they’d push a little harder to get that on their service and make it easy for people to purchase and play, but no. To download ME from Origin, you have to go to the web-based version (at which point you might as well go to Amazon or some other site with better customer loyalty incentives), pay for and download it there, and then install it on your machine. Seriously, EA, why are you making it hard for me give you my money?
Now despite the fact that ME is not compatible with Origin, you CAN use it to download, install, and manage one of its DLCs, Pinnacle Station. This is kind of mind-boggling when you think about it. Instead of selling the more expensive original product, they are selling the cheaper add-on that you need the freaking original in order to play in the first place.
Oh, and the other ME DLC, “Bring Down the Sky”? It’s not even available on Origin…or anywhere else. The only reason I’m still able to play it is because I kept the installer I downloaded a long time ago, along with the unlock code.
Well played, EA, well played.
2. Origin’s Digital Download DOESN’T WORK
Alright, so I’ve wrapped up ME and I’m moving on to ME2, the game that Origin is supposed to be compatible with. The Origin client gives me the option to download the entire game directly to my hard drive after verifying the registration code that came with my hard copy, so I figure I’ll give it a shot. After all, I have some extra room on my drive and I think it might save on load time over the DVD. So I download the game, it installs, and…nothing. The game doesn’t start. So I go into game files and try to start the game manually. Still nothing. Reboot the computer and try to start the game through Origin, and then manually once again. NOTHING.
“OK, OK,” I tell myself, “probably just a bad install.” So I uninstall the thing, re-download, and try again. And it worked!
HA! Just kidding, it totally failed again.
So I uninstalled again, but this time I re-installed from the DVDs, and it worked. Way to encourage faith in your D2D capabilities, EA. As you can probably guess, I proceeded to avoid the Origin client for the duration of my ME2 playthrough.
3. BioWare Points are a Demeaning Excuse for EA to Take More of Your Money
This is more targeted towards BioWare, but since they are inextricably linked to EA, I’m going to throw this in: BioWare Points are bullcrap. Like Xbox Live points or Facebook money (both also bullcrap), you need to “buy” points that you can then spend on in-game content. Essentially, people spend their nice, normal, accepted-everywhere money to buy other money that only works for Bioware stuff. First off, it’s a misleading system that deliberately seeks to confuse consumers regarding the cost of products. Bioware points eschew a 1-1 exchange or even a simple base 10 system (e.g. $1 = 100 points or something similar). Rather, $1 = 80 Bioware points, so that when you see something that costs 460 Bioware points, you’re actually paying $5.75 for it. Unfortunately, people are so used to paying in dollars and cents that this only serves to obfuscate the actual value of the product and make it harder to keep track of what you’re actually spending. Hell, I was a freaking physics major and even I find it confusing.
Secondly, it’s just an ethically questionable tactic. BioWare points are only available in $10 denominations, and once you buy them they just sit in your account, and voila, BioWare already has your money. Did that Dragon Age DLC only cost $3 (adjusted)? Too bad, you’ll have to spend $10 to get it. Well you might as well pick up some other DLC. Uh-oh, the only other one you’d even consider buying is $8. At this point you have two options: wait for other DLC and possibly forget about the money, or throw good money after bad but then have an additional $9 left in BioWare Points. Either way, it’s a unpleasant situation for the consumer. For BioWare, on the other hand, it’s totally fine; they’re going to get free money at the end of the day, no matter what you do. From a business standpoint, I understand it, but from a not-being-a-douchebag-and-respecting-your-customer-base standpoint, I find it pretty appalling.
4. The In-Game Browser Makes it Hard for Me to be a Sucker
Getting back to Origin, I’ve finished up ME2 and started on ME3. I know about the day-one DLC and, while I object to it on moral grounds (I think day-one DLC should be used purely as an incentive to purchase the game new rather than used), I am a sucker and decide to buy it anyway. So I fire ME3 up in Origin, because they won’t let you play it on a PC any other way, and attempt to use the in-game browser to purchase the DLC. Lo and behold, the browser doesn’t work correctly and spazzes out when I try to use PayPal to complete my purchase. After a few minutes of fiddling with it, I close both the browser and the game, and go to the website version of Origin to buy the DLC (after buying $10 more worth of BioWare points).
This was a minor inconvenience, but that’s beside the point right now. EA has pretty well established that they’re trying to nickel-and-dime me to death, but what really pisses me off is that, once again, they’re making it hard for me to LET them. For EA, you’d think that making it so I can easily give them money would be their primary concern. The process should therefore be streamlined, simple, and quick, so as not to give me a chance to think, “Gee, do I really need to spend money on this?” Instead, I was left feeling relieved that this is the only EA/BioWare-related purchase I’ll have to make for the foreseeable future. Generally speaking, this is not something one typically wants their customers thinking.
This point speaks directly to the major theme of this article, which is that EA is evil and STUPID. I don’t mean stupid as in “bad” or “wrong”; I mean stupid as in mentally deficient, making it an affront to respectable evil institutions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not pro-evil, but if you’re going to be evil, at least be a little slick about it. Origin is a ham-fisted, money-grubbing attempt to get into a market that is already dominated by Steam, and if this is the best they can do, they should just cut their losses and beg Valve to take in their poor, ill-served franchises. And hey, there’s always a chance Steam might turn out to be evil as well, but at least I can rest easy knowing that it would be evil DONE RIGHT.