EA’s Origin: Feels Like The Twelfth Time

Keeping tabs on EA’s various online initiatives is like trying to keep track of Paris Hilton reality shows: there have been a lot of them, they’re never any good, and there’s a new one every two or three years.

So with E3 upon us, EA has announced “Origin,” which, sadly, has nothing to do with Richard Garriott’s old company or the Ultima franchise. Basically, it’s EA stepping up efforts to compete with Valve’s Steam service, offering a digital store for EA games and rebranding most of their current services (like their download manager or your EA accounts) with the new Origin name. EA’s also announced some titles will be exclusive to the service, like the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Usually, I’d dismiss this as another EA scheme doomed to failure, but there’s one angle I’m interested in: mobile. EA’s old mobile efforts were silly, mostly because no one wanted to play games on a budget flipphone. But between the iPhone and Android platforms, the mobile game scene is starting to stabilize, and Steam doesn’t have a foothold there yet.

More importantly, the smartphone has become useful for more than just gaming, but as a way of staying connected to your games. Blizzard has already started experimenting with iPhone apps for World of Warcraft that let you browse the armory, manage auctions and chat with guildmates. I’d love it if Steam had an iPhone app where I could connect with friends or browse achievements or see new offers from the Steam store, and there’s room for EA to break in here.

But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. It’s taken seven years for Steam to reach its current spot in the market, and Origin has a lot of ground to make up before gamers take it seriously. And let’s be honest: EA rarely shows much finesse with this kind of stuff: they usually just throw money at an idea only to end up with something half-baked.

EA owns a lot of important properties. In addition to The Old Republic, there’s Battlefield 3, the Sims franchise and, of course, the whole EA Sports stable. Hopefully EA does something interesting with this, using it to build community features or maybe lay the groundwork for future console downloads, and doesn’t just turn this into more bloatware that drags some good games down with it.