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EA takes on Steam with Origin, makes Crysis 2, Alice: Madness Returns store exclusives

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Electronic Arts has been in the digital distribution game for more than five years, though there’s been little that sets the online EA Store apart from other e-tailers like Steam or Impulse. Earlier this month, the platform was relaunched as Origin, with the publisher’s stated intent being to deliver content that you can’t necessarily find elsewhere in the PC gaming space. The first sign of change popped up earlier this week, when Crysis 2 disappeared from Valve’s Steam. What’s more, the official website for Alice: Madness Returns carries an “Only on Origin” tag for the PC version of the game.

EA Games president Frank Gibeau told Gamasutra in an interview that the publisher will continue to work with “retail channel partners as they evolve their business models to account for digital.” That said, the success of franchises like Halo and Uncharted has inspired the company to set up a framework that allows for platform exclusives. While Crysis 2 and Alice are examples of the changing attitude, the big push for EA will start with the release of the highly anticipated massively multiplayer online role-playing game, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

“In the case of Star Wars we’re trying to build an audience for Origin. And it’s also an opportunity for us to better manage the downloads and how we bring people over from the beta and that sort of thing. For a lot of reasons it made sense for an MMO, which is a highly complex deployment,” Gibeau said.

“I think long-term you’ll see we believe in reach so we will have other digital retailers for out products because we want to reach as many audiences as possible. But at the same time if we can use exclusive content or other ideas to help grow our audience then we’re going to do that because we’re growing a platform.”

The ultimate goal, of course, is to establish Origin as a platform with its own community and unique features, rather than just being a retail site. As digital distribution becomes more and more attractive for delivering content directly into the hands of consumers, expect to see more initiatives like this. Disc-based media isn’t going to disappear in the next five years, if only because we’re going to continue to see backwards compatible support in all corners of the market. The next 10 years though… entirely possible. Origin is a sign that EA is preparing for a shift in established business models, just as the EA Store was when it first launched back in 2005.