July 21, 2011

PopCap Caved In

Yeah, it's all over the Net - Electronic Arts acquired PopCap games. I see a lot of negative comments on the topic. A lot of people hate EA for all the wrong reasons (in my opinion).

From what I personally encountered, the most common reason for public hatred towards the video game colossus is its habit of shutting down the servers. Especially unhappy with it is the console crowd. Achievement lovers to be specific. I've never heard anyone saying "damn, the servers are off for good, now I can't play my favorite game online", it's usually something like "geez, now I have shitloads of unobtainable achievements, thanks EA".

I'm an avid achievement hunter myself, but I don't think EA should be blamed for shutting down their servers. They do have good reasons to do so - license expiration. I don't see why they should extend their license and keep some old sports game alive online just so some achievement fanatics could get 100G. I mean, there's always more than enough time to get all the online achievements anyway. It's not like they shut down the servers for any fresh new games, it's always something old. Also, there is always a warning long in advance, providing enough time to get all the achievements if needed be.

Still, I'm not too happy to hear about the acquisition as I have my own big reason to dislike EA. It's Origin, Electronic Arts' personal digital distribution platform. If some company decides to start a digital distribution when there's so many options are already on the table (Steam being the most noticeable), it better think of something to stand out. EA Origin did stand out... not in a positive way though.

I tried Origin for about a minute to find out that you can't even select your preferred language and it's selected according to your region. For instance, I live in Finland at the moment (just a temporary thing) and my only option was to use the store in Finnish. That alone was enough to turn me away. Another thing that jumped right at me was prices. They were beyond any reason.

But there's more. I found out that Origin can only guarantee a download availability for at least one year after purchase (just for comparison sake - a game purchased on Steam will always be available for download, even if it was removed from the catalog for one reason or another). Also, it looks like you can lose your account if you remain inactive for an extended period of time. With such attitude I don't see how EA is going to match its leading competitor (Steam) by the end of March 2012 (that's what they promise anyway).

It wouldn't have mattered really if we had a choice. I mean, if I don't want to use Origin, nothing is stopping me from using Steam, for instance, right? Wrong! EA already pulled out at least one (very good) game from Steam, Crysis 2. Obviously, EA made up some weird reasons for going with that. There's more to come. EA already announced that Stars Wars: The Old Republic will be exclusive to Origin (thank God there's still a retail option on the table, otherwise I would have seriously considered on passing on this game).

Electronic Arts could have really made something decent with Origin. The company has a lot of resources to make the service unique and attractive. They also could offer competitive prices seeing as how they sell only their own games. This seems logical, doesn't it? I already actively use Steam, GamersGate and GOG and would be all over the new service if it was any good. Unfortunately, Origin has nothing good to offer. Absolute zero. There's still an issue of DRM, the store has a horrible interface and no customization (I'm talking about the lack of language selection) and the prices are simply ridiculous.

Getting back to PopCap. As far as I know, most of company's games are sold digitally. EA acquisition will probably mean that the new games from PopCap are going to be sold over Origin exclusively. In my case it will also mean I'm not going to buy any of them, no matter how good they are. Well, there's always Xbox Live Marketplace.

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