Last week, Electronic Arts announced its gaming service. Origin on the PC feels familiar, offering a friends list and a digital storefront for EA games, making it essentially a single-publisher competitor to Valve Software's Steam service.
On the mobile front, Origin's launch is murkier. EA launched no standalone mobile Origin app, instead integrating into only its iPhone version of Scrabble. We spoke with Electronic Arts' General Manager and Senior Vice President Chip Lange, who provided us with some insight into EA's strategy for Origin on mobile devices and consoles, and how Origin is different than similar efforts from other publishers.
Q: What can you tell us about EA's plans for Origin on the various mobile devices?
A: EA has always been a platform-agnostic company with the customer at the center. And when you think about the opportunity of creating a platform-agnostic user ID and gaming network [like Origin], those types of opportunities really don't come into play unless you have a couple of things in place.
One is the content deployed across different platforms. Then you need a back end capable of capturing, containing, and utilizing your data across those different platforms. Being able to connect those PC gameplay experiences to a similar, though not identical, game on a mobile device really opens up a number of creative opportunities for us, whether it be for a game like Scrabble or a game like Battlefield or anywhere in between.
It's easy to say that we're creating a store, and that's Origin's focus on the PC right now. On the mobile side it's different. Apple already has a great store. What we're looking to do is get the social component of mobile side activated more quickly and more easily so customers starting can start enjoying it today.
We have Origin-support launched with the iPhone version of Scrabble, but that really is the first step. When you start thinking about the number of games that EA has on the mobile devices, it's a stunning number. I don't know that we've put out a specific number of exactly how many we did last year between Chillingo and EA, but it's well more than 50. Then you start thinking that all of these games now will have a consistent way for people to play with friends and keep track of each others' accomplishments. That really drives a nice virtuous circle around a network of products that starts on mobile and then extends to the broader Origin network.
Q: What about other mobile platforms?
A: That's where commerce starts to get real interesting. We're debuting Origin on the Apple devices, but we have every intention of being platform-agnostic. So regardless of where you're logging in from, we're going to be greeting you with a familiar handshake. Obviously, one of the big things for Android is the opportunity to create a commerce platform, and Origin is designed to do just that. We're not there today, and we're not announcing anything, but that's certainly the kind of opportunity that having an aggregated user base is going to present, because there's not a de facto storefront on Android like there is on Apple.
Q: You wouldn't call the Android Market a de facto storefront?
A: Well, discoverability is challenged there. You're not going to see an Origin application on Apple that's designed to sell you Scrabble. But there's certainly a way that you can do that inside of the Android platform where I can get you into our network, and then start moving you through a number of applications that are all tied to your telemetry. For example, "Hey, we see you like Scrabble, maybe you'd like Boggle."
Q: Will Origin come to WebOS and Windows Phone 7?
A: They're all on our road map.
Q: Cloud gaming service OnLive announced full game support on the various tablets earlier this week. It seems like with Origin and EA's partnership with Gaikai, EA might have a similar opportunity.
A: I can tell you that if EA was going to do that, it would be built on the foundation of an Origin ID.
Q: On the PC side, Origin is now competing with the Steam service. Any plans to add features like Steam's achievements or cloud-saved game storage?
A: Those are features that have to be on our road map, because they're features that customers want. What I've been impressed by with EA is an effort to really prioritize functionality. So many of these services sputter because the scope is too aggressive, and I would tell any PC fan "download with confidence, because you know it's going to work."
Q: This kind of publisher-driven service has been tried in various forms with arguably less success than Valve has had with Steam; Ubisoft's UPlay comes to mind.
A: It's been tried a number of times. One ingredient that really makes Origin different is the scope of the content that's pulling customers, everything from Star Wars to Scrabble. There's never been a content list that's this impressive, from Scrabble, to Battlefield, to Star Wars, to Need for Speed. We don't have to force customers to come to us. They'll come because these are great properties.
Q: Will we see Origin on consoles?
A: You see some aspects of that with our sports games and other EA titles. There's an opportunity for you to register with EA through that same Origin ID, and it's outside of the core Xbox Live or PSN networks.
Q: It reminds me of Grand Theft Auto IV on the PC a bit, though, where between Steam, Games for Windows Live, and the Rock Star Social Club, you needed three different log-ins just to play the game or download a patch. How is Origin different?
A: We've got this thing nailed on the PC, I think we're nailing it on mobile. We've still got to find the right way to move the console forward. We're talking to the console guys, we have our vision, which is a platform agnostic, interconnected user ID that we're talking to our customers through our franchises on a daily basis. It's hard, that's one where we want to synthesize and optimize.