The Other Problems With Origin, Steam And Other Gaming Services
March 21, 2013

The Other Problems With Origin, Steam And Other Gaming Services

Earlier this week, it was reported that Electronic Arts’ Origin game service could leave gamers open to malware attacks. That is worrisome enough to make some gamers question whether it is worth playing EA’s SimCity or Medal of Honor, which both (among other games) require a connection and authentication through Origin to play.

However, it is just one of a couple of problems – problems plural – with these game services.

EA isn’t the first or only game company to require an active online connection to play some games, even if the player is opting for a single-player off-line experience. To require players to login to the service to play with friends seems reasonable, and it does offer some advantages.

Origin, as well as Valve Software’s Steam service, allow players to log in and see what their friends are playing. There are options to hide your profile as well for those who worry about privacy, but that’s not the biggest issue here. The bigger problem is that these services hinder legitimate owners.

To understand this, we have to understand that when PC games were as popular as the consoles are today, back in the 1990s and early 2000s, PC games faced a huge threat – piracy. The Electronic Software Association lamented at its annual video game trade show, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, that piracy was destroying the industry.

Steam, which was launched more than a decade ago by Valve, was one way of addressing the problem head on. It required that every copy of a game be verified when installed, but it also required that verification each time it was played. In this regard, it not only solved the issue of high-level piracy where counterfeit copies were stolen, where games were uploaded to so-called “Warez” sharing sites, but also kept Friend A from “loaning” a copy of a game to Friend B.

Even if the game could be copied, the serial number was tied to a respective individual; but more importantly that serial number was tagged to a Steam login, which was required to play the game. Thus a single serial number could only be connected to a single Steam account. The same now holds true for Origin.

That all sounds good, but it comes at a price; one paid by the legitimate owner. Today, many families have multiple computers and this can mean “sharing” the games. While software in general can be legally installed on multiple computers, it can really only legally be used on one computer at time – unless of course there is a multi-license agreement.

This is fine; and this should solve the problem, but not with Steam or Origin. The problem here is that if you loaded Game A to your account, which can be accessed by multiple machines in your house, it is still tagged to a particular account. If that same account has Game B then it is impossible to play both games at the same time on different machines.

The obvious solution is to, of course, have a separate account for each game; but Steam and Origin don’t really like that so much. Not only does this mean different account names with different passwords, but these typically require a different email. While many people may have multiple email accounts, who really has enough to have a different email for each game they own?

Shouldn’t a husband be allowed to play Battlefield 3 if his wife plays SimCity? Both are legally owned, but the system actually makes this difficult. It is almost – dare I suggest – that this is a coy way of getting those who follow the rules to pay twice for a game. Now maybe that sounds fair – two people are playing the game so why shouldn’t two people pay for it after all?

The ESA has long complained about how much the industry “loses” to piracy. Last summer it seemed the problem was far from solved as Ubisoft’s chief Yves Guillemot claimed piracy was so high it accounted for 95 percent.

What he meant by 95 percent isn’t clear? 95 percent of what? 95 percent of total games played or 95 percent of copies out there? That seemed quite high. That would suggest that if a game sells 5,000 copies that there are 95,000 pirated copies out there?

With all due respect to the ESA there is a simple fact missing. First, every copy pirated is not absolutely a lost sale. People simply pirate things they wouldn’t otherwise buy. This isn’t a defense of piracy and by no means does this writer believe this is justifiable. Piracy isn’t justifiable and it does keep the legitimate copyright holders from getting their due revenue.

However, we need to understand that the issue is a problem, but is it so much of a problem that legitimate owners are made to suffer? As has been noted in recent weeks, SimCity players suffered through one of the worst game launches in recent history.

The game servers couldn’t handle the load, but worse still is the fact that the game can’t even be played offline.

There are times when the solution to a problem is worse than the problem, and in many ways Steam and Origin seem to fit the bill.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer and has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and the fitness sports industry for more than 15 years. In that time his work has appeared in more than three dozen publications including Newsweek, PC Magazine and Wired. His work has also appeared on,,, and Peter is a regular writer for

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