Origin Sale Fails to Save EA's Reputation, SimCity's Servers

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Mass Effect 3, the one part of the hit PC game trilogy that EA refused to put up for sale on Valve's Steam digital store, is now on sale for the second time in as many weeks. It and "more than 200 [other] titles" are being discounted on EA's Origin digital store, in this new sale. The announcement comes less than a year after EA's "Origin boss" David DeMartini said in an interview that "We're trying to be Nordstrom [to Steam's Target]," and not to "look for 75 percent off going-out-of-business sales."

The current sales are only "up to 70 [percent] off," and Origin's not going out of business. But while some of the PC games on sale have physical copies available, all still use Origin's DRM, or "digital rights management" software, which has caused SimCity players a lot of grief lately.

What DRM does

DRM is code that locks you out from playing a game under certain conditions. It's intended to keep gamers from playing games without paying for them. However, several times in the past EA has locked people out of playing their Origin games -- even in single player mode -- for such infractions as someone else swearing at you on EA's forums.

Two kinds of DRM

The DRM used by Valve's Steam service only checks to see if you have Steam running, and allows you to play in "offline mode" without any Internet connection. Individual publishers can apply their own, however -- for instance, the person who was banned from Origin for somebody swearing at him was also prevented from playing an EA game on Steam by EA's DRM.

The latest SimCity disaster

Many of EA's recent Origin games, like the new SimCity, only work if you are connected to the Internet. This has resulted in the SimCity servers crashing under the stress of thousands of players, rendering the game unplayable for days after its launch. While EA rep Lucy Bradshaw told gaming website Polygon that SimCity had to be played online because a "significant amount of the [game's] calculations" were done by EA's online servers, Polygon's Brian Crecente spoke with a programmer who found out this was untrue.

After the first interview, but before Crecente's recent post, Bradshaw wrote a blog post in which she gave a different reason for SimCity's online requirement, without even mentioning the "significant … calculations."

An award that isn't

Last year, EA beat out Bank of America in a multi-tiered, sports playoff style Consumerist poll to be voted the "Worst Company in America." This year, Consumerist has placed EA as a contender again, remarking that "we can only assume the company really wants a second trophy" after the SimCity debacle.

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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