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EA launches Origin, takes aim at Steam

The new direct-to-consumer platform will let users download more than 150 games directly to their PCs--and EA has plans to take Origin mobile as well.

Electronic Arts is doubling down on the digital-gaming space with the launch of a new direct-to-consumer platform, called Origin.

Launching later today, Origin will allow gamers to purchase and download over 150 games directly to their PCs. So far, the content on the site is limited to games from EA "and its partners," the company said in a statement today. In the coming months, EA says that it will offer more games, including the highly anticipated Battlefield 3, FIFA 12, Madden NFL 12, and Mass Effect 3.

"Origin is a game service with two fundamental features," David DeMartini, senior vice president of Global Online at EA, said in a statement. "It's a download service for the very best content from EA and its partners. It also offers a social function which, over time, will connect a player's profile with friends lists and a cross-platform feed that shows what your friends are playing and where."

That social element comes through Origin's desktop application. After downloading it, users can connect with friends and find out what games others are playing. Users of the desktop app will also be able to download games to their PCs.

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Origin, which will go live at 9 a.m. PT today, is EA's answer to Steam, a service that offers a wide selection of content. According to Steam's Web site, it now has more than 1,100 games available from a slew of developers for users to buy and play on a Mac or PC. Steam currently offers content from EA, including The Sims 3 and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam, among others.

As of this writing, Steam has nearly 2.5 million concurrent users on its service. The service had more than 3 million concurrent users earlier this week.

EA's decision to jump into the direct-to-consumer market for PC games makes sense. Back in September, the NPD Group revealed that during the first six months of 2010, PC game downloads outstripped physical PC game sales by 3 million units. Moreover, digital downloads accounted for 43 percent of overall game revenue.

Going mobile
But EA isn't planning to stop at just PC games. The company also said today that it will be offering Origin to mobile gamers, allowing them to play Scrabble, among other titles, from their devices. After it launches, Battlefield 3 will also be available through Origin's mobile offering.

"In the future, mobile gamers will also be able to see what games their friends are playing, as well as compare high scores and share what's fun," the company said in a statement discussing further mobile Origin features.

EA's Origin launch will likely be just one small part of a much broader strategy on the company's part to transition its operation away from the traditional packaged-goods model. Last month, EA CEO John Riccitiello said that his plans over the long-term involve making EA a digitally focused company.

"Over the coming years, we will transform EA from a packaged goods company to a fully integrated digital entertainment company," Riccitiello told investors during an earnings call last month. "We're transforming EA to a games-as-a-service model."

That strategy seems to be working. During its last fiscal year ended March 31, EA saw its digital-games revenue grow by 46 percent year over year to more than $800 million. The company is currently forecasting that revenue to grow once again to over $1 billion this fiscal year.

EA said today that exclusive content for its titles will be made available at during the company's press conference that the E3 Expo on Monday.