Big publishers are pushing subscriptions, but at least they’re making better clients these days A screenshot of the EA Desktop app.

EA’s Origin client is finally being retired, and will soon be replaced by EA Desktop, an application that’s currently in beta. I gave it a try today (you can also sign up to try it on EA’s site) and it’s an obvious improvement over Origin: a simpler and faster way to launch the EA games I don’t have on Steam, whether I purchased them from EA or subscribe to EA Play. The persistent “Join EA Play” button at the top of the client tells you which option EA wishes I’d pick, as if I don’t already have enough subscriptions, but at least we’re getting a nice, lightweight client along with the marketing.

It doesn’t seem entirely fair that all EA’s client has to do is work, whereas the Epic Store is harangued daily for lacking nearly two decades worth of Steam features, but that’s how it goes. I don’t really want EA’s client to be full of features done better by other software, or to be a social hub when I already have Discord. I don’t even need EA’s store to be particularly good at showing me what games are available, because I already know what to expect: Yearly sports games (except the NHL ones I want), Battlefields, Sims 4 expansions, and the occasional Star Wars or BioWare game.

All I need from EA’s client is the ability to download and launch a game quickly, and that’s what the EA Desktop beta offers. There are just two primary sections to the app: “Browse” and “My Collection.” From the first, you can look through the games and DLC available to buy or play with an EA Play subscription, and from the other you can download and launch the games you own or have access to. There’s also a friends list and chat, but that’s about it. The application runs fast, and all of the screens and prompts are easy to read.

(Image credit: EA)

It’s a funny time for EA to be testing an Origin replacement, because it just recently started putting games on Steam again (although they do launch a copy of EA’s app when you run them). EA has also started offering its EA Play subscription via Steam, which is bigger news than I think it got credit for. The last time Valve made such a major addition to the way games are listed and sold on Steam was the addition of Early Access in 2013. Before that, it was the addition of free-to-play games in 2011. 

It seems unlikely to me that Valve added subscription functionality to Steam with no intention to put other subscriptions in front of us. Microsoft is putting games on Steam now, too. Could Xbox Game Pass make its way to Steam one day? It feels unlikely, but possible. And could Valve introduce its own subscription program? You really never know with Valve. Remember when it dropped paid mods out of nowhere?

Whatever happens with Steam, though, this push to sell subscriptions has resulted in a wave of improvements to publisher-specific clients. The new Ubisoft Connect client is nicer than the old Uplay client, if not quite as fast and clean as EA’s new effort. And the new Xbox app is of course a massive improvement over the Microsoft Store, although a smelly sock would’ve also been an improvement over the Microsoft Store. I’ll take it anyway.

If videogame subscription services aren’t the future, it’s not going to be for a lack of trying to push it aside, both on and off Steam. But at least the baseline level of quality for a game client seems to be improving as a result. 

Regarding the new EA Desktop application, of course it puts the EA Play and EA Play Pro subscriptions front and center. Each game has a tag which lets you know which subscription package it comes with, if any. It’s not horribly intrusive, and if you want to use the store like a regular store and buy games and DLC like you used to, it’s easy enough to do so—although EA is already toying with subscription-only games. You can buy the brand new FIFA 21 with a one-time $60 purchase on Origin or Steam, but last year’s game, FIFA 20, is now only available with EA Play if you don’t already own it.

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