[UPDATE] Since this story went live, EA has launched its Origin service via a new online store. As outlined in the original article below, the Origin store will offer a large catalog of EA games for digital download, but it will also allow players to order boxed copies. Origin is a full-on replacement for the EA Store, as it offers retail games on every other major platform besides the PC. Old store.ea.com Web addresses now redirect to Origin.com.
EA also confirmed Origin will indeed be the sole online seller of Star Wars: The Old Republic when the game launches "later this year." The service's desktop client is available now in beta form from www.origin.com. With it, "users will be able to find and connect with friends, see what they are playing, and digitally download and play PC games straight from EA," the company said in a statement.
The original article is below. [END UPDATE]
Though Electronic Arts' Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference isn't until Monday at 12:30 p.m. PDT, the Wall Street Journal has preempted a major announcement by the megapublisher. The financial daily is reporting that EA is planning to soon unveil Origin, a new PC game-download service along the lines of Valve Software's Steam. The name appears unrelated to Origin Systems, the Ultima and Wing Commander developer EA bought in 1992 and then closed in 2004.
According to the Journal, Origin will function like Steam, insofar that it will let gamers directly purchase, download, and organize PC titles. The service will start out with a catalog over 150 offerings when it launches and will be the sole online purveyor of Star Wars: The Old Republic when that game goes online (presumably) later this year. The publisher is reportedly hoping the exclusive availability of the eagerly awaited sci-fi massively multiplayer online role-playing game will boost the nascent service's popularity.
Like Activision's just-announced Call of Duty: Elite service, Origin will also reportedly have a strong social networking element that will allow players to communicate about their game experiences across a variety of devices via a single profile. Also like Elite, Origin will reportedly let players perform actions on mobile or other platforms that affect full-fledged games. David DeMartini, EA's senior vice president of global online, gave the example of a sharp-shooting "Battlefield" minigame on a mobile phone yielding experience points that could be used in the regular version of a Battlefield game. (Curiously, the full-fledged platform mentioned was the Xbox 360, not the PC.)
EA CEO John Riccitiello told the Journal that Origin is one of the "cornerstones" of EA's digital strategy. That tack has been paying dividends for the company, which saw $833 million in digital revenue during the fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2011--over 20 percent of EA's overall earnings. A good chunk of that came from Playfish, the social-networking and casual game publisher that EA bought in 2009 for over $275 million. Other sources of digital revenue include EA's various Facebook games, such as Dragon Age Legends, as well as the publisher's current direct-to-consumer digital download presence, the EA Store.