At first glance, the PC gaming market is rather scary. Steam is a dominant force, many sources claiming it has a market share of over 60%. In the UK, this constitutes a monopoly.
Unless you’re playing the family-favourite board game, a monopoly is not good. It often encourages anti-consumer practices, and results in a lack of competition. We, as the consumer, need competition: it results in fairer prices, positive business practices, and a healthier economy. So here are some of the top places to shop around and how to show we want to see every platform put their best foot forward.
EA’s service is well-known, but with a reputation surrounding the company winning “Worst company in America” twice in a row on Consumerist, voted by its readers, it doesn’t do nearly as well as it could. The defining factor of Origin is that almost every game, DLC or in-game goodie sold is published or developed by EA. This also means it has certain games you can’t find on other digital distribution sites. Sure, it has had some bad times, although many people don’t give it a try. Its features are as follows:
- Uses a desktop client for downloading and creating a library of games
- Regularly has sales
- Has certain games not found on other digital distribution sites
- Has a rotation of a free game (redeem it and it’s free forever) around every month and a half
It doesn’t have the library of other sites, and often full-price releases are very expensive, but if you’re looking for an EA game, it’s certainly worth checking out. My main tip for Origin, however, is make sure you know what you’re doing: it has had a negative reputation for a reason, mistakes previously made may never occur again or might become regular (for example the almost completely broken SimCity launch).
Indie gamers rejoice on Desura. It has a library of thousands of indie games for your perusal, with a large number of them being free. On top of this, almost all games on the platform are available DRM-free. To me, it’s the go-to place for indie games. Developers can easily get their games on the service, and get the added bonuses of a distribution service with a focus on community interaction. The list of features goes something like this:
- Expansive library of indie games
- Uses a desktop client for downloading and creating a library of games
- Has a section to find mods (often fan-made maps or campaigns) for your games
- Games that are on both Desura and Steam often include a key for Steam too, in case certain features are only available on Steam such as saves in their cloud
- You can browse by platform, it even has a library of over 600 games for Linux
- Vast majority of games are available DRM-free
For indie games, I’ve yet to find a better platform. Certain games, like Thomas Was Alone, got their big break there. There’s something for everyone, and many games cost about as much as an expensive sandwich and coffee.
CD Projekt’s (the people behind The Witcher) distribution platform, previously known as Good Old Games, has a its own niche: old games that have been optimised to run on programs such as DOSbox with the click of a button. No mounting the CD drive or any rubbish like that, just double click the .exe. Since its inception, however, GOG has branched out to include more modern titles, both major releases and indie games, and even movies. It has a lot of things going for it:
- Gives the choice of using a downloader (making large games much more easy to download) or a number of installer parts, depending on the size of the game
- You can buy, download and play old games such as the original Baldur’s Gate, Rollercoaster Tycoon, or Theme Hospital easily
- Has a Linux library
- Games are DRM-free
- Regular sales, often cutting upwards of 75% off of a title’s regular price
- Often includes bonuses with games such as the soundtrack free of charge, wallpapers, etc.
I found GOG originally because I bought a disc copy of Rayman online, but couldn’t get it to work with sound on DOSbox. Eventually, I found GOG (then Good Old Games) and they had the game optimised for current PCs. Everyone has an old game in their heart like Rayman, Dungeon Keeper or System Shock, and GOG is the place to go for these games. It’s also often worth checking the site if they have a sale on, there are many, many gems in those sales. They currently do not have a client like Steam, Origin, or Desura, and that is most likely due to their commitment to providing games DRM-free, although they appear to be working on a client for the near future.
This site is an odd one, it has no specific niche that it appeals to, and has a strange mix of a PC-focused distribution platform and a site which sells boxed copies of console games. They sell the vast majority of AAA releases alongside certain indie releases too. Green Man Gaming has two major defining features: it uses vouchers, given out regularly on the front page or in newsletters, and it uses a system called Playfire: a social client which awards Green Man Gaming credit for playing certain games and getting achievements. Simply booting up Far Cry 4 will earn you 10 pence (at time of writing). With this you can get enough credit to really decrease the price of a new game. It’s one of their many features:
- Often sells AAA titles at a decreased price indirectly, through voucher codes or credit earned through Playfire
- Has a trade-in system for both certain digital games bought on the system and console games
- Gives a Steam key where signified
- Playfire client allows for downloading games that aren’t on the Steam client, and is a social-gaming-focused platform (with gamers “buzzing” certain titles and talking about them, and profiles listing your achievements to promote competition)
- Has a new “Deal of the day” every 24 hours, with games often up to 75% off
Green Man Gaming’s main attraction is certainly the new releases that you can earn money off or use a voucher for, often making it cheaper than on many other distribution platforms. The fact that you will often get a Steam key too (where possible) means that unless you really want that TF2 hat, you’re simply getting a better deal on Green Man Gaming.
I can’t list every digital distribution platform, it’s impossible. However, I feel like I firstly need to mention that Amazon does has some games available for download, and with Black Friday sales happening next week (and Cyber Monday after that) there’s more than likely going to be something good on Amazon.
The other platform I feel like I must talk about is Onlive. You might have heard of this service before: buy a subsciption, download a client, and stream the game. All you need is a good internet connection. You graphics card could be awful, but as long as it works, chances are Onlive will work. The technology isn’t perfect, there’s some latency if you don’t have an amazing connection, meaning games that rely on fast reflexes, certainly multiplayer ones, can suffer. However, single player games are often perfectly fine. You’re offered a choice of three subscriptions: one which offers a library of games in their system already (including Bioshock, Arkham City, and Rogue Legacy), one which allows you to play games you own on Steam through their system anywhere (although it’s limited to games they have on their system) and one which combines the two. For someone who wants to get into PC gaming but can’t afford the hardware right now, it’s an interesting prospect.
For the consumer, competition is good, it drives prices down and makes consumer-friendliness a requirement. It’s important to reinforce this, and if everyone shopped around, perhaps the people at Valve might fix the atrocious Steam support system to keep it the leader of the pack.