Why Not Just Use Steam?
There is absolutely no denying that Steam is a great example of paid digital downloads done right. Valve has created a computer gaming client that consumers actually enjoy. When it originally launched in the mid-2000s, it was unpopular. Many gamers did not like the idea of a digital copy that could never be re-sold. The mentality was that if you couldn't hold the box in your hand, couldn't store the disc on a shelf- do you really own the game? And this whole "client" business. Many customers were not happy about having to use another piece of software in order to just run their game.
But over the years, perspectives on Steam have changed greatly, and is now considered by many to be one of the best innovations in computer gaming. The semi-annual major sales during the summer and winter are practically international holidays that people can't wait for. The sales are regular, plentiful, and in some cases have become legends, with everyone trying to have the most amazing story of how they got game X for XX% off.
So if Steam is so awesome, why wouldn't you want to use it? There are actually a couple of reasons.
- You want to own a physical copy of your game, not a digital download. If this is the case, good luck, this article will not be able to help you. Like it or not, digital downloads are the way of the future. In a way, its saddening as you won't be able to see the large library of game boxes anymore, and it can also be frustrating if you don't have a great internet connection.
- Steam doesn't have the games that you want to play. There are plenty, and by that I mean millions, of games that are not in the Steam catalogue. They've got a lot for sale, but they certainly don't have everything.
- Sometimes, you can find a better deal on a game somewhere else. Especially if it's not during a big sale. However, if it's their semi-annual winter/summer sale, chances are they have the best price.
- You don't like the fact that you have to launch the client to play your games (for the most part.) While Steam doesn't have any DRM preventing you from playing your games offline and without any connection, you still need to launch the client in offline mode. Many people are still not happy about this, and just want to be able to play their games. Plus, running extra software in the background hogs precious system resources that could be beter allocated to that intense game you're trying to beat!
The Best Alternatives to Steam
The following alternatives to steam, both websites and clients, have been selected for either sales, selection, or other business principles. In no particular order:
This probably won't be a popular decision, but it's the most obvious. Origin is EA's equivalent to Valve's Steam... except without as many crazy fans loving the service. There's nothing really wrong with Origin, it's just that it's really not anywhere near as good as Steam. Everything that Origin does, Steam tends to do better. That's everything from sales to selection to customer support. However, Origin must be put on this list, because in many instances it is the only way to play games made by EA, like Battlefield 3, and the upcoming release, Battlefield 4.
GOG stands for Good Old Games. This is because when the site originally launched, it's catalogue was mostly made up of older games from the 90s and early 2000s. Recently though, they have begun to reach out to a broader audience beyond just retro gamers, with popular mainstream releases like Assassin's Creed, Alan Wake, and The Witcher 2. They also have started carrying new(er) Indie games. Throughout this transition from just older games to both old and new releases, their message has remained the same- keep games DRM-free. Anything that you buy from GOG is the simplest, purest form of a digital download, which is really the beauty of the service. Unlike so many other similar services, GOG gives you just what you want and nothing more- games.
Chances are, you have already seen the somewhat cheesy commercials for GameFly as far as renting games goes. What you probably didn't know, however, is that you can also purchase games through games through GameFly. They actually bought out Direct2Drive, and although they made a wildly unpopular decision to not honor some previously purchased games, the whole deal seems to have finally stabilized. The downside of using GameFly to buy PC downloadable games is that you need their client. That doesn't mean you need an active subscription to their monthly service, you can have an account and not be enrolled. You will need the client to play though. Still, they have a pretty large growing selection of games, and the sales are far more frequent than you might expect. The only downside is that most of the games are big name titles, and indies are pretty much nonexistent.
What's this? The evil empire of the retail video game world has stepped into digital downloads too? While many gamers hold grudges towards GameStop, they are available as an option. And, like it or not, many of their sales actually rival Steam. Furthermore, games can be played offline and without the Impulse client.
Amazon Digital Games Store
Amazon's already a well-known and established-as-awesome retailer on the internet for pretty much everything. Digital download PC games are no exception to this rule. Sales are very frequent, and the selection is massive, with plenty of games available that Steam does not carry. Unfortunately, for some games you will need to either receive a Steam key and activate your product on their client, or use the Amazon Game Downloader software. It can be kind of tricky to tell what games on Amazon have DRM on them, and which ones do not. Therefore, if you are concerned about DRM, it is best to do your research on buying what you want through Amazon prior to making a purchase. It really is a toss-up, many games have it, and just as many do not. Sometimes the sales pages will tell you, and sometimes they won't. So use the reviews and complaints of customers before spending your own money. Or, if DRM doesn't bother you, enjoy the frequent and large sales.
GamersGate is not technically DRM-free as they advertise. Instead of having a software client to play games, they have these tiny micro-installer clients that require internet connectivity. However, after originally installing you do not need to ever connect to GamersGate servers again, and so they are much more friendly to users in that way. They have regular sales, as well as a Daily Deal, just like Steam. Furthermore, they have more than 5000 products for sale as of January 2013, so it's one of the larger distributors you are going to find.
GetGamesGo is a smaller, lesser-known site, run through EuroGamer. The sales are pretty frequent too. However, many of your purchases you will need to activate through Steam. For the most part, the sole forseeable advantage to using them is that sometimes games will go on sale cheaper than on other sites or clients.
Finishing off the list is GreenManGaming.com. If you are looking for an all-in-one replacement for Steam, as in you plan to stop using it altogether and purchase all games elsewhere, then GMG just may be your best all-around bet. Some games will still require Steam activation, however, the site offers one unique perk that really sets it apart from the pack. And it's quite a good one- a perk that makes even DRM worth it. So what is it? Trade-ins. That's right, for the first time ever with a major digital distribution retailer, you will be able to get some credit to purchase new content by sending back games you're done with. This is a very new service and feature, and the kinks are still being worked out. But when it's done, this just may be the next big breakthrough in e-commerce. Watch them carefully.
How Do I Keep Track of All These Websites, Clients, and Sales!?
With all of these ways to buy your digital downloads, it can get a bit hectic to keep track of everything going on. Luckily, there is a website, http://www.cheapshark.com/, that handles this. They monitor all of the sales currently going on across every item on this list. If you have something in particular you are looking to buy, the best thing to do is to try a search, and it will show you all of the sales and prices for that game across multiple distribution chapters. With any luck, PC gaming will become a cheaper hobby!