The terminally lazy video game fan has never had it so easy. Digital distribution has made buying games both easy and cheap, with none of the hassle of leaving the house, driving to the store, buying the game, coming back, having to make coffee, then spend time installing the game. Luckily, the internet has solved that tedious, coffee-wasting problem.
In this article we’ll go through three of the most popular digital distribution platforms, look at the pros and cons, and recommend a game or two. So put the coffee on, get the credit card out and let’s get spending… or reading.
Steam – Valve Software
Launched in 2004, Steam was Valve’s attempt to make updating their games easier and make it harder to pirate and cheat. It has gone on to become the biggest digital distribution service for video games in the world, with over 40 million active users and 4 million players at any one time. It’s estimated that the service has a 70% share of the digital distribution market.
The catalog – Steam has over 1,500 games, covering every single genre you can think of, plus some you’d never imagine (Recettear has you in charge of an RPG item shop, dealing with adventurers and hagglers).
Pricing – Games on Steam tend are often cheaper than the console or retail versions, and developers are able to offer free DLC, unlike on the Xbox 360. It’s also famous its seasonal sales, with some deals offering savings in the $100s.
You have to sign into Steam’s client to play, and unless you go into offline mode, you need to have an internet connection. The service is also mandatory for some games, even if you’ve bought it in a store. There’s also the possibility, however unlikely, that if Valve go out of business, all your games will go with them; there’s no way of backing up your purchases.
What to buy? Bastion ($14.99), Skyrim ($59.99), Plants vs Zombies ($4.99).
GOG.com – CD Projekt
Polish video game developer CD Projekt, makers of the popular RPG The Witcher, launched this site in 2008. GOG stands for Good Old Games and the service specializes in getting old, forgotten video games to work on modern operating systems, complete with bonuses like soundtracks and artwork. It’s also famous for eschewing any kind of DRM and reviving old series and characters.
GOG features over 300 games from dozens of publishers, all of them free of DRM and priced attractively. GOG features a bustling community and friendly, helpful staff members.
Despite the name, there are a few games that aren’t particularly old or particularly good. There are also a few games that need tinkering before they’ll play well with certain systems. It tends to cater for RPGs or adventure games, so it’s more suited to the hardcore gamer.
What to buy? Deus Ex ($9.99), Syndicate ($5.99), Psychonauts ($9.99).
Origin – EA
Origin is the latest branding for EA’s online storefront. They’ve gone for a Steam-esque system and have quickly picked up millions of customers due to having games like Battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3, which aren’t available on Steam. It’s early days yet but it could become a decent alternative to Steam if they pick up more publishers.
It’s the only place you can download Star Wars: The Old Republic. It has a clean and streamlined UI and allows streamed demos in your web browser.
At the moment it’s mostly just EA games available. There have also been complaints about the DRM, and accounts being banned arbitrarily. EA have been accused of spying on users, and Origin users must agree to settle any disputes between themselves and EA through arbitration, rather than suing or joining a class action. Pricing is the same as retail, so Steam is still king for sales and discounts.
What to buy? Star Wars: The Old Republic ($59.99), Orcs Must Die! ($14.99).
In conclusion, Steam is the place to go unless you really need to play Mass Effect 3, or you’re feeling nostalgic for an obscure RPG game from the 90s. It has an active community, a catalog that is unmatched in quantity and quality, and it has Portal. What else could you want?
Harry Vale is a professional writer and award-winning film director. He’s married to his mobile phone and spends most of his time on Twitter. He also writes for the college student resource Degree Jungle.