A guide to the various gaming clients dedicated to the PC Master race, with recommendations on the best online storefronts out there.
Let’s assume that you’re the proud owner of a mid-range to a high-end laptop, or a new desktop that’s built to handle a lot more than Excel and Powerpoint, or the occasional movie. You’ve thought about gaming – it allures you, and you’ve occasionally pondered about letting the gaming world seduce you. But you haven’t got the faintest idea of where you’d starting point ought to be. Buying a DVD from a local mall may seem like the right thing to do – but you’ve heard of your friends buying games online. Of them saving a lot of money during ‘Summer sales’ or ‘Thanksgiving sales’, and you’re worried about missing out on better game deals because well, let’s face it – not every game is worth its MRP.
Brilliant. Now that you’ve made up your mind about shopping online, you’re wondering which direction you ought to head in to get the good game deals. At this junction, a more experienced friend might lend you a biased opinion regarding a particular online platform or store where you could buy a game that’s well suited to your tastes. What you need is a more wholesome perspective that’d help you decide whether you ought to frequent different services, or be a loyalist to one. And that’s where we come in. Whether you’re a newbie to gaming altogether, a console gamer who has decided to give the PC gaming universe a try, or an experienced veteran, this guide has something for everyone.
Just like every other market, digital gaming platforms have their own heavyweights that dominate the arena. These platforms are essentially clients that allow you to access your library of games from anywhere in the world, just like any cloud-based service would allow you to access your files from anywhere you log into your account from. Furthermore, they sync your ‘save game’ files to their own repositories so that you could resume your game from where you previously left off.
Steam: Think of Steam as the equivalent of Netflix for the gaming community. It bears one of the biggest libraries of games on the internet – well over 6500 at this point. With over 12.4 million users and over 4-5 million active at any given point in time, it ought to come as no surprise that it’s well-known for excellent multi-player gaming support across Windows, Mac, and Linux. Roughly 15% of all sales contributing towards PC gaming have been channeled through Steam in 2015. Steam’s one of the oldest clients around as well, with a lot of its own proprietary content being developed by its parent company, Valve, which you might be acquainted with on account of titles such as Counterstrike, DoTA 2, the Half-Life franchise, the Portal series, or Team Fortress, for that matter. Steam is also the biggest aggregator of games being developed by other studios and independent developers. And with services such as Steam Greenlight, Indie developers can acquire critical feedback on alpha/beta versions of their games during the development process itself while simultaneously working on expanding their potential customer base.
When you visit Steam’s website, you’d be greeted by prices in your local currency. Featured titles and pre-orders are typically advertised right at the top along with new releases, and you’ll notice that at any given time, you’d be likely to find discounts on about a hundred titles at any given time. Browsing by genre or searching for a particular title is super easy as well. The Steam store has tons of free-to-play games available, and regardless of whether you purchase one, or get it for free, it’ll be delivered instantly to their resource-light client on your desktop. Over the past few years, Steam’s gone beyond listing games alone, and its verticals include all kinds of software for utilitarian or development-related purposes.
Shopping on steam, however, typically makes sense when they’re offering a deal on a product you’re interested in, which is why having a wishlist makes a lot of sense here. Varied payment modes are made accessible to users, and Steam offers the option of storing money in a ‘wallet’ as well, in case you’re the type of person who’d like to stash away some dough for a day when better deals may see daylight. The best deals are typically available when a seasonal sales period is on, so be sure to log in to the client or visit the site at least once in every three or four days.
With an incredibly active online community that’s accessible via the client and the site alike, Steam would be very unlikely to disappoint you. The client interface is very streamlined, allowing you to use it with a keyboard+mouse, or a controller via the “Big picture” mode, which might seem familiar to console users. Updates to the client (and games in your library) happen automatically and frequently, so most bugs and technical issues are dealt with swiftly. Steam also has an android app available on the play store – and though it’s utility is fairly limited at this point, it’s an excellent way to receive notifications regarding offers for games on one’s wish list, or interacting with other gamers on the community forums.
Origin: The truth about EA’s Origin is that is pretty much hated by the majority of the gaming community, despite being Steam’s biggest competitor. There are various reasons that could be attributed to its disdainful public image, but as a client, Origin’s really not all that bad. EA, however, always been viewed as one of the most capitalistic gaming companies out there, and many of their flagship titles are significantly overpriced in comparison to other games from the same genre. It doesn’t help that their name has been dragged through the dirt for banning user accounts due to negative feedback on a particular title, or for accusations that they’d spied on their users for actionable data on their systems in the past. You might find some overlapping content when you compare Origin’s library to Steam’s, but the former has many exclusives that you won’t find on the latter. Origin’s multiplayer base is significantly larger than Steam’s – and EA claims that it hosts over 50 million registered users. Origin also does its best to compete with Steam by offering similar services as cloud game saves, occasional giveaways for all its users, reward cards or trophies, support across multiple platforms, and automatic patching. Their ‘Great Game Guarantee’ is essentially a copy of the refund policy that Steam has, and if Steam’s having a sale at any given point, it’s quite likely that Origin is as well.
Price differentiation as a strategy hasn’t really worked for them, and users would be likely to come across titles that are either very expensive or low-end games that are on the other side of the spectrum. And assuming you get a title at a discounted price, you might be forced to purchase additional DLC (downloadable content) files that allow you to get a fuller experience of the game that you own. The whole idea of paying more for a game that you already own is one that many gamers still find repulsive, seeing how DLC files often carry important expansions for a game’s storyline. This is often the case with Steam as well, though pricey DLCs for EA’s own games are released far more frequently.
The Origin client’s interface is a bit of a resource hog, and clunky when you’d get down to using it, despite having a minimalistic look to it. So if you’re on a mid-range system, you might be better off using Steam or a different client assuming the title you want to play is available elsewhere. Customer support is really the only major sphere where Origin outdoes Steam (the way they dealt with releasing free DLCs for Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending is a shining example of this), but a single redeeming quality isn’t enough to put the service in a positive light overall. But despite everything, it’s still worth using Origin for the exclusive titles that they offer, and playing several (or several hundred) hours of Battlefield, Fifa or Need for Speed through them might make you come to terms with accepting that you’ve taken to the side of the underdog.
GOG Galaxy: The new kid on the block. And there’s so much to love about GOG and its client, GOG Galaxy. A subsidiary of CD Projekt of Witcher fame, ‘Good Old Games’ started off as an online store that focused on distributing retro games at incredibly low prices, DRM-free. If you’re unfamiliar with DRM and the restrictions that come along with them, think of it this way – you own a legitimate copy of a game that you that you paid for. In order to do anything with it, which includes playing it, you have to take permission for doing so, each and every time. DRM-free gaming implies that you don’t need a client to download or play a particular game once you’ve downloaded it. Nor do you need to be logged into the internet to activate the game, or play it once it’s locally installed. When you’re buying a game through the GOG website, you could download it directly through a web browser just like any other file on the internet, and you’re good to go.
In the words of its developers, GOG Galaxy is an ‘optional client’, that offers features similar to Steam or Origin to its users via a minimalist interface. Freedom of choice is their maxim – and they strongly believe that gamers shouldn’t be forced to use third-party applications to be able to play their games. In an age where Net Neutrality is a big issue, GOG’s free-market approach has been deeply appreciated by gamers across the world. Steam, Origin, and many other clients are all forms of DRM. This might not be a problem if you’re not intending to do anything with your game other than playing it through a client, like modding it. No one knows what the future of DRM might have to dictate for us. And if Steam or Origin were to ever shut down for good, you might lose out on all the games in your library – something that wouldn’t happen if you bought games via GOG.
Although GOG’s library is somewhat limited at this point, it’s growing steadily. The bonus content that they often have to offer, which often come as paid add-ons on Steam and Origin has resulted in it having a favorable image right from an early stage. It’s quite likely that it might dominate a bigger share of the market in years to come, even though game production companies might see DRM-free distribution of their titles as a bit risky. Personally, I can’t wait for them to release Cyberpunk 2077.
Desura: Although Desura’s legal status and future are sketchy at this point (owing to the fact their present owners have filed for bankruptcy), Desura is still possibly one of the best stores on the internet for Indie games. Much like GOG, it offers all of its titles DRM-free while retaining the option of being able to redeem a game on Steam if a user wanted to, and it does its best to cater to every major OS as well. In hindsight, one ought to really see it as a service that’s complementary to Steam, and not competition for it.
Desura sets itself apart from the pack by stating how they’re developer driven – and how they do their best to assist game developers and studios with the process of minimizing their barriers to entry in the market. This includes measures such as Alphafunding – where devs could fund further development through early alpha access to their titles on Desura’s 2-million strong user base. Simultaneously, they encourage user-made content on their site – right from custom mods, to custom maps, and just about anything that can be thought of. A major plus of using their store is that games would most certainly be available in Indian rupees, so you needn’t have to worry about exchange rates out there. The Desura client itself is fairly easy to use, and optional like GOG Galaxy, but there’s nothing truly spectacular about it.
Uplay: Uplay was developed strictly to cater to Ubisoft’s titles as a DRM service, and it had a fair amount of relevance till it became integrated with other clients like Steam. Even now, launching a Ubisoft game from a service like Steam requires an instance of Uplay to be running alongside it. Uplay’s generally been perceived in a negative light, owing to the fact that it’s resource-heavy like Origin, and that there’s no real incentive to use it as a stand-alone client anymore. It does, however, offer a lot of Ubisoft’s merchandise for sale, but most of those products are available domestically as well. Uplay fails to incorporate regional pricing strategies into its store, and for an Indian consumer, this really wouldn’t be the best place to shop for their titles. Much like Steam, Uplay has an Android app of its own – but it doesn’t have much to offer to its users.
The Breakfast Club
Green Man Gaming: UK-based GMG offers payment method options as far as the eye can see, including Bitcoin and it helps that they’ve listed their prices in INR as well. It’s also the owner of Playfire – an online social network that integrates achievements across several digital gaming clients, including Steam. Although GMG has a wide catalogue of games to offer to consumers, it had recently come under scrutiny for supposedly selling ‘grey market’ redemption keys for titles on its website. Following this, their due diligence has been exemplary – and there really shouldn’t be much of an issue regarding purchasing titles via its store.
Humble Bundle: Don’t you just love their name? Given how you can pay literally anything you want for a portion of a weekly or monthly video game bundle (or an ebook/comic bundle for that matter – the Humble Bundle caters to a variety of content), it often gives gamers an unbelievably good bang for their buck. Paying the average amount that people have paid for a particular bundle would unlock the bundle its entirety, and give you access to a lot more bonus content as well. Additionally, a portion of all the sales proceeds go towards charity as well (which needn’t be one that they’re advertising – they’ve got a database that lists hundreds of them), and you’re given the freedom to determine exactly how your money would be distributed while you’re paying for a bundle. Bundles could typically include content that’s either DRM free, or tied together to a specific client like Steam or Uplay. We highly recommend signing up for their newsletter so that you don’t miss out on a kickass deal!
GamersGate: Although their name might come across as reminiscent of the Gamergate campaign of 2014, GamersGate is a decent site that has both AAA and lesser-known titles available for sale online. Their loyalty program allows its users to exchange points (or Blue Coins, as they call them) for games. Blue Coins can be earned through purchases, or by writing reviews, appropriating ranks to games, or participating in their mentoring program, where you’d answer queries posed by newbie gamers. However, seeing how GamersGate is one of the oldest distributors of games online, their interface and store might come across as a little archaic. Even so, the site continues to add roughly a thousand titles to its inventory each year, as it has been doing over the past few years.
Indie Game Stand & itch.io: Both these stores cater almost exclusively to the indie game market. Their product differentiation game on the storefronts are strong, and both of them are excellent places to head to for non-Windows based games as well. IGS uses a ‘pay what you’d like to’ model for a single title each day or every few days, much like the Humble Bundle. Itch.io on the other hand, offers support for bitcoin-based payments, and has over fifteen thousand titles up for sale, along with physical boxed versions, soundtracks, software, tools and other miscellaneous content.
|If you aren’t too keen on resorting to paying foreign digital retailers, there’s always the option of buying games from Indian e-stores like Game4u, Gamexs or Gamestheshop, though there really aren’t any of them who’re catering to selling digital downloads/keys at this point. Physical copies have their merits and demerits – but they’re becoming more redundant as the bulk of gaming-related sales for the PC now happens online.|
Our two cents’ worth of advice for GAME DEALS
At the end of the day, what makes sense is to evaluate prices across different stores before making a purchase. Sign up for newsletters so that you’re kept up to date with news regarding various different releases and game deals, and don’t forget to keep wish lists ready and handy on different sites as well. Regarding using clients – it’s probably for the best if you use two or three clients instead of keeping all your eggs in one basket. The habit might even work out in your favor where being in the loop with other services is concerned. PC gaming isn’t as complicated it seems, and making informed decisions is in the best interests of your monthly gaming budget. Every rupee/dollar/euro saved counts towards your next purchase!
Shiv "thed00dabides" Issar
A proud child of the PC master race, this D&D-loving rapscalion grew up seeing his life through the lens of epic quests and consistently seeks out skills that would help him level-up.