While this may be the first time you are seeing this type of article on the Red Sector, it is not the first time I have written about it. That was one of my earlier articles on Front Towards Gamer. However, in under a year, the landscape described there has changed dramatically. For the sake of anyone who plans to enter the PC gaming world in the near future, it’s time to revisit this topic and bring everyone up to speed.
As to be expected, Steam is still king when it comes to digital gaming in the PC world. With a fairly simple yet organized interface, Steam offers you a convenient way to buy, download, and play any of thousands games supplied through their library (over 2000 of which are at or below the $10 barrier). On top of this Steam is simply THE go-to community for PC gaming with the ability to connect to and chat with friends (text or mic, your choice), keep track of what achievements your friends have completed, setup and join gaming guilds, and even setup gamer nights with a calendar built in. Simply put, Steam offers everything a modern gamer could ever want! Add to this the new ability to buy cash cards at retailers and avoid even putting your credit card online (if that makes you nervous or you don't have one) and there is nothing really left to want.
Seriously, the only people who are going to be disappointed by Steam are achievement junkies who can't comprehend each game having it's own achievement score instead of a total they can treat as a singular e-peen to swing around and claim is the biggest. Achievements here are individual game only, so if that's your bag... well frankly I think that's kinda sad and you are missing out on one of (if not the) best online service there is in the gaming world.
Suffice it to say, if there is any one service you should have on your PC, Steam is it. You can get it here.
Origin has not changed much since we last visited the topic. Just like Steam, it is still a solid system, though not nearly as necessary. And a nice touch on their part is that for the most part, games bought on Origin do not need it running to play, offering a very nice companion to Steam. But if you like major EA titles (like Mass Effect and Battlefield, for example), you better be ready to have this one... EA tends to like to make it mandatory for them.
And since games bought on Steam do the same thing, I really do not have an issue with that. If I have any issues with Origin, is that it's under-featured and using the title Beta as an excuse still. When I play Mass Effect 3, I especially feel the lack of a recently played with list and the ability to take screen shots if I like. It works, and it works well, but it is missing these as well as achievements and pretty much anything else in the social part of gaming outside of text chat. To put it bluntly, it has a long way to go. But if you are interested, it is available here.
Gamestop was for me the dark horse of this race when they re-entered it. To understand why, you just need to look back at their history with PC games. For as long as I can remember, Gamestop and several of the companies that were merged with Gamestop had set aside shelf-space specifically for the used-game market. This was a great thing, for it allowed gamers to trade in old games, as well as assured a longer life-span on the shelf for the classics that everyone should play. But then, two things happened.
1) A few years after the merge, Gamestop began to make their business model depend more and more on used game sales... reducing their dependency on publishers to fill their shelves in favor of taking massive profit off of gamers trading in games.
And 2) Doom 3/Half-Life 2. Doom 3, as the first PC game to not need the disc in the drive to play, made selling used PC gamer hard. After all, it was suddenly REALLY easy to take the game home, install it, return it, and keep playing your copy. The only way you could pick up on a game being pirated is if the person who did this was playing with their PC online, so your used copy suddenly decided not to work for a while. This was not easy to detect because at the time, constantly online computers were still not common. Half-Life 2, on the other hand, made resale outright impossible. When you installed the game, you registered your copy on this new thing called Steam. At the time, it sucked and was nothing but DRM... and it also meant once a key was used, only that steam account could use it again.
Gamestop saw what was coming, and it clashed with their model. Their solution was simple... starve off PC gaming in favor of the devices they could sell used copies on... consoles. At the time without any really good online delivery systems and with Gamestop having a near monopoly on retail sales, this was a serious blow against PC gaming, and I seriously believe this more then anything is why we have many console gamers to this day who believe PC gaming is dying or dead. Gamestop in short, almost did kill the PC gaming industry.
And yet, the very thing they almost killed it for turned into it's savior. Steam's evolution into the powerhouse gaming platform it is today has been a big part in PC revival. And while it may still not have any shelf-space in Gamestops anywhere, the company has taken notice. To this end, they bought Impulse and have been using it to get their hands into the profitable world of PC digital distribution.
As of now, their software has gone through major renovations since we last saw it, ditching almost all of the unique features Stardock had put into the software when they owned it. Gone are almost all the social features and videos. Instead you have a nice looking store, the ability to browse games by catagory, forums, and the option to install your games bundled in basic almost toy-like window. However, in return for this, the service is now fully integrated with their physical stores. They may not give PC games much shelf-space but they have a library of over 1700 titles available at any store or online.... and in both cases, your PowerUp cards you have from being at retail, as well as gift-cards for the store are useable.
In short, while they may have cut features on their store, Gamestop has shown they mean business competing in the digital world, and considering no game installed from their app needs it to run, it is again a great companion to Steam. Once again, you can download it here.
GOG: Good old games hasn't really changed much since we last saw them at all. Made and run by the people we know and love for their Witcher games, GOG is a web site where the team gets old PC games working on modern rigs and sells them DRM free for a few bucks. There is almost no outside software involved, and really, it's your choice if you want to use the downloader they offer. If not, they are perfectly fine with you choosing to just have your browser download your game.
While the selection is only big compared to Origin on here (who only has 200 or so PC titles on it), that selection is the most unique in that it tends to be games ranging mainly from the DOS age to the Window 98 age. Ever get a hankering to play Descent, Duke Nukem 3D, or something as obscure as Phantasmagoria or Under a Killing Moon, or even Sanitarium? These are all titles that you will find here and ready for you to play, which frankly is a lot better choice then going to amazon or ebay and hoping the person selling you their old game treated it well, will sell at a good price and that it will work native on your rig. This site is only on the list last because it's a bit of a niche site. It's a great site, don't get me wrong, but if you are not interested in older PC titles, you have no reason to look at it. If you love the classics though, getting an account here is far from a bad idea.
Now for those of you asking why I am not covering Direct2Drive this time, I have some sad news. A few short months after I wrote my original article with FTG, they announced Gamefly had bought them. At first, I was actually excited. I mean, this was a rental company who was looking to join our business and even was exploring ways to rent PC games! It was new! It was exciting! It was.... total shit. I do not wish to repeat my story since I already covered what happened on FTG, but you can read about it here. Long story short, I wouldn't put these guys on any list of must have or even recommended services anymore. They are thieves and really the only reasons I do not actively seek a lawsuit are that being out about $50 or so tops makes it not worth my time to start one (let the guys they REALLY fucked over start a class action, then we can talk), and I figure I can do far more good by warning people to stay the hell away from them in any article I have to put their name on.