Well, it’s that time again. As the new platforms roll out, gamers are choosing what they want to be their main gaming beast for the next several years. Some will pick Xbox One. Other will pick the PS4. Still more might even pick a WiiU. But there is a trend of gamers who are considering walking away from the console mess and starting anew with PC. Each and every one of these gamers making a switch will of course need a little time to adjust, but the PC might prove the most interesting (and confusing) switch. To these gamers, they will be moving from static machines to something flexible, fluid, and full of choices they frankly never had to consider.
Now, as far as hardware goes, these choices have been covered again and again from professional websites to forum members eager to welcome someone to their ranks. But no one seems to consider where to get your games, and what sources to welcome in. Allow us to help with that. In what follows, you can get to every source we talk about by clicking on the picture for it, so if it appeals, have a peak. And welcome. Although I do not believe you should abandon your console field, but add PC to your selections, welcome and enjoy.
Allow us to start with one of the more overlooked sources of games out there, but quite possibly one of the best. Gog.com is a 5 year old website now that specializes in selling the classic titles of PC gaming, from the 80s to today at very cheap prices. Each game has been retrofitted to work on modern PCs and versions of Windows (and Mac, for that matter) so as to keep the classics available with no real fuss.
For me, personally, this makes their service invaluable immediately, since while PC games from any era can be found, it can be hassle to make the old stuff work on your own. If you are not willing to put in a little bit of work (like install DosBOX or community made patches for games made during the Windows 9x days), you limit your exposure to the classical games of all our pasts, and anyone with an interest in looking into classic games should definitely take a look at this website.
Which brings us to the second big advantage this service has: there is absolutely NO required software. You can do everything from the webpage. This absolutely destroys the ability of a site to require you to run their software to run the game you want to play, making it fit perfectly with any other service. Granted, the site does have a downloader you can install, but this is purely optional, and no game will require it running no matter which means you used to download it.
In addition to this, the service is dedicated to never having DRM in any of their games. If you buy it, it’s yours, and there is nothing to stop you from doing literally anything you want with any game in your collection. Install it where you want! Play it anywhere and any way you want! Add to this an absolutely insane amount of goodies that come with most titles (downloadable manuals, soundtracks, wallpapers, avatars, you name it, it could well be there), and this is simply an amazing service to have available.
That is not to say that gog.com is perfect, however. For all the freedom it gives you, there is one very big weakness to it: the library. Unlike just about every other service we will discuss, there are only about 650 games available here. Many of these games are classic games of old, and most of the rest are indie titles that won’t pull in gamers by name alone. In fact, outside of indie titles, the only modern AAA games in this service are first party. (The Witcher series is made by the people who run this site.) So while I think most players would benefit from including this service on their system, I would never recommend anyone make it their main source of games.
It’s time we get the service most gamers who read this will know about out of the way, and I could probably just leave it at “get this one” and most gamers would probably agree. But that would neither be fun nor accurate, for there is no one service that will suit everyone anymore then there is one piece of hardware that suits everyone’s every gaming need. But let’s start with the basics.
Steam is known for a few things that are huge for most games: the volume of games available through the system and the sheer volume of fellow gamers you can play with. And with over 2400 games on hand and at any time on any day, anywhere from 4 to 7 million gamers playing on the service at the exact same time, these are well earned reputations. And with almost 300 of these games rating over 80 on the metacritic metascore spread across multiple genres, there is no arguing there are plenty of great games running through this massive collection (before you even consider games not rated which is a whole other argument we will not be having in this article). But in addition to these rather obvious strengths, this is the service most readily equipped for social gaming with your friends and random people online.
As with all selections here that have required software, Steam offers both text and voice chat, in this case with the ability to do so between two or more players at will. If you want to chat only with people in the game you are in, you will find most games now support this with or without a service, removing the need for Steam to do this, but effectively, you can consider this ability and the ability to leave these voice chats open while playing Steam’s version of party chat. You can even pause the game, open an over-game interface and turn this on without leaving your game, making these chat systems exceptionally versatile. Add this to the ability to both invite and follow friends into games you have, and every feature you could want to game the best you can with your buds are all here and ready for you.
In addition, Steam is one of two services here which actually have achievements, that addicting drug that holds so many console gamers to their system of choice. However, these people will likely be disappointed with this feature as there is no centralized form of gamer score made. (Yes, you do now have a level in Steam, but it has next to nothing to do with achievements you earn.) Instead, achievements are listed by individual games only, and with more detail. For example, you can always compare a player’s achievements to the collective of achievements, allowing you to see how many people who played any given game earned the achievements you have or have yet to earn. So any player who likes to compete by getting the rarer (and usually harder) achievements will probably get a lot of out this system.
Steam also offers a lot of extra features for more passive social gaming built into the service, most notably a built in forum community you can access, search, or drop notes/questions for the community without ever opening another window outside of Steam, or even while in a game. Add to this workshops (a place in the steam networks where mods for various games are stored by their creators, downloaded by users, and automatically updated as the creators work on their add-on content) and the newly created review functionality, and Steam is very much the complete package for gamers.
But just like Gog, Steam is not a perfect system. And to get it out of the way, the biggest complaint against it is that yes, Steam is DRM, but considering the offline mode actually works should your copy not be able to get online for some reason, very reasonable DRM… especially compared to other forms used, both now and previously. But there are gamers who are against any form of DRM and they should be aware of what Steam at it’s heart is. In addition, it does not prevent publishers from using their own DRM, both instead of or as well as the built in of Steam, so you may still want to watch who you trust, should you have an issue with this. And in addition, Steam requires you to buy at least one game on it before you can use friend lists, which severely cripples your active social abilities.
But the one most damning thing Steam does wrong is NOTHING to do with the software or service, but an absolutely atrocious customer service reputation, and one readily earned. While your chances of having issues are very rare, you are not going to get help from the guys at Valve very easily should it happen. Stories of ignored tickets and a complete lack of phone support back this rather unhappy reputation sadly earned.
Still, when all things are considered, this is generally the social software of choice for PC users, even if the same gamers would rather go somewhere else to get the games they use with it, so if there is any one piece of gaming software you add to your PC, this is probably it.
Now that we’ve covered what is arguably one of (if not the) most popular way to play your games on PC, let’s cover the one that gets the most hate, Origin. And to be quite honest, I find most of this hatred based on it being EA rather then about the quality of the service. It is not nearly the best one you can get, but it is not the demonic overlord force many online would have you believe.
To start with, Origin has already moved forward with a feature unique to it in that it has built in broadcast capability. If you have or sign up for a twtich account, you can log into that account within your origin client and use it to broadcast your games natively, making an exceptionally easy means to broadcast everything. And by everything, I mean quite possibly everything, due to the fact that Origin will let you add non-origin games to it’s library and the online help includes instructions on how to use this to stream games on your Steam account.
In addition, this is the only other game service besides GOG.com in this list with a money back guarantee, though it is both better and worse then theirs. For Origin, if you played, you are allowed to return it within the next 24 hours, regardless of the (or even lack of) reason! If you haven’t played it, you can do the same for up to 7 days. The only reason this is not as fantastic as it sounds, is that this policy is only applicable for EA’s own games, so this should not be a reason to make Origin your main place to buy games. Still it could be worth a thought if you are looking to get games by EA themselves.
However, that is not to say all is great with this service. While using it, the first thing you will notice is that while no one else seems to have built-in broadcasting for you to show off your gaming skills, it is missing one hell of a lot of features. You have basic voice and text chat, a friends list, achievements in literally 3 games, and that’s about it. You don’t even have basic screenshots.
And it’s not like you are going to get a lot of deals for this lack of functionality. Most of the time, Origin does not put up sales half as much or as well as other services, and often has the highest price for the games listed for sale from their rather marginally sized libraries. If you want to buy from EA, you will want to price check against everyone else before you make that choice.
In addition, like Steam, Origin at it’s heart is DRM, though how acceptable it is vs Steam is probably questionable. For starters, like Steam, Origin has an offline mode you can use, but it doesn’t quite mean the same thing. For Steam, offline mode is offered to you should the system be unable to connect when you log in. Origin, on the other hand, will never make such an offer, making it effectively online only. Instead, Origin’s offline mode is more of a “just in case mode” should you for some reason (be it they stop supporting your version of Windows or whatever reason is in your head) you choose not to take an update to your client. Basically, it means not doing so means you wont lose the ability to play what you have downloaded, but you still need to go online to access this mode, so calling it “offline mode” is probably a fairly dishonest move. And on top of this, EA still allows others who sell through them to use other DRM as they desire, so there is no assurance that DRM is going to be only Origin’s.
However, when all is said and done, Origin is not too bad a service, provided you do not use it as your main one. And if you are a fan of any EA franchises, you might as well get used to it cause you will likely need this client. If you played their games before you decided to join the Mouse side of gaming, you probably already have an account for it. (Small badly kept secret: EA uses their Origin network in their console games as well.)
Where Origin is the darkhorse for most people looking at these services, Gamestop was mine. When they entered the PC digital world, I was actually annoyed, being a fan of the service they bought at the time, Impulse (then run by StarDock). And as expected, they stripped it down from all it’s rather unique functionality making it a basic game selling service. But if you consider it for what it is, Gamestop’s online store is not a bad choice to add to your machine.
For starters, the service is not required to run anything you buy on it, so it is not DRM in any way in and of itself, and while not the biggest library of available games, 1500 games in a single service is not something to scoff at. In addition, any gamestop giftcards or the rewards card you have for Gamestop’s retail store also work here. Infact, you can even buy your downloads while out getting a disc or two for your console, so this is probably one of the easiest ways for most console gamers to get their online games with the same things they are used to using already.
In the end, he Gamestop download service is completely worth your time if you want it, and may well be the best choice if you are switching your main platform from a console to PC, but it should not be your only source of games, if not just because without needing it to run games, there is no real opportunity to have a built in online service to compare to what your console does. So I would say get this, but pair it with another service.
Overall, the past few years of PC gaming, online services have moved forward and even now are pushing forward an arms race of competition that I suspect will speed up. We have enjoyed some major benefits from this (most notably, EA’s and GOG.com’s new money back policies), and that is also likely to continue. So welcome! Enjoy your stay, but please, do yourself a favor. Don’t take this article as an excuse to walk away from your previous systems. No matter where you choose to do most od your gaming, this hobby is about breaking your limits after all, not limiting yourself.