Gamebytes and Bots
Gamebytes and Bots
GAMEBYTES AND BOTS

ABOUT GAME DISTRIBUTORS AND THEIR CLIENT APPS

I often hear people asking about various digital game distributors and whether they are safe to use. There is also a lot of people who won't buy, or at least say they won't buy games from companies that make you use their client apps to buy, launch or run the game. I applaud their principles, but unfortunately, this kind of individual protest will not make the slightest dent in changing anything and the only one who loses is you as this will restrict your choice of games. There is a time for not compromising, but this isn't one of them. Some form of DRM on games is here to stay and the success of Steam has obviously influenced others in the industry into profiting from their own digital stores and IP's. Although I don't like DRM any better than anyone else, using various clients is really not such a big deal and you get the advantage of competitive pricing when you have more options on where to buy. People are a little funny this way because we are always putting various apps on our computer that gather information, not least amongst them Microsoft and Google, and game clients are small potatoes in comparison. It can be a pain in the butt if the apps are glitchy, but the mainstream ones have worked out most of the bugs and security issues and unless there is a mass revolt by gamers, which is highly unlikely, you may as well develop the attitude that "if you can't beat em, join em" and take advantage of the variety of choices this gives you.

LEGITIMATE PC GAME DISTRIBUTORS

The following is a list and a short bio of the mainstream online PC game sellers and how they work. You can take a look at any of them through the PC Stores and Bundles link in the menu. There may be other reliable regional stores, but these are the ones I'm familiar with in terms of availability in most countries.

VALVE - STEAM CLIENT

I'm going to start with Steam as it is by far the biggest digital PC game distributor. As of Feb 2015, it had a whopping 125 million active users and growing. Although Valve has not defined active, and some people have more than one account, a live counter shows that concurrent users have at times reached 14 million. Steam paradoxically seems to dodge the rampant hate some people have for DRM, but in fact it is no different than any other client when it comes to their Subscribers Agreement and terms of use. It's only a matter of how a company is perceived and Steam has built such a reputation for avidly supporting and promoting PC Gaming that many faults are forgiven or overlooked. They are also continually innovating new ideas and adding features to their client. Unfortunately, on the negative side, they have the worst support system going and seem to have completely withdrawn from actively communicating with their customers. Still, they enjoy almost unprecedented popularity because of the things they do well. However, not all changes are in the best interest of the consumer. The company itself runs as a type of democracy with no managerial hierarchy and they have taking the client in the same direction. Developers decide on the store sales and administer their own forums. Early Access, the now defunct Greenlight, and trashy games have inundated the store with no seeming oversight by Steam. Client updates have put more individual controls into the hands of the users as well. Although new things always get backlash, Steam is heading in a hands-off direction for developers and consumers alike that will continue to evolve. You must install the Steam Client to buy games through them and all games that have Steamworks integrated into them by the developers require Steam to run, regardless of where you buy.

ELECTRONIC ARTS - ORIGIN CLIENT

The Origin client is the creation of Electronic Arts, a game developer, publisher and distibutor known for big titles such as Mass Effect, Battlefield, Dead Space, The Sims, and sports titles such as FIFA. In 2011, they were the world's third largest gaming company. Prior to Origin, EA games required an account with them to log in, which was implemented when you launched the game. In 2009, they began to move towards direct distribution and in 2011 created their own online store with digital downloads. When Origin was created, existing EA accounts were ported to their new client and some of their games could no longer be acquired on Steam. EA developed a bad reputation for buying up developer studios and drastically changing the nature of the IP franchises. When their overall game quality showed a downward trend, they began to make moves to be more innovative by acquiring Bioware and Pandemic studios. In 2012, EA games were ranked the highest according to Metacritic. However, due to some consumer unfriendly decisions, EA received the Golden Poo trophy as the Worst Company in America two years running, an award decided by a public poll on The Consumerist. A gross exaggeration, of course, but the fans were ticked off. Since then, they have made some customer friendly changes, such as a new refund policy, live support, an optional subscription based gaming service call EA Access, and an occasional free game from their back catalogue to Origin members. Origin is a much lighter client than Steam, but they do not have a huge selection of games. In my own experience, I have not had a single problem with it and I do like a lot of their titles. If you buy a game exclusive to EA, you will have to use the Origin client, which is really no different than buying a Steamworks game that requires the Steam client. If you buy an EA game that is not exclusive to using the Origin client, you will still have to sign in with an EA account. Some EA games you buy and play on Steam can also have the CD key registered to Origin so you basically have a backup.

UBISOFT - UPLAY CLIENT

Uplay is similar to Origin but is the creation of Ubisoft, a developer known for such franchises as Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, Watchdogs, Tom Clancy titles and Prince of Persia games. Prior to the existence of the client, once again you were required to create an account to launch their games. Now it is called Uplay. Ubisoft, however, mostly develops for console with games being ported to the PC. Although the company has not recognized great success with optimization for PC, it has vowed to do better in the future as well as release PC versions at the same time as the console versions. Ubisoft also received very negative feedback due to their always online DRM policy requiring constant connection and is generally perceived to not care about PC gamers whether this is actually true or not. They have since removed the always online DRM requirement for some games, but it is still widely believed that Ubisoft downgrades their PC games to a standard more suitable for the console, which they deny. It seems they have a long way to go yet to gain the trust of the PC community. However, in regards to their client, I have never experienced any problem running their games as long as the current app is installed and kept up-to-date. I do like their games but I'm not much liking their pricing models lately as they tend to remain high for longer periods of time and their recent games are back to requiring always online DRM. Once again, a Ubisoft game must have a Uplay account, although some of them can be played in offline mode after registration. If you buy the Steam version of a Ubisoft game, you need both Steam and Uplay to run it. Their store used to is sell many of their competitors games as well, but they have since pared this down to only Ubisoft games. Most of their games, however, can be purchased elsewhere.

GOG (Good Old Games)

Gog is quite the phenomena and success story. I remember first hearing about them when their name started to creep into a lot of Steam forum threads a few years ago. It started out in 2008 as a distributor of old games with the distinction of offering only Drm-free versions. They have since built up a highly successful enterprise, continually adding more Drm-free stock. This did, though, limit what they could sell as not all developers were on-board with that idea. However, gradually newer games started to be added to their inventory, which in Aug of 2016, stood at 1650 titles. Games can be downloaded just using a simple download manager, or through their recently added client called Galaxy. They are promoting it as the Optional Client as it will never be required to play your games, but will offer the choice if you so wish to connect to other players. This allows them to bring more developers into the fold. Gog has so far proven themselves to be very consumer friendly and have even reversed some decisions that most customers didn't agree with when asked. This is not so surprising as they are a wholly owned subsidiary of CD PROJEKT RED, the creators of The Witcher series and a developer who is openly against Drm technology and is very pro consumer. It remains to be seen if they will continue to be so after their massive success with The Witcher 3.
Gog staff are very good at personally communicating with their fan base and work hard at publicity. It seems they have been rewarded for their efforts. Occasionally, they too give away free games and lately, they have added Gog Connect, which allows you to import a backup copy of some Steam games to Gog, and introduced a highly curated Early Access program. Seems they are taking some lessons from Steam, but let's hope they don't adopt the bad decisions as well. Additionally, they offer a 30 day money-back guarantee if they can't help you to get a game working and a fair pricing policy with store credits for regional priced games that exceed the US pricing.

GREEN MAN GAMING

Green Man Gaming is another site that seemed to have come out of the blue. If anyone is giving Steam a run for their money, it's them. Green Man constantly offers discount codes and often has better pricing. Currently, it also has a simple downloader capsule with SecuRom Drm or offers the customer Steam keys. Green Man Gaming, a British company serving globally, was formed in 2009 and launched in May of 2010 with 500 titles. It now has over 5000 and sells in 185 countries. In July of 2012, Green Man merged with Playfire, a social gaming networking site that tracks achievements, game history and friends. You can also earn credits towards other games. It's sort of the facebook of gamers. Playfire users who link their Steam ID to their Playfire account are also eligible to earn Playfire Rewards. In 2012, the company also started to offer console and boxed PC games to its UK customers with plans to expand this area of the business. The company's success has skyrocketed since it was established and Green Man Gaming has been named as one of the top 50 high growth companies in Britain. The word spread pretty fast that this was a legit and reliable alternative to other online distributors, and even though there have been one or two dust-ups in the media over keys, no users have actually reported any factual legitimacy problems. In the last two years, they have also partnered with Nintendo and Sony to sell console games.

GAMERSGATE

Gamersgate, the digital game seller, is not to be confused with the Gamergate controversy. The unfortunate closeness of the two names caused some grief for this company.
Gamersgate doesn't seem to get a lot of user publicity around the forums although it's a perfectly reliable site and is one of the first in digital distribution. It's a Swedish based company and currently offers over 6000 titles. The idea of GamersGate was originally conceived by Paradox Interactive in 2004, a company name you may recognize for publishing games such as Hearts of Iron, Europa Universalis, Magicka, and Crusader Kings. To facilitate cheap distribution of games to countries that did not offer them in physical stores, they developed a system called "Paradox on Demand" which later launched as GamersGate in 2006. Soon, other publishers requested distribution through them as well and the new company was formed. GamersGate has a simple download system and is a client-free service that does not require a log in to play the game, unless the game itself requires it. Under this system every game is associated with a small corresponding program that when downloaded will retrieve the install files for the customer's computer. Upon retrieval, the user installs the game and the downloader may then be removed from the computer. It's surprising to learn that many GamersGate games are Drm-free as this seems to be a little known fact, but the company does not seem to very big on promoting itself.
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DIRECT2DRIVE (Formerly GAMEFLY, formerly Direct2Drive)

This is quite the story. Direct2Drive existed once before when it was owned by IGN. It was in direct competition with Steam. In 2011, it was acquired by Gamefly, renamed and customer libraries migrated over, although some people experienced problems with this and lost some games in the process. Shortly after, Gamefly introduced an online client, which combined both rental and purchasing services and the digital downloading of PC games. The client did not actually last too long and in Oct of 2013 they announced its closure and the introduction of a streamlined Downloader instead. Then in Oct of 2014, they announced that this part of their business had been sold to AtGames Holding Ltd and once again those of us with an account would be transitioned to them. AtGames decided to re-adopt the Direct2Drive name and it remains to be seen where this is going. The company's expertise has been in the Asian market and it's difficult to find much information about them. Given the background, I think it will take some time to build a good reputation in North America. Currently it offers a downloader or you can purchase Steam keys. For no particular reason, I haven't purchased anything since the change, but it is a perfectly legit site. The following is a quote from AtGames at the time of acquisition:
"We at AtGames are excited about the next step and future of bringing games directly to your desktop. In holding true to the fantastic service GameFly Digital has provided, AtGames’ mission is to build upon an extensive product line-up, quality service, and great customer support. AtGames appreciates your continued business and looks forward to servicing the needs of consumers like yourself through innovation, continued extensive library of great games, and build an incredible community of like-minded gamers. Thank you again for your patience and understanding during this transition period."

GAMESTOP

GameStop was founded in America under the name of Babbage's and opened its first video game store in Dallas, Texas in 1984. Over the years, several mergers and re-organizations took place until in 1999 the GameStop brand was launched in stores and GameStop.com was formed for purchasing games online. In 2005, GameStop acquired EB Games, which expanded their operations into Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Two years later they bought Rhino Video Games from Blockbuster, which had 70 stores in the Southeastern United States and continued to make more acquisitions including the former Impulse in 2011, a digital game distribution company much like Direct2Drive and rebranded as GameStop PC Downloads. Until early in 2014, they continued to use the Impulse app for downloads and to use the GameStop PC APP to manage and download games purchased prior to this. As with the former Direct2Drive/Gamefly, migration of Impulse accounts proved problematic. Now, download purchases are restricted to a U.S. address only, similar to Amazon, and the app is a simple downloader and library manager. After purchasing, you will receive a confirmation e-mail with instructions on how to download the game. You are also sold keys for Steam, Uplay, or Origin. Gamestop's focus has mainly been on console games, but with the lucrative digital PC market, everyone wants a slice of that pie.

AMAZON

Amazon also launched a PC digital store in Feb of 2009, and in the UK in 2013. They started with a selection of what is referred to as "casual games" and later branched into more mainstream titles. You must have a billing address within the respective countries to purchase from the stores. For awhile, Amazon digital was quite aggressively competing with other digital distributors under the direction of a person who actively promoted it and often communicated with people on the various forums. That person has since moved on and the store has suffered under a new design that makes browsing for sales painful with something like 400 pages of games. Except during major sales, they don't have much of a daily sales page. You can filter your searches, of course, but it still seems like a lot of work if you don't know exactly what you want and are just looking for a bargain. The country constriction is also a drawback for many people. However, Amazon is one of the few companies to offer online shopping for physical copies of games and it too sells keys that can be registered to other clients such as Steam and Origin. They also have a simple downloader client and a library registry of purchases that stores your game keys for re-installation. If you have the patience, they have a fairly large selection and good prices.

CHARITY GAME BUNDLE SITES

Charity Game Bundle Sites have now been around for quite a few years and have evolved from selling strictly bundles as their main focus to a combination of a store plus some bundles. Surprisingly, the minimum you can pay for a bundle still remains at $1.00, but with a tiered system of payment for extra games. The main sites that carry selections similar to other distributors are Humble Bundle, IndieGala, and BundleStars. There are others, but not with the mainstream game selection that these three have. Purchases will net you a key for either Steam, Uplay, or occasionally Drm-free. Most bundles are comprised of smaller, lesser known Indie games and you will not see recent popular mainstream games as part of a $1.00 bundle, although occasionally a big publisher like Capcom might put up a bundle of their older games. However, recent titles will be in the store sections at similar price ranges to other distributors. During sales, these games might be offered at slightly better pricing than other places, especially on well-known, but older titles. These charity game stores are actually one of the better places to find the best bargains.

WORTH MENTIONING

BIG FISH

Big Fish is a big site, but you won't see it mentioned much amongst your typical PC gamers. That's because it's considered a site that caters to the "casual gamer". The company is based in Seattle, Washington and was founded in 2002. They also develop and publish their own games. Transitioning from PC-centric games to mobile, they are the world leader in this market. If you like the Adventure category of games, you won't run out of choices any time soon.

NEWEGG

Newegg is not exactly on the tip of everyone's tongue as a game distributor, but they do sell physical box copies as well as digital key codes and have sales. If you're comparing prices, it may be worth it to add them to the list for comparison.

ARTIFEX MUNDI

Artifex Mundi is a well-known and revered developer of Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures. In addition to publishing their own games, they also publish other studios and on different platforms. Currently, they are dipping their toes into the idea of developing other genres. In the meantime, any games they are associated with are available through digital vendors as well as on their own store.

DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER STORES

Some developers or publishers have their own small stores, mostly for selling their own games. Some of these include Bethesda, 2K, and the newly minted Gemly, which hopes to grow its selection. There may also be legitimate stores unique to certain countries or regions, but the above featured are the most well-known to PC gamers around the world.