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
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, 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.