Living in a small town, I don’t get the chance to have access to a game shop like EB Games close by. This meant I must purchase my PC games online. A few years ago, I was mostly ordering boxed versions from Amazon, but recently I started to use digital download retailers. So this is a review of the services three digital download retailers offer: GOG, GamersGate and Steam.
GOG, Good Old Games. I like GoG, mostly because they offer old games that are almost impossible to find anymore at a decent price, and none of them have Digital Rights Management (DRM). They also make sure that those old games work on recent operating systems and the forum is filled with tips if you have problems. The sales are also nice and they offer lots of bonuses with most of their games (avatars, maps, soundtracks, etc). The website is also one of my favorites; not too much Flash, easy to navigate and the download page is well-done and doesn’t require you to use their download manager. GOG downloads are easy to backup for further re-install. I pre-ordered The Witcher 2 there for two reasons: I hate DRM (or at least most uses of DRM), and I want to encourage the parent company.
Gamersgate, a Swedish company. They have both a US and a UK website. It is technically the same website and database; I was able to buy games on both using the same account (sometimes the UK price is better then the US one, it’s worth it to look). The website has an easy-to-navigate interface and a big selection of games: old, new and indies. They have astounding sales every week and a customer retention credit system. You accumulate credits (blue coins; the site currency) by buying games, pre-ordering, writing reviews, voting for games, or helping others. Gamersgate’s biggest downside is the payment system. Basically you have a few third parties choices to pay for what you buy, and in most cases if Paypal doesn’t like your credit card you won’t be able to buy a game on that website (you don’t need a Paypal account, though.). Gamersgate does have games with DRM, but it isn’t intrusive and their games are still easy to backup, despite them using their own download manager, as long as you remember the select the “keep files” radio button.
Steam. Everybody knows Steam. Personally, I’m not a big fan of it. Their website is filled with Flash and auto-starting videos and they tend to prefer AAA titles. But my biggest problem with Steam is that they require you to use the Steam app to install and play the games they sell. The application has the bad habit of auto-updating the games as well without asking you first. Which mean you sometimes get stuck with an auto-updater when you actually wanted to have a 30-minute moment of fun. I don’t buy Steam games anymore.
These three retailers aren’t the only ones that sell digital games, Impulse and D2D are also well-known online shops. I have personally never used them, but I heard good things about Impulse and not-that-great things about D2D.
While I do find digital downloads a lot more accessible then boxed games, I think there are a few annoyances: game download size, price versus the boxed versions, and some of the retail restrictions. Taking a few hours to download the latest game you bought doesn’t have the same enjoyment as picking up a box from a shop and going back home thinking about the amazing hours you will spend playing soon. The prices of the digital downloads are a bit annoying as well; basically they are the same as the boxed version. The reason for that is apparently that digital retailers are “forced” to do so, otherwise the shops that sell boxed version would lose more money (always looked more like an excuse to make more money to me). I do admit though, that the “specials” are really good and that digital version prices go down faster than boxed versions. This means you don’t have to wait two or three years before a game is at “bargain bin” price. Finally, some online retailers still put a lot of DRM on the games they sell. I had a few problems with a few purchases because of that, which means that the retailer had to remove the DRM.