When I was a bit younger, I moved around a bit and learned that keeping track of your video game CD-ROMs (yeah, I said CD-ROM) while relocating isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish… fortunately, Valve (remember the first Half-Life?) came up with Steam, a platform that let you log in with your username and password and download any game you purchased through them. Too good to be true? Not really… since 2003, I’ve been using this great platform and increasing my video game collection that, as of the time of this writing, has 700 games.
After some time, Steam gained some competition. Here’s a list, as complete as I can make it, of being able to game without touching physical media.
Platforms I have personal experience with
Steam is the oldest and most popular platform. They have deals often and integrate DLC automatically in games for a seamless experience. It’s very simple to use, buy and download your games. Play on Windows and Mac. It feels the same after several years and use of integrated Internet Explorer can make for an annoying experience, but overall a good platform with a few quirks.
GameStop purchased the well known Impulse platform and has rapidly expanded it to benefit not only the existing Impulse customers but its own in-store customer base as well.
Desura focuses on indie games and modding. It still sells mainstream titles, but seems to focus on obscure indie titles. Gamers can find entertainment on Windows, Mac and Linux.
GOG or Good Old Games offers older titles such as and Dungeon Keeper, MDK, Redneck Rampage, Psychonauts, Descent and much more. GOG prides itself on selling DRM-free games, trusting customers instead of restricting them. All content delivery is a single-file-per-game-installer.
Blizzard’s battle.net, who brought us Starcraft, Warcraft, WoW and Diablo, also has digital distribution set up as well. You can make a purchase through their site or use your existing key from your in-hand media to activate on the site. Download an installer at your leisure.
Amazon has a few titles that are cool, but it seems like a lot of casual games. I bought a few as they have some decent promos here and there, but haven’t actually downloaded to test them out yet. I’m sure it’s fine as Bezos wants to own every market available, but I just haven’t personally tested it out yet.
Platforms I have no experience with
I have never used these delivery platforms, but wanted to include them.
GamersGate was started in 2006 by Paradox Interactive. It was started with the intention of providing cheap distribution of their games to countries that did not offer them in physical retail stores, but in 2008, after other publishers requested that GamersGate distribute their games as well, Paradox decided to separate GamersGate into its own company. Their prices look very reasonable but they pretty much look like the same sales that Steam usually has, so I’ll probably use Steam just for the convenience and easy connections to my friends, but I’d use this site easily… it’s well done and easy to use.
Gamestation is a UK retail store chain equivalent to GameStop here in The States. It’s been around since 1993 and seems to have a pretty decent digital delivery angle.
DotEmu is a French company with a limited number of titles, initially dedicated to adaptation and emulation of old games.
Origin has some mainstream titles but overall, they are pretty pricey and just don’t seem like a place I personally want to spend my cash. Certain titles are available for download.
The genesis of this article was actually a friend and I from work wanting to put together a site for our mutual friends with deals news. After seeing how many sites were out there and how frequently it’d have to be updated, I began to second-guess myself. I then found a great site that basically does what I wanted to already. Instead of doubling efforts, I thought it’d be better to just link that specific site and a couple other interesting sites for game trading and gifting.
Steam Game Sales shows up-to-date prices on most of the above sites (Steam, Desura, Impulse, GOG, GamersGate, Direct2Drive, Green Man Gaming, Beamdog and Get Games) and lets you filter in a very compact and efficient interface. Think of it as the Slickdeals of digital gaming.
Steam Addicts is a nicely put together blog with references to Steam content and reviews as well as pricing, though limited to just Steam. Still a blog I check out.
Steam Prices is another Steam-only deals site.
Steam Gifts is an interesting site with an interesting concept. You can more or less trade gift copies of games for stuff you want. There are free giveaways and a pretty decent community. You have to log in with your Steam ID, but the login is handled by Steam so it seems pretty legit, but exercise caution. Remember that if it seems too good to be true… Check out the FAQ for additional details. On a side note, when you log in it’ll value your account… pretty interesting to know what your Steam collection is worth!
Game bundles have grown in popularity recently for their name-your-own-price model selling a number of games for as little as a penny but offering an incentive for those that pay over a threshold with additional games or soundtracks and addons. Many of the bundles listed below activate on Steam or Desura and will function as if you purchased them there, appearing in your download library. All of them offer a direct download of the installer so you can store it locally and install at your leisure. Technically you can redistribute the installers to your friends, but please just buy them a separate key for at lease a penny. Don’t just send these around… give the folks at least something for their efforts, you’d appreciate that at the very least if it were you. The games are generally multi-platform, always DRM-free and independently developed.
The Humble Bundles are a great series of game bundles, that are sold and distributed online at a price determined by the purchaser. Buyers can set the revenue split between the developers, charities and humble bundle organizers. The Humble Bundle often has a soundtrack or two in each bundle and always has Steam activation for all the games, in addition to the download of the installer for Windows, Mac and Linux. If you spend more than the average, you usually get a bonus one or two games and they sometimes tack on extra games after you’ve made a purchase so you’ll get occasional emails with a free bonus to come back and download for no additional charge… err… donation!
Indie Royale has some pretty good games that activate on Steam and Desura as well as direct downloads for Windows, Mac and Linux. If you preorder, you get a bonus like a soundtrack. I like that your Steam keys are usually individual keys for each game, so if you have one already, you can give it to a friend instead of losing it as part of the overall bundle.
The Indie Gala is another great bundle. The games will only activate on Steam, so be sure you have it before making a donation. This bundle has had some great soundtracks as well. The above two bundles will give you a link to download from a webpage, but this only gives you an email with activation keys and download links for soundtracks and extras. It’s not a necessity to download them all from a webpage, of course, but just be aware you need to watch your inbox. You can make a single large donation for up to 5 friends as well to give them everything from the bundle for a really good price.
The Indie Bundle is yet another bundle but I’ve never heard of it before. I’d attempt a purchase to tell you what it’s like, but I can’t find a way to do so on their site, so I can only assume that as of the time of this writing, they have stopped offering the bundles advertised but forgot to put up a different page compelling you to sign up for an email and wait till next time, etc. Let me know if you see this available at some point.
Video Game Music
The Indie Game Music Bundle is an initiative by several indie game music composers to get their music heard by a vastly greater audience. You get a ton of DRM-free game albums from indie game composers that’s 100% DRM-free 320kb mp3s with option for FLAC! Proceeds going to charity.
A couple more things…
Steam Calculator has the collection value thingy that Steam Gifts does, without logging in to anything, so it’s worth it to just type your username in and check out how much of a nerd you are.
Wasted on Steam let’s you know how much time you’ve spent gaming. Nerd.
Thanks goes to Anthony Fincher and Mega for help putting this list together with some platforms I didn’t know about.
Most of the historical data was taken from Wikipedia, so… it’s maybe not 100% accurate.