When it comes to digital distribution for PC games, Steam is the undisputed champion, serving up approximately 2.4 billion total game sales as of March 2017. But just because it currently has a lead in the market doesn’t mean you need to curtail your choices for digital game purchases. Here are 10 alternatives to Steam for PC gamers, some of which offer Steam compatibility, and which often beat it on price as well.
Green Man Gaming
Probably the best-known among the indie Steam alternatives, Green Man Gaming offers a totally web-based store that sells digital keys for Steam, Origin, Uplay, Battle.net, and just about everything else. The store offers standard retail pricing on most titles, with extra discounts for “VIP” customers who use the EXP loyalty program (but that just means you make a permanent account on the service). GMG complies with the various DRM anti-piracy schemes issued by Valve, Blizzard, EA, and other major publishers, and doesn’t use a dedicated download client.
GamersGate (not to be confused with the GamerGate movement) is a digital distribution service that offers a mixture of straight game keys and direct downloads for DRM-free titles. Though its selection isn’t as broad as some competitors—later games from Blizzard, Activision, Square-Enix, and EA are no-shows—its unique “Blue Coin” system is worth investigating. Customers earn digital credit in the form of coins for every purchase, plus small bonuses for participating in the GamersGate community, like posting game reviews or answering help topics. Blue Coins can then be used in place of real money for any digital purchase on the site.
Though OnePlay offers a web store interface and download keys for all the major PC publishers, it also has a dedicated Windows client that offers direct downloads through the company’s peer-to-peer system. In addition, OnePlay has a unique advantage over most of the other stores on this list: a selection of its PC games can be “rented.” That is to say, the games can be downloaded after a small rental payment and played for 30 days. The selection is rather limited at the moment, but the rental system allows players to run the games without an always-on Internet connection and on up to two machines. OnePlay offers a VIP subscription for $10 a month that grants open access to a large library of older and indie games on PC and Android.
GOG (Good Old Games)
GOG is a digital distribution hub made by the people at CD Projekt, the developers of the well-regarded Witcher series. GOG is short for “Good Old Games,” and as expected, it specializes in a large catalog of older games that can sometimes be hard to find on other services. Though GOG has expanded into newer high-profile and indie games as of late, the service and its Galaxy download client are 100% DRM-free. This limits the total selection in some ways (and there are no Steam keys to be had, even when the older games are available on Steam’s store), but the prices for older games are extremely competitive.
Direc2Drive is actually the ancestor of IGN’s old game store, now gobbled up by a holding company and run as an independent business. The core idea remains the same as it ever was: pay for games and download them right away. Most of the titles on the store still offer direct downloads through the web interface, though the company also sells major games with DRM activation exclusively on Steam, Origin, Uplay, et cetera. Though Direct2Drive often discounts individual games or large sets in a promotion, it does not offer a loyalty program.
Better known for its periodic DRM-free “pay what you want” game bundles, Humble now offers a more traditional online storefront as well. There’s a definite focus on indie and small publisher games in Humble’s library, but there are offerings from bigger players like Square-Enix and 2K. 5% of the price of all purchases go to children’s video game charity Child’s Play, with an option for another 5% going to charity or refunded to the player. In addition to straight sales on the web and periodic bundles, some of which come with Steam keys, a $12 monthly subscription option gives away selected titles that are then the player’s to download at any time.
Itch.io is all about the indies. Though most of the games offered on the site and download client are free (thanks to a mobile-style open submission policy), developers can add a price to their games, and many popular independent developers now use Itch.io as a primary distribution platform. There are zero games to be had from major publishers, but anyone who appreciates a browse through a diverse collection of ideas should give it a try. Check out the discounted game bundles if you’d like something a little more curated.
Did you know Windows 10 has a built-in game store now? Yeah, it’s an easy thing to miss, since the more general apps on the larger Windows Store are hardly worth a look. Though the selection of games in Microsoft’s official curated market isn’t great, there are a couple of exclusives that can’t be found in any other stores along with PC versions of some popular mobile games. A few select titles can share saves and achievements across the Xbox and PC versions. Unfortunately the platform itself has some growing pains. But it’s there if you want it, I suppose.
Many gamers (including yours truly) are hesitant to trust EA’s semi-exclusive game distribution system, since its existence means we can’t get some of the publisher’s biggest titles on Steam or anywhere else. But it might be worth checking out Origin, if only in passing, for the following reasons: one, there’s a limited selection of indie games on the platform that aren’t published by EA. Two, Origin offers a “no questions asked” refunds on games for 24 hours after installation, or 7 days after purchase. Three, Origin often gives out free digital copies of old but notable titles from EA’s long publishing library. Origin Access, a $5 monthly subscription, gives players free reign on a limited selection of older titles and free previews of upcoming games. Origin also functions as EA’s community and chat platform.
Ubisoft’s Uplay is basically the same thing as Origin, a combined game storefront and social/DRM platform. But unlike Origin, Ubisoft offers its major releases on other stores like Steam (though players usually have to download and activate the Uplay client as well, which is a huge annoyance). Even so, it might be worth checking the Uplay storefront before a major purchase from Ubisoft: sometimes the latest releases have small discounts not available elsewhere, and the company’s “Unit” rewards earned in-game in select titles can be traded for digital goods.
Download Directly from Publishers and Developers
Some forward-thinking game developers like Taleworlds, Mojang, and Cloud Imperium (as well as most MMO publishers) offer games direct purchases on their websites and host game files themselves. Since this skips the centralized storefronts (which take a cut of the purchase price), the price is often lower than it otherwise would be. You get your game cheaper, and the developer doesn’t have to pay a distributor—everybody wins! Be sure to check and see if the new game you want is offered for a direct purchase on the developer’s website, and remember that non-Steam games can still be added to your Steam library manually for convenience.
Game Keys from Amazon, Newegg, and Other Retailers
Nowadays major web retailers will sell Steam, Origin, Uplay, Battle.net, and other activation codes just like any other goods. Amazon, Newegg, GameStop, and Best Buy all sell standard codes accessible via their retail accounts or email reciepts. Be sure to shop around for the best price after you’ve decided on a purchase—the games portal on SlickDeals.net is a good place to see digital game codes discounted at specific stores.
Remember to Comparison Shop
Even if you’re dedicated to a single game download platform like Steam, there’s no reason to limit yourself when it comes to saving money. Comparison shopping sites such as Isthereanydeal.com can help you find discounts on a specific game you’re looking for, if there are any available. Check out How-To Geek’s guide to saving money on PC games for even more tips.
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