Whether you like it or not, digital distribution is the way of the future. The rush of nostalgia that comes from admiring a shelf of pristine game cases should be treasured, for sure, but the convenience of purchasing, acquiring, and playing a game via digital distribution systems certainly has its pros as well. The PC game market is where this practice currently shines the brightest – with so many systems in place to bring you as many titles as possible at the lower prices than ordering a physical copy or even going to the store, and it's quicker too.
With PC gaming week in full swing, we've got some of the best digital services on display for you smart shoppers to think about snagging your next purchase from. Whether you're nabbing Batman: Arkham City or traveling back in time to pick up a PC copy of Arx Fatalis, there' s a service that fits your needs.
If you're an avid gamer it's likely you've either at least heard of Steam or are one of the numerous members already signed up for the flagship service. A downloadable applet keeps track of the purchases and organizes them into a library for you, and even supports gaming groups, friend lists, and multiplayer. It's the digital distribution service built for staying social, and it boasts over a thousand titles, growing by the day. Some of the larger publishers whose games are readily available include 2K Games, Rockstar Games, Square Enix, Electronic Arts, and Activision.
If it's a new release meant for PC play, it's a safe bet you can find it on Steam. In-game voice and chat functionalities keep players in touch, and routine sales often serve up a handy bundle of releases from the same publisher at such a decadent price it's hard to resist. Users can also access saved games via Steam Cloud from any PC with the Steam client installed, making it simple to game on the go. Minimal DRM is imposed on buyers as well, making Steam continually one of your best choices – especially if you're looking into getting a little indie gaming done. There's a veritable cornucopia of independent publishers on Steam, which makes it the all-around heavy-hitter when it comes to PC digital distribution.
Classic games are the bane of my existence (and why I must routinely clean out my closet). I can't get enough of 'em. GOG, or Good Old Games, provides a unique service by selling DRM-free copies of classic and retro PC titles often bundled with extra patches or software so that they'll run (usually) without hitches on your modern PC. Based out of Poland and owned by CD Projekt, GOG has a library of 300+ older titles all available for purchase, including Phantasmagoria, Cannon Fodder, Myst, Psychonauts, Sanitarium, and plenty more.
There are a few free games sprinkled into the mix, and pricing runs anywhere from $2.99 to $9.99 or a few dollars more for bundles – unless you're buying CD Projekt's baby The Witcher 2, and in that case prepare to shell out a considerably higher amount. Included with most games are the original manual, wallpapers, avatars, featurettes, and other miscellaneous goodies such as comic books, interviews, or even soundtracks in some cases. If you're looking to pick up some older games, GOG will do you right.
Taking the Steam Cloud up a notch, OnLive is actually more than a digital distribution service – it's a cloud gaming system where all games are delivered and stored electronically. If you've got a decent enough internet connection to stream an entire game, OnLive is an economical and technological wonder. No muss or fuss or installation is required – just choose a game and go, or choose one of the OnLive bundles where you receive several games for a monthly fee and play them to your heart's content. With all games available in 720p and over 150 games currently on the roster, there's something out there for most tastes and most connections. If you're not into playing on your PC, there is a small console known as the OnLive MicroConsole TV Adapter, which allows for play on your television via wired internet connection, even providing a controller for use with each title.
Aside from simply getting your game on, OnLive also allows other players to drop in and view your play session, cheering and jeering your performance as the journey wears on. You can also save and replay clips at your leisure, adding a bit of a social element to an excellent streaming service. If you're not too interested in definitively “owning” your content and just want to play that new release now rather than later, OnLive is your optimal choice.
Another DRM-less option, Direct2Drive's motto is “Download today. Own forever.” Direct2Drive is one of the larger options out there, offering over 3000 downloadable games running the gamut from classic titles to the newest releases. Previously IGN's brainchild, Gamefly acquired Direct2Drive, though the service remains unchanged. While there is no Steam-like downloadable client or storefront, Direct2Drive does offer a personalized downloader and offers regular sales. It's an easy, no-frills download option that keeps up with the times and rewards users with content that's theirs to keep and re-download as long as the service exists. If you're not keen on Steam for some reason, this is your next best bet for modern titles.
Digital services continue to crop up everywhere, so don't think you're limited to these four choices. Even casual gamers are treated to Big Fish Games' genius downloadable services, and if you're looking to go the subscription route, GameTap is a great choice as well. Are you true to Steam or are you cheating on Valve with Direct2Drive? EA's Origin online service is quickly becoming one of the only ways to get EA titles, and GameFly is readying their own digital distribution service as well.
With all of these options, which are your favorite services and why?
Main image courtesy of JohnTrainor