01.Digital Game and Media Distribution Platforms
There are several ways how games are distributed, but in most case you will find a game client which lets you download your games from its digital shop system and lets you organize them in an individual library. The process is similar to when you purchase music from e.g. iTunes or the Google Play Store. The game client is either provided by the game publisher itself or by a third party that offers a vast collection of games from different publishers and game producers. In most cases the client can be downloaded for free and the games may be purchased or downloaded via the client. While many digital media distribution platforms specialize in one kind of content, services like Usenet make it possible to use one single client for all your content, but let us take a look what kinds of platforms and services are available before deciding on the ideal distributor.
Steam is a game client offered by the game distributor and producer “Valve”. After registering a Steam account and downloading and installing the software on your PC, Mac or even Linux device you are able to access all games that are distributed through Steam. And that is a lot! Steam offers an easy way for game producers (whether it is a major game producer or a single unknown Gmw programmer / designer) to distribute their work with the whole world. It is a major advantage that Steam does not only function as a client for the games made by Valve, but rather as a huge platform to distribute as many games as possible to as much people as possible.
But there is a little bit more behind the game client than you would think. Steam does also work as kind of a social network for games and gamers. Everyone has a profile, a wall where friends and yourself can post stuff, like sharing screenshots from games or recommending good games and you can see what your friends are playing right now and even watch their broadcast if they enabled this option. So it is almost like a Facebook for gamers. But it may be too much for those who are just simply looking to download and play games. Keep in mind that the games are connected to your Steam account / profile. That means that you can only access them through your Steam credentials. To ensure that the users don’t distribute illegal copies, Steam restricts the downloads of the games (no matter if they cost something or not) to a single PC of your choice. Meaning you can’t play a game from one account on two devices at the same time. Another nice feature is that updates, DLCs (extensions that some game producers offer for their actual games) and mods can also be found on Steam. You use the search bar to look for whatever you want, download it and that’s it.
Maybe not exactly… Steam itself is for free and some games from Valve are also great and available for free, but that is not the case for most of the other stuff that you can download from there. In the end it is only a way of distributing your beloved games, but if the producers decide to take money, you have to pay to play them. The prices are in a huge range, because they are set by the producers and not client. In some cases you might even pay more than with purchasing through other sources. In some cases we found games for a rather small price that actually were free mobile games.
Once in a while Steam has a sale, meaning that it sells many chosen products for a lot smaller price. Sometimes you will find awesome games for sale and you may also be able to save a lot of money, but you will swiftly realize that the sales are just another marketing strategy to get people to buy stuff from there. These sales may be awesome, but they often tempt people to buy games they usually would not buy or even play. That way Steam can sell some games that are too old or too bad to be actually sold and make money at the same time. It is not a bad deal for the users either.
Many people like the fact that Steam is not only restricted to PC, but is also available for Mac and Linux users. It actually is a nice feature, but Mac and Linux users are going to be disappointed anyways. Steam being cross-platform friendly does not mean that you can play every game on your Mac or Linux computer. This is not something that Steam decides, but rather the programmers who are making the games. To be fair there are several games for the two other operating systems and even some big games too, but all in all PC has the greater library and you have to get used to not being able to find every game for your Mac or Linux, although that has not to do with Steam. We just think it would be nice if they upped the support for those a little more, especially when they are already mentioning them.
Moreover there is an inconspicuous, little feature called “Save Password” (the same goes for the username and it is mandatory if you want to save your password). It lets your computer save your password and remind it, so you do not have to type it in every time you want to log into your Steam client or the website. For security reasons most people left this box unchecked (even if there are no actual security concerns in this case) and if you do that, you will not be able to play your games without an internet connection, even if the games themselves are actually designed and produced for offline use. I remember how frustrating it was to find that out. Apparently there is a workaround for that, but it is quite annoying if you have to meddle with files and folders every time you want to play a game.
All in all steam is a feature-rich and full-fledged client for game downloads. If you are looking for the features mentioned above than there is no better competitor. But if you do not care about them, Steam may be too much. And you should keep in mind that you can only download the games to one device. If you want to use more, you could use the Family Sharing option, but that has the restriction that more than two people can’t play the same game at the same time. And in the end you will just be purchasing the games anyways.
Another distributor of games of all kind is UPlay offered by the French game publisher Ubisoft. Ubisoft is one of the most known game publishers and easily competes with other major publishers like EA and Sony Computer Entertainment. Assassins Creed, Far Cry, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, Might & Magic and Anno Online are only some of the globally known games coming from the French game producer. All of its games can be digitally purchased and downloaded only through the UPlay client. Moreover the client is only restricted to Ubisoft games. If you would like to purchase a game from another producer you would have to look for another way or digital distribution platform. No matter whether you purchased the game as a physical copy or digitally (even through another client) you will be asked to install UPlay first and guided through the installation step by step. It is mandatory because the activation (via product key) is running on the client.
UPlay follows a similar concept as other digital games distribution platforms. Upon installing Uplay and following through the registration steps you will be able to access the rather vast library, although it is kind of inconvenient that the library is almost exclusively for Ubisoft games. It has also integrated a social networking part and lets users add friends, send them messages and more importantly invite them to participate in online and co-op games. It does not have all the other extensive social media features that e.g. Steam offers, but it has everything that a gamer needs to play his games. Additionally to the adding-friends and inviting-to-games UPlay offers rewards for winning in a game. Due to its rewarding system the player can unlock new content for his games or reach certain levels.
Despite the fact that UPlay had a rather unpopular start Ubisoft was able to turn its genuinely disliked child to a pretty useful and appealing client. The most important information are displayed and highlighted and are wrapped in a comfortable and friendly interface. The fact that some of the most popular games are only available over UPlay makes it a must-have for some games, but these games come for a price. And even the organized and friendly interface that was improved a lot since its first release can’t make up for some of the prices. Speaking of prices UPlay has implemented its own digital currency to the client, but it does not really matter and it certainly does not have to be used.
If you want to buy certain games by Ubisoft and can’t find a way to buy them cheaper somewhere else you should just use the UPlay client, because you are going to be driven to install it anyway during the verification of your game. But if you are just looking for a game client that has some awesome games to offer you should absolutely take a look at other digital distribution platforms like Usenet. Thousands of terabytes of free and legal content can be really tempting, especially in an industry in where a product can cost up to 60 $ and even more during its release. In the end you should try out some free alternatives like the Usenet before resorting to UPlay.
Origin is the digital distribution platform by Electronic Arts (EA), the turnover-wise biggest company in the gaming industry. Despite the success of EA its digital distribution platform suffers from a great weakness: it only supports EA games. That may not sound like a big disadvantage, especially because all the other distribution platforms by other game publisher do the same. But EA’s Origin does not only sell its own games for retail prices, it does not even offer any community service except a friend list which can be used to participate to online games with friends. No regular sales, no reward system and no other social media-kind features.
There is a little bit more to Origin then one would think. EA has added an incomparable feature to its digital distributor. Like other platforms Origin downloads the games to the users’ hard drive and installs is there. Similar to what a physical copy does. Additionally to installing the game on your local machine, Origin offers PlayStation Now (PS Now). PlayStation Now is a cloud gaming service that basically streams the game output to the user and the user input to the game which is running on the cloud. Meaning the user does not have to install or download the game to play the game. With PS Now you are able to access PlayStation 3 games on your PlayStation 3 or 4 or on your PC. A DualShock 3 or 4 controllers are highly recommended if you are using the service on a non-PlayStation device. The whole service is based on GaiKai. GaiKai is the software, the idea and the team that stands behind Sony’s cloud gaming project. While all EA games can also be accessed through PS Now all the other non-PlayStation games are accessible through GaiKai’s native service. At first it was mostly used for demos only. You could try out the first half of a game before purchasing it, but nowadays it is not limited to that anymore. Sony recommends an internet connection of at least 5mbit/s for the optimal gaming experience with PlayStation Now. It can be either used subscription-based or for single games.
All in all Origin is a full-fledged and accessible digital distributor, but its limited library and the lack of community services hold its real potential back. In the end it is just another middleware between your game and yourself. It offers a simple yet useful library, but if you have to switch between all the publisher-based digital distribution software, they kind of fail their purpose. Especially when there is not much to offer except of downloading and organizing your games.
BattleNet is a game client by the game producer Blizzard. Blizzard is known for its exclusivity and for games like World of Warcraft, Heartstone and many more. As you can imagine, the game client exclusively offers Blizzard games. It almost seems like every big game producer has its own digital game distribution platform exclusively for its own games. As already mentioned, this can get pretty annoying pretty fast. Switching from one client to the other to play all the games that come from different producers can be tiring. Even the fact that Blizzard has some awesome games to offer and a nice and easy to use client do not change that. Blizzard can’t compete with other major producers when it comes to the number of games it offers (right now BattleNet supports up to 11 games). Its big advantage is the fact that its games (exclusively online games) are capable of attracting and keeping huge communities, e.g. World of Warcraft (WoW). World of WarCraft is probably the world’s most popular and played MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Play Game).
BattleNet is the most exclusive of all digital distribution platforms. It may be common that a game publisher offers its own client with its own games, but in most cases they offer an additional way to purchase their games (for example through services like Steam) while Blizzard distributes its games only and only over BattleNet. It is kind of like the Apple of the digital distribution services. There are no other additional features, community services or content offered, but the fact that the client and all the games are from Blizzard is enough for people to make a compromise and download BattleNet, even if they already have one or even more platforms to purchase their games. If you want to play a game published by Blizzard you will not have any other option then downloading BattleNet. Thus we would recommend looking for alternative games that may be available for free. E.g. the Usenet is one of the most popular digital distribution networks that have tons of free content to offer.
G2A.com (known as G2A) is also a popular digital game distributor, but slightly differs from all the other services we have introduced until now. G2A mainly sells game keys and not the games as downloads. After the purchase these keys can be used to activate the games at Steam or other digital distribution platforms that offer whole games. And the reason why some people prefer G2A (or any other similar provider) is simply the fact that they cost less. G2A buys the keys from the game producers in huge numbers and thus are able to sell them for less than other providers. The only downside would be that you have to download the game itself from somewhere else and have to activate it with the acquired key.