For PC gamers, Steam is an incredible boon. Valve’s digital download service has insane deals, offers excellent customer support, an easy-to-use interface, and provides a wonderful selection of games. There is very little to find fault with.
With that said, Steam can’t do everything or provide every game made, so there is room for competitors to survive or in a few cases, thrive. There is also, inevitably, going to be some who don’t like the intrusive nature of Valve’s service – why tie your games to an account if you don’t have to? These three services should help you blow off Steam.
Formerly owned by IGN Entertainment, Direct2Drive is now under the control of Gamefly and operates under the motto “Download Today. Own Forever“. Like all of the Steam alternatives here, Direct2Drive doesn’t offer a community or a client, but tries to make up for by stepping out of the way of gamers.
Direct2Drive tends to focus on major titles from large publishers. That’s not to say they don’t carry indie titles, but it seems that the games most heavily promoted by the site are well-known titles. Although this site is not known for crazy blowout sales, it does offer a limited price-matching policy.
Downloading games from the service is easy. A proprietary downloader is provided and usually the better option, but you can download games without it. Once you have a game on your computer, you don’t need to log into Direct2Drive to play, although you can obtain your software keys and re-download games from the website.
At first glance, GamersGate looks and feels a lot like Direct2Drive. The website is a bit busy, and when you make a purchase, you obtain a software key and download using a mini-installer. There’s no set client that must be used to manage or play games.
The main difference between GamersGate and Direct2Drive is the focus. The service is a big proponent of indie games, and while it also sells many popular titles from major publishers, you’ll find that niche games are often on the front page.
I personally wish the website was a bit more organized, but that’s really the only knock I have against the service. GamersGate will likely end up your digital storefront of choice if you’re an indie gamer.
If it’s for sale, Amazon probably has a couple in stock and will happily let you buy it. That seems to be the rule these days, and that goes for games as well.
Amazon’s game download service has never been well promoted. Indeed, for a time I forgot that it had existed entirely, and it’s certainly easy to miss the store in Amazon’s sprawling site. But it does exist, and it provides a reasonably large selection. If it’s from a major publisher, Amazon probably offers it – and when Steam isn’t having a specific sale on a title, Amazon can often beat Steam’s price. There aren’t many indie games available – for example, the recent indie hits like Terraria and Frozen Synapse aren’t for sale.
As you might expect, Amazon’s not interested in creating its own software client. The titles you purchase from Amazon are simple downloads, and once installed the game will act just as if you’d installed it from a retail disk. The familiarity of the website is an advantage, because you probably already have an account and a credit card registered. That makes buying and downloading a game snappy.
These are far from the only Steam alternatives. Impulse is popular because it offers a client with features like automatic updates and community support, but also lets gamers play without the client if they wish. However, I’m a bit leery about Impulse now that it has been sold to Gamestop. The Impulse client also advertises deals on its storefront via desktop pop-ups, which are extremely annoying.
Some of the publishers, like Electronics Arts, have their own digital storefronts. It seems rare that they provide excellent deals, but they do exist and sometimes contain older, less popular games that aren’t found elsewhere.
Let us know in the comments if you have any other favorites which are alternatives to Steam.