Steam has been the head honcho of PC gaming distribution platforms for a while, touting repeated sales, excellent free gaming options and an extensive gaming library. The monopoly it holds over gaming distribution, however, may not necessarily be for the gaming community’s benefit. There are several gaming distribution platforms online which not only provide the same quality AAA gaming but extensive indie libraries and reward opportunities as well.
Best Gaming Distribution Platform Criteria
Before listing the best gaming client alternatives to Steam, there’s a simple criteria to follow in order to ensure the satisfaction of the user.
No gaming library is perfect, but some excel over others. Gaming clients should have a higher percentage of quality content than flash game websites, including early access content as well. Exceptional gaming quality also includes minimal Pay-to-Unlock features often incorporated with FTP (Free to Play) or freemium games.
Ease of Use
If you’re looking for new, brilliant games, the last thing you want is to have a hard time looking for these games. Games come first, company advertising second.
Categories, a proper rating system and accessible (but unfamiliar) gaming gems are all aspects of a great gaming repository.
I would also like to include whether the gaming distribution platform includes a desktop application or a simple online client.
Digital Rights Management
DRM (Digital Rights Management) is an often overlooked issue, especially with PC gaming. This practice is instituted as a means to limit one game to one person. It’s practice, however, can be very annoying.
Certain games on certain platforms will be listed as DRM-free which will allow the user to play the game without using an alternative desktop program. In other words, these platforms allow you to own the game without having to sign in to a separate client or requiring an Internet connection at all.
This practice extends not only to playing the game, but modding the game as well. DRM-free games allow you to mod your game without using a third party client which may require payment. The aim here is to use a gaming client which allows you to play the game, offline and registration free.
Library Volume and Type
Most gamers would likely be content with a volume of largely AAA-rated games at their disposal. Some, however, enjoy the mix of highly-rated, often expensive games with quality, often cheap indie games.
Bonus content such as software and Linux supported games are also a plus. The quantity of games, however, is rarely a point of interest compared to the overall quality of the library.
Reward Programs | Discount Deals
Loyalty to particular distribution platforms will allow you to take advantage of reward programs. These programs let you take advantage of in-client virtual currency, sales and exclusive pre-orders.
Such clients will allow you to earn virtual currency through game purchases, long-term use, achievement unlocks, and so on. Reward programs are a great way to show user appreciation.
Another considerable part of a proper gaming client’s appeal is the sales. A vital part of catching the PC gaming community’s interest is selling them cheap games. Some sales are seasonal, while others occur more frequently. In either case, saving money is definitely a plus for the modern gamer.
Although this quality is hard to qualify, customer service is the lifeblood of gaming clients. Great customer service extends to more than solving gaming issues; money-back guarantees are very important to the curious gamer looking to jump from genre to genre or to return a bugged early access game.
Having customer service limited to certain areas of the world can also be an issue, as Valve’s gaming client Steam recently discovered. This is why a world-wide money back guarantee with no strings attached is key.
Here is my list of the best gaming clients out there. Although none of these quite match up to the overall library of Steam, these clients are quality contenders to the gaming distribution crown.
GOG.com | GOG Galaxy (BETA)
At the top of the list is GOG.com, one of my personal favorites.
If there was ever a Steam buster, GOG.com would be it. Touting such AAA-rated games as No Man’s Sky and Witcher 3, this gaming distribution website is a reliable source of large scale gaming content. What GOG.com lacks in popular games (if it lacks at all), it more than makes up for in community leadership.
A community wishlist is updated weekly to list the games users would most like to purchase. GOG.com then puts its best effort to achieving their game goals. The website is so earnestly behind the right of the user to game that they proudly list that all their content is DRM-free.
DRM-free means no copy protection, on-line checks, or any other annoyances. It’s all about just your and your games and movies. You should feel you own the products that you buy – just like a book, or a DVD. — GOG.com
Their support staff is both reliable and easy to find while their forums are often filled with any information concerning game glitches or issues. GOG.com has also released a desktop application named GOG.com Galaxy which works in the same manner as the Steam client.
GOG.com is a site with ethics, and their goal is to uphold all the rights and privileges a gamer desires.
Origin has been a long-time contender in the gaming distribution world. They tout a heavy AAA rating library such as Battlefield 4, Star Wars Battlefront and Sims 4. When it comes to seasonal sales, Origin often rivals Steam sales on select games. As of 2014, Origin has been adding games to their On the House deal wherein they give away a game every couple of weeks. Although they are often older games (none made after 2013 as of yet), you never know what game Origin will freely give away.
Their games are available on their website and through their desktop client. They are a reliable gaming distribution outlet if you’re ever in the need for those newly released, high end games. They also allow for a full refund on select games if you are ever dissatisfied with your purchase.
Green Man Gaming | Playfire (BETA)
Green Man Gaming possesses an impressive game library along with impressive game deals on a regular basis. With regular monthly and holiday vouchers, Green Man Gaming is a favorite among the spendthrift gamer looking for the next deal on new releases.
Green Man Gaming also had a unique credit system where users can review games, refer friends and pre-order games for GMG Credits, although this credit system has since been replaced. Their new credit system has yet to be finalized, but given Green Man Gaming’s history of providing users with good deals this shift will probably work out for the best.
It is also worth noting that their refund policy seems a bit stricter than other gaming clients which offer no-holds-barred refund opportunities. They are, however, the only game distributor which allows trade-ins for credit.
Unlike any other digital retailer, our customers can trade-in their digitally downloaded games for credit in their account and this credit can then be used for new purchases. — greenmangaming.com
Their new gaming client Playfire is also undergoing heavy development, but that isn’t stopping GMG from providing quality gaming releases at discount prices.
— Green Man Gaming (@GreenManGaming) April 4, 2016
Itch.io is another one of those once-in-a-lifetime, DRM-free gaming clients which provide an excellent and vast library of games.
The favorite for many an indie gamer, itch.io possesses one of the greatest indie game libraries on the market today. Most of these games are also often under $10.00 and provide hours of enjoyable content.
The itch desktop application is a simple extension of the website. It doesn’t provide much extra functionality, but it does provide a neat place to store and access games bought through the itch.io website.
Itch.io also touts an continually updated forum which, among other announcements and discussions, provide bug support, Devlogs, 2D Art and Help Wanted boards that their community can access and add to.
Almost as impressive as their gaming library is their software library. Itch.io is filled with great software and digital content spanning pixel art editors, game soundtracks and launchers, CG texture packs, etc. This is what makes itch.io not only a great gaming resource for a resource for the whole indie community.
Itch.io is vastly popular in circles where indie content is appreciated, and it has deserved every bit of its respect. If you are interested in inexpensive, quality indie gaming content, itch.io is for you.
GamersGate may seem like your typical gaming distributor, selling a great selection of both intensive, largely DRM-free AAA-rated games along with a nice indie selection for gamers to enjoy, but behind their goods lie great reward opportunities as well.
They have great sales rather often for both older and newer PC games. For example, one week they had Bethesda sales where users could save up to 75% on such notable games as The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Their reward system is also one of the more interesting of the bunch. GamerGate’s uses a virtual currency called Blue Coins. These coins can be earned through pre-orders, buying and rating games, submitting reviews and reference codes called GG-tags which gives the user a percentage of sales incurred through the tag.
There is also a GamersGate Game Tutor program which allows members to help other users with whatever game or software issues they may have. All of these reward options not only allow members the use of Blue Coins but allow users to gain virtual experience as well. The more virtual experience you gain on GamersGate, the higher up your membership rank.
Although it will take a series of reviews and purchases before you become a high level member, incentives like these are a great way to receive loyalty from your members and have them become part of the community.
Game Jolt provides a large library of largely-free indie games to you in both website and desktop client versions. You can spend hours perusing their funny content. The website as well as the client are easy to use and their games are easy to configure.
On top of all this, their Pokemon series is of exceptional quality. Although not an official Pokemon repository, such new and inventive titles as Pokemon First Person and Pokemon Destiny opened my eyes to a world I didn’t think possible.
Game Jolt also maintains a forum called Fireside which keeps the user up to date with the goings on of Game Jolt along with a fair share of indie gaming news. They even have their own content creation website called Game Jolt Jams which allows the user a sleek and manageable interface to track the progress, rates and downloads of their “Jams” (games hosted by Game Jolt).
Honorable Mention: Humble Bundle
The Humble Bundle is best known for their periodic discount deals for charity. I’ve been signed up to their email newsletter for years and I’ve yet to regret the decision. Their bundles are packets of games sold to raise money for various causes. You can choose how much money you are willing to donate, along with choosing which charities you are willing to give to. They also incentivize donations by providing more games for larger purchases.
On top of their bundle deals, they have a store website which often hosts the latest and greatest AAA-rated and indie games. In a move of literary excellence, Humble Bundle also hosts a Book Bundle as well.
This is an honorable mention considering most of the games available in their bundles and on their stores are available as Steam keys redeemable with Steam rather than available through download from Humble Bundle itself. But hey, it’s for charity!
And going and going…
There are other gaming distribution clients and websites out there, but these options are safe and tested alternatives to Steam that you can trust with your money. The attempt here was not only to provide stores, but community-based gaming outlets where you can spend time along with money to support great gaming content.
What are your favorite game stores or Steam alternatives? Let us know in the comments below!