Thanks to faster Internet connections and the near obsolescence of DVD drives on laptops, digital distribution of desktop games just continue to grow. There's now a wide variety of websites and programs providing numerous marketplaces for gamers. The digital juggernaut that is Steam offers everything from triple A titles to indie hits, while more specialized services such as the DRM-free GOG.com or charity-oriented Humble Store are carving out their own niches. These are the ten best online marketplaces and applications to help you get your game on.
Steam is a juggernaut in the videogame digital distribution market. Originally created by developer/publisher Valve to handle online patching and updates of their own games, this service has grown by leaps and bounds. Steam now carriers games from hundreds of publishers and developers. While competitive pricing is commonplace in digital distribution, the Steam Store is infamous for frequent sales. The Steam client includes automated patching and updates, social networking, and continuous improvements such as the Big Picture mode for TV gaming and the new Steam Family Sharing feature for sharing game libraries.
While smaller in scope than other digital stores, GOG.com is a fast-growing online retailer. Originally specializing in 'good old games,' the site has gradually added modern offerings to its catalog. Many classics from now defunct publishers are sold alongside contemporary hits. GOG is also one of the least intrusive of online retailers: although there's a GOG Download Manager client, using it is entirely optional, as purchases can be downloaded directly from the site. GOG also has a strict no-DRM policy that has won over many gamers who want to play their games without dealing with connectivity-based certification.
A relative newcomer to the games marketplace, Green Man Gaming provides some award-winning innovations. While the retailer uses SecuRom DRM for its games, GMG makes it work for them by allowing some purchases to be traded back in for store credit. That means customers simply have to 'de-activate' their purchases and resell their games as pre-owned. Without DRM that feature simply wouldn't be possible. In fact, the customer experience closely approximates a rental service. Downloads can also be managed through the free Capsule application.
Driven by developers and community, Desura specializes in serving mods, patches and add-ons to games, and the site is well liked due to its openness. Developers set the prices of their games and games are rated by the community. You won't see many of the big triple A titles, but if you're looking for indie titles and other games off the beaten path, then this is the place to go. The only downside to Desura's openness is that some of the games are lacking in quality.
Initially just the online storefront for strategy games publisher Paradox Interactive, GamersGate opened up to other developers and publishers in 2008 and has since been spun off into its own independent entity. Besides a selection of more than 5000 games, GamersGate is notable for its decision to abandon a central downloader client, instead offering micro-downloaders for each game that installs the game files, which can then be removed. Installation and activation of games requires Internet access, but can then be played offline afterwards without a hitch.
Once exclusively an EA storefront, the often criticized Origin has since opened its doors to other publishers such as Ubisoft in an attempt to take on Steam. The Origin client has many of the standard features of its other downloader/DRM client competitors, such as a built-in marketplace, social networking and chat features, and multiplayer backend infrastructure. But Origin has been adding new features to one-up its competition, such as the new TwitchTV streaming functionality.
Ubisoft's Uplay digital store and games management platform gets a lot of flak due to issues surrounding the 'always online' DRM built into many of the games during the initial release. Still, Ubisoft's own distribution platform is no slouch, offering the same marketplace, auto-patching and social networking experience of similar client systems. Uplay also offers a point system for in-game achievements that can be redeemed for freebies and exclusive downloadable content.