Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Digital Distribution Wars Are On Again

Shamus Young | 12 May 2015 19:00
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Experienced Points Digital Distribution

I've said before that I don't think boxed copies of games are going away anytime soon. Certainly not while there are Baby Boomers to buy them for their Millennial grandchildren and not while there are Christmas trees to put gifts under. Digital copies of games might be the best in terms of price and convenience, but price and convenience aren't always the top concern. (Personally, I really miss the days of browsing store shelves for something new, but the PC shelf at GameStop is now the size of a magazine rack and the console shelves mostly have AAA titles I already know about. There's no "browsing" to be done.)

But it's clear that the future of the market is digital. This is particularly true on the PC where the days of "pop in a disk to begin playing the game" has been over for ages. In an ideal world, lots of companies would have launched digital distribution platforms and they would be fighting over market share. But in this world, Steam launched half a decade before their first serious contender, and Steam's rivals are still fumbling with the basics. It's not that I want all the headaches that come with platform wars. (Exclusives, lock-ins, juggling multiple accounts. Just ask anyone who owns more than one console how fun it is.) It's that Steam is scary big, that size gives them a lot of power, and I'd rest easier if I knew Steam was afraid to piss off their customers because their customers had lots of alternatives.

But there's a new contender on the field. Good Old Games has launched a Steam-like client called "Galaxy" for purchasing and downloading games. Three years ago, I looked at our digital purchasing options and talked about the state of the market. Let's do that again now that we have some fresh blood.

Steam

Steam Logo - Main

Steam has the most users, so the most developers want to put their games there. Since so many developers release on Steam, price competition is fierce. And since Steam has the biggest selection and best prices, most people want to use it. And since most people use it, the platform becomes even more valuable since even if you don't care about digital games, you probably want to play on the platform where your friends are. This positive feedback loop of success creating more success is called the network effect, and it is ruinously difficult to overcome. If you want to break into a market like this, you can't just come out with a comparable product. You need something way better.

Rating: The Borg

Gamers Gate

gamers gate logo

Gamers Gate (not affiliated with the culture-war hashtag) is an interesting contender. They're not big or powerful, but they do offer something that the other entries don't, which is access to your library without needing to use a client. That's a plus for some and a downside for others, but it's something that sets the platform apart. If you don't like having Steam (or Origin) sitting in your system tray, sucking up resources, enforcing logins and region locks, and generally making a pest of itself, then it's worth looking into Gamers Gate.

Rating: Really interesting

GameStop

GameStop Logo

This used to be called Impulse and was run by Stardock, of Galactic Civilizations fame. Then they sold it to GameStop, and I have no idea what GameStop is doing with it these days. They dropped completely off my radar (read: They stopped sending me press releases and review copies of games, and they stopped showing up in the news) so I have no idea what the service is up to these days and no motivation to find out.

Rating: Have you seen me?

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