Best Alternatives to Steam
Steam provides excellent deals on digital copies of games, but they're not the only game in town. Alternatives like Impulse, Good Old Games, and Direct2Drive have been around for awhile, but how do the stack up against the elephant in the room?
Steam has become an extremely popular service among hardcore PC gamers. It is easy to see why. Steam offers a large selection of quality titles and sells them at reasonable prices. To cap it off, Steam runs special deals every weekend which provide games at rock-bottom prices. For a hardcore gamer, Steam is like a candy store.
Yet Steam does not offer everything, and Steam is also rather strict about how gamers can play the titles associated with it. Gamers who like Steam but want to find other places to get their fix would be wise to check out the following services. European gamers in particular need to look elsewhere than Steam because of the strangely high Eurodollar prices charged they are charged.
It might be incorrect to call Direct2Drive a service. The way Direct2Drive is set up is the same as any other online store such as Amazon or Gamestop. Gamers browse through a catalog of available titles which are separated by various categories and then purchase whatever strikes their fancy. Once the purchase is made, Direct2Drive provides information for how to download an activate the title purchased. There is no software which must be downloaded to make the game work. The only program that is offered is a download manager, but that is fully optional.
This traditional store format has a lot of disadvantages to Steam. There is absolutely no Direct2Drive community. It is simply a place one goes to buy games, not a place one visits to play them or meet other gamers. But this is a blessing as well. Activation of games is simple and once a game is downloaded it operates like a retail copy. Gamers do not have to run any background services to have anything work, and they are free to transfer or backup games in any way they want (although the individual DRM schemes used by publishers do still exist, and may place some limits on use. Ironically, this means Direct2Drive games require Steam to play).
Direct2Drive usually offers competitive pricing on its entire library but rarely has events comparable to Steam's weekend sales. The library of Direct2Drive, on the other hand, feels even more diverse then what is available on Steam. For example, Direct2Drive has had The Sims 3 for some time now, but it is unknown when or if Steam will be selling that title. For gamers in Europe, Direct2Drive's UK site, priced in pounds, usually works out to much better prices than Steam.
The cleverly named Impulse started life as Stardock Central, a online distribution service based on the products of Stardock. Stardock is well known in the gaming world for titles like Galactic Civilizations 2, but they also make a huge amount of money from their various Windows service products. Stardock Central was converted to Impulse as Stardock began more aggressively promoting products beyond ones they developed themselves.
Impulse is similar to Steam in that it is a service. It provides a friends list, integrated forums, and other such features. However, Impulse is less rigid then Steam in regards to the control it assumes over content purchased through Impulse. Games purchased through Impulse can be launched with or without use of the Impulse interface once the game is set up and registered.Registration through Impulse is done through the use of product keys tired to an account. Stardock recently announced they would like to make it possible for players to re-sell digital companies purchased on Impulse, but this service is not yet available and there is no ETA. Stardock also makes international users happy, as they deal in USD and simply ask international buyers to pay the converted amount rather than setting special prices for different regions.
The selection on Impulse slants towards independent gaming. Impulse has made great strides to build ties with larger companies, but selection is still lacking overall. The prices, on the other hand, are excellent. Many of the deals offered on Impulse are as good or better then what is found on Steam.
Good Old Games
It is hard to believe that Good Old Games exist. Its entire business model revolves around selling games that are, well, old. Games that hardcore gamers consider classics, but that many more casual gamers may not have heard of and not have much interest in. Normally, these kind of ideas don't work out. Its the kind of things that hardcore gamers love, but which no one ever seems to spend enough money to support.
But Good Old Games appears to be here to stay. Like Direct 2 Drive, Good Old Games is less of a service and more of store. There are some community features available, but they are not integrated deeply into the service. GOG offers a downloader application, but it is not required to download and play games, and titles are placed on a sort of virtual shelf which is viewed in the a web browser. Registration is virtually non-existent, as the games are sold without DRM. This is in fact one of GOG's advantages. Once a game is downloaded from GOG the buyer can do anything with it they'd like. As with Impulse, those who are unhappy about the way Steam charges its international customers will also find GOG to be a refuge, as they allow them to simply pay the converted price from USD.
True to its name, GOG deals in old games and only old games. The selection will be great if gaming classics are what you're looking for and useless if you're looking for more modern titles. It is notable that some of the games on GOG are only available new from GOG. The prices are extremely good. If you're looking for older titles, GOG is the place to go.