Over the past five or six years, the gaming industry has undergone a major change in how PC gamers receive, patch, and play their games. Online retailers like Steam, Direct2Drive, and others have expanded to include releases from virtually every major and independent game development house out there. Their libraries include titles ranging from heavy hitters like Call of Duty and Half Life to smaller projects like Osmos and Altitude.
If you’re tired of paying full retail price for video games at the store and haven’t taken the leap to direct download just yet, perhaps I can help ease your mind about some of the misconceptions of programs like Steam, Direct 2 Drive, and others.
If the company goes under, are my games lost forever?
It’s important to note here that this is one of the most common fears people bring up when considering purchasing their content “in the cloud” over retail stores. While this is certainly a justified response considering many of the perils faced by music lovers when services shut down in the past, it might be worthwhile to research your platform before beginning mass purchasing.
Steam, for example, has indicated that in the event of them going out of business they would flip a switch on authentication and allow everyone to continue playing their favorite titles in “offline mode”. This mode is available in limited form to users already in cases where their Internet connection is interrupted.
Direct 2 Drive, in association with IGN, has a similar setup to Steam though the game isn’t supported directly by the download manager making it easier to run without the strings of D2D attached.
Recently, a company called Good Old Games (GOG) closed its doors but not before letting users know they have set up a system to allow those that have already made purchases to redownload their games. In this case, the only effect of a company shutting down was the inability to purchase new titles.
My local retailer has better deals, right?
One thing I will not do is speak out against a local retailer. Many smaller shops do a lot of good for their customers in terms of specials and deals especially during a pre-order though they are limited by the requirements of the distributor. These limitations keep the prices generally the same across the board.
Steam, for example, often has about a dozen titles featured with generous discounts at any given time. Typically around the holidays, they have a new set of specials each day knocking the price down anywhere from 10% – 75% off recently released titles. The trick to getting a good deal on Steam is to check their store every day from top to bottom for Easter eggs. In general, their standard prices are the exact same as you’d find in the vast majority of retailers with the added bonus of forgoing tax in most states.
Aren’t downloaded games constantly experiencing issues?
Early on developers would create two versions of their games. One would cater to the retail consumer while the other was made for the user in the cloud. One example of this was Counter Strike: Source being easily customized with custom textures and sounds for consumers using the retail version while Steam users were given much more difficult directions on how to accomplish the same task. Folders were hidden, moved, or missing entirely from digital distributions and easily located in installation directories of the more conventional physical installations.
This experience has changed over the years and taken an entire about-face. In fact, if you purchased Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 from a retailer, you might have noticed that it installed Steam on your system. Once you activated your retail copy any future reinstallation can be done by clicking a button in your Steam library. Essentially, the game was designed with the cloud in mind rather than the hard copy.
There are also cloud-based game rentals available through companies like GameFly. These sites allow you to rent a game at a lower price, play it for a period of time and deactivate it when your time has expired. There are no trips to the local movie shop required, no late fees and no risk of scratched disks giving you surprise fees. When renting a game it’s important to remember, though, that your achievements are only saved in the cloud on certain titles.
No matter how you consume content, remember that you are not at the mercy of any one medium for your purchase. Cloud shopping isn’t the unstable experience it once was early in its inception, and has actually overtaken retail as the preferred method by many developers giving you the edge. In many cases, you can pre-download your games before they are available on retail shelves allowing you to start playing the minute it is released.