5 Alternatives to Steam and the PC Game Ownership Problem

GAMING
5 Alternatives to Steam and the PC Game Ownership Problem

Steam is by far the most popular platform for buying and playing PC games across multiple operating systems yet it’s a fairly well publicized fact that Steam users do not own the games they purchase from the Steam store, a particularly noteworthy consideration given the recently finished Steam summer sale where PC gamers splurged their cash on a boat-load of discounted titles.

The ownership message is laid out clearly and transparently by Steam’s Subscriber Agreement that states “Content and Services and any and all copies thereof, are owned by Valve US and/or its or its affiliates’ licensors”. In effect Steam users license access to the games they purchase for as long as they abide by the terms of the Steam subscriber agreement. Such a technicality may not matter to many people since the only way to lose access to your games is to have your Steam account banned, a very rare occurrence, but this has happened to some users in the past. For PC gamers who genuinely want to own their PC games, what alternatives are out there?

gog

Good Old Games (GOG)

The Good: DRM free games, money back guarantee and regular sales.

The Bad: less games than Steam.

DRM: None.

Client: GOG Galaxy (Optional).

amazon

Amazon Digital Download

The Good: growing selection, Amazon customer support, like buying a physical copy, regular deals and bundles.

The Bad: some games may still require Steam, DRM and Client requirements will vary by title.

DRM: publisher-specific.

Client: No Amazon client but there may be publisher-specific clients.

humble bundle

Humble Bundle

The Good: regular bundle deals, charitable contributions.

The Bad: fewer games than Steam, normal store prices are expensive.

DRM: generally none but some games require Steam or publisher DRM.

Client: No Humble Bundle client but there may be publisher-specific clients.

gamersgate

GamersGate

The Good: game selection to rival Steam, minimized DRM/client requirements where possible, regular deals and sales

The Bad: Not the best customer support

DRM: generally none but some games require Steam or publisher DRM.

Client: No GamersGate client but there may be publisher-specific clients.

origin

Origin

The Good: “On The House” free games, generally good customer support, centralized game access.

The Bad: less games than Steam, can lose all games by losing account access just like with Steam.

DRM: Origin.

Client: Origin.

Conclusion

PC Gamers looking for a quick-fix alternative to Steam that allows them to truly own their games will be left rather frustrated knowing that there isn’t a single easy solution; Steam will almost certainly be required in some capacity because of its hegemonic presence in PC gaming. Furthermore, users that are able to escape Steam’s ownership terms still find themselves bound by the End User License Agreement (EULA) of some games that entitles game publishers the right to revoke ownership, albeit on a game-by-game basis.

GOG offers a Steam-like Client with genuine ownership though GOG has a much smaller selection of titles compared to Steam. Amazon, GamersGate and Humble Bundle all offer a wide selection, almost comparable to Steam, and have many DRM-free games, yet a lot of titles still require publisher-specific DRM or clients which can be inconvenient and irritating. This fact is further compounded by the fact some PC games can only be activated through Steam, Batman: Arkham Knight is a recent example of this. Origin is often proposed as an alternative to Steam but in practice Origin serves as a Steam-style solution for EA-published games.

A reduced dependency on Steam is possible by pursuing alternative solutions, however, true independence from Steam isn’t possible without sacrificing the ability to play many games that are tied into Valve’s client. PC Gamers will note that there are many other trade-offs to leaving the Steam ecosystem, while you may be able to genuinely own your games elsewhere you end up losing the benefits of a centralized gaming library, amazing modding communities, unique Steam technologies, automatic updates and on-demand downloads.

Ryan Martin
Ryan is a Senior Reviewer at HEXUS.net

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