Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Digital Distribution Wars Are On Again

Shamus Young | 12 May 2015 15:00
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Games for Windows LIVE

games for windows live logo

Last year there was a rumor that Games For Windows LIVE was going to shut down. Then Microsoft denied it. But there haven't been any new games to use the service in years and now we're like cancer survivors, each year going in for our checkup and hoping the cancer hasn't re-appeared.

It wasn't just the worst marketplace / games platform I've ever used, it was some of the very worst software I've ever used. It was a plague, and good riddance.

Rating: Just die already.

Origin

EA Origin Logo

Origin has made some good strides since their awkward and uninspiring launch three years ago. Their library is small and EA is still trying to keep prices high in the face of overbearing competition, but other than that it's a fine platform. The problem is that being "about the same thing as Steam, but with higher prices" isn't remotely good enough to actually grow their market share.

EA could make something of Origin, but it would require a major shift in management thinking and I don't think the leadership has it in them. EA can keep the platform alive by making big-name titles (Mass Effect, Battlefield, etc.) into Origin exclusives. That will oblige players to install the damn thing to play their games, but it won't grow the platform. It won't make the platform more attractive for outside developers or indies. It won't make the service more valuable over time.

Rating: Not as pointless as it used to be.

UPlay

Uplay U

I only list Uplay here for the sake of completeness. It's basically the sequel to Games For Windows LIVE. It's got all the same hallmarks of GFWL: Useless friends list and achievements that offer inferior versions of features already offered through Steam. It's an extra layer of login and DRM on top of Steam. The interface is atrocious and nagging, the website is convoluted, and everyone hates it.

Ubisoft has always loved their overbearing DRM, and Uplay is just their latest attempt to sugar-coat that stuff. Except "sugar" would imply that people like it. Uplay is more like a very bitter coating, which is covering a poisonous coating of DRM, which is covering a video game people would enjoy so much more without those outer layers. I've come to associate the Uplay logo with, "You should probably get this one on a console."

Rating: A joke with no punchline.

Good Old Games Galaxy

gog_galaxy

Here is how Galaxy describes itself:

"Truly gamer friendly, DRM-free online gaming platform. GOG GALAXY is a fully optional client to install, play and update your games. It also offers online multiplayer, achievements, chat, game-time tracking and more - but it's up to you which features you want to use." (Emphasis mine.)

This is the first real contender to Steam in years. It's the only platform offering a principled anti-DRM stance. It's the only one with an optional client, which means you can use it like Steam (have it manage your downloads) or use GoG.com like Gamers Gate and manage your downloads manually. Since the client is optional, there shouldn't be any risk of getting locked out of your games because you've lost internet connection. And they have access to hundreds of exclusives. Okay, those exclusives are mostly decades-old games, but that's still something.

To be honest, I have no idea how Galaxy is going to perform. It's only just gone into beta and it's too soon to judge how the client will turn out. But this is the first platform that I'd rate above Steam. If Shoot Guy VI: Shoot Harder comes out on both Steam and Galaxy, I'd rather get it through Galaxy, and that's never been the case for any of these other platforms.

This will be a really interesting test of public preference. Is there really a large contingent of PC gamers that hate DRM and are hungry for an alternative? Or are we DRM-complainers just a loud minority? We're about to find out.

Rating: Really, really interesting.

Shamus Young is a programmer, critic, comic, and crank. Have a question for the column? Ask him! [email protected].

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