PC game stores, why?

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TL;DR: Money and anti-piracy

Why do PC game stores exist? That’s simple. Back when PC game stores were just starting, you could buy physical copies and digital copies of certain games, and some games were only available physically. It was rare at the time to find a digital only game, like most PC games you find now.

Why don’t we get physical games for PC anymore? Optical media isn’t popular anymore, to the point where if you buy a physical copy of Windows, it comes on a USB drive. USB drives add into the cost, and the developers make less money.

So, why are there multiple game stores that you can buy games on? Well, let’s start at practically the beginning of game stores, Steam. Steam started on September 12, 2003 as game DRM, servers, anti-cheat, and downloading for Valve games, starting with Half-Life 2. Steam expanded to let other publishers add games to Steam in late 2005.

Steam in October 2019 (from Wikipedia)

So, why doesn’t everyone just put their PC games on Steam? Well, there’s one problem for the publishers here. The problem is that Valve takes a cut from each game sold on their platform. Valve takes an 30% cut of revenue, but other companies want more money.

There are a few competitors to Steam, with the most noteworthy being the Epic Games Store, Origin, Ubisoft Connect, and Battle.net. Companies release their games on these services with no cut, as they receive all the revenue, as they own the service, and take less of a cut on third-party games to try to pull them over at least partially from Steam and the other competitors, so they can make money on those games as well. The main point here is that companies want to make the most profit off of their games as possible, and they will do whatever they can to make that profit, even if they have to spend money on infrastructure to run the platforms and other anti-cheat solutions.

There are a couple issues. The first is features. Steam has the most features out of all of them, and supports running another game store’s DRM app while the game is running, such as with EA and Ubisoft games being run through Steam, but with Origin or Ubisoft Connect still running in the background while you play the game.

The second is operating system support. Steam supports Windows, Mac, and Linux, but Steam is the only first-party game launcher that supports all three, with others supporting only Windows or Mac, or worst case scenario, only Windows.

The saving grace is third-party launchers here. There are two notable third-party launchers, Lutris and Heroic, and you can also run the first-party ones through Wine or Valve’s Proton if they don’t work for you. Anti-cheat is also an issue, but I’ll cover that in a future article, since it’s not really related.

So, should you buy games on Steam or on the companies’ launchers? Steam should be used when available, and then purchase games on the other launchers when you can’t, but keep in mind that when Windows 10 goes out of support, and you don’t have a TPM chip, so Windows 11 won’t work on your computer, you will have to jump through some hoops to get your games working, if they even work at all.

For Steam games, there is a good resource called ProtonDB, which takes Steam listings, and lets Linux and Steam Deck users add helpful comments on if the game runs, and how hard it is to get running. If you want to use a game that isn’t available on Steam, or wasn’t in the past, (e.g. Rocket League has a ProtonDB page that has results for the Epic version) you have to use other resources that are harder to find or not as accurate, such as WineDB, which only gives results for vanilla Wine, not Proton.

So, game launchers are an absolute mess that you should avoid whenever possible, unless those launchers have a DRM-free option, like itch.io, GOG, or Humble Bundle (with certain games). If you ever get a Steam Deck, you can’t expect the games with extra DRM or anti-cheat to work, and you’ll have to look at other resources. before you even try to install it, and you’ll want to know if it will work when you purchase it.


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