Monday, 23 January 2017

Steam Alternatives

Steam Alternatives

Steam is the biggest digital storefront for games, but it's not the only option. We look at the alternatives

Valve is undoubtedly the major proponent of digital game delivery for PC and certainly the most successful. Its Steam platform was the first digital gaming distribution services, starting out life with the launch of Half-Life 2 in 2003. Over the last decade or so it's been around, Steam has revolutionised PC gaming and has had a huge impact on gaming as a whole, giving users an easier and more convenient way to grab their games. As it matured as a service. Steam began to offer more and more content and expanded into other areas, embracing more than just mainstream games.

Today, Steam is an unstoppable juggernaut in PC gaming, with over 120 million registered users and thousands upon thousands of games. It's become synonymous with gaming as a whole and its known throughout the world, even to people who don't play games, such is its success.

As with anything successful, copies of Steam were inevitable, and Valve's platform would be met with a myriad of contenders. These would come in various guises and specialities, and all would aim to take some of the action away from Valve's success - or would they?

Today, we know that any competition, no matter how well received, couldn't topple Steam, and it remains the single most popular PC gaming platform around, but that's not due to a lack of potential challenge. There are many alternative services now available, and some argue that these are actually superior to Valve's offering.

We're going to take a look at some of these alternatives to Steam and we'll see what each offers and how they may be more beneficial for some users than Steam.


We have to begin our look at Steam alternatives with Steam itself serving as the benchmark. Steam is the big boss of retail gaming platforms and for good reason: it's huge, offers any game you'd care to think of, and has a wealth of extra features designed to reel in gamers and keep them happy. Then there are those summer sales, ohhh, those summer sales.

Steam was the original platform of its type, and although its start was shaky, with plenty taking offence at having to be online to grab their copy of Half-Life 2, the service pushed on to become the monster it is today. Now, Steam is the de facto online gaming store, and the majority of the PC gaming world has an account.

Steam offers games from every publisher and developer, and save for a few omissions due to legal reasons or exclusives, there's next to nothing you can't find on here. All the most recent games are made available, often with specific exclusive deals and extras, and there's a huge catalogue of older titles. Although Steam doesn't venture too much into true retro territory (there are other services for that, as we'll soon cover), it's the best place in the eyes of many for the serious gamer.

As well as the games, Steam offers a full social element, including user forums, recommendations and even a trading card system. You can earn rewards just by playing games, and all your games are kept in a neat and tidy collection, accessible from any PC.

As good as Steam is, it's also become infamous in some aspects, most notably the highly experimental and now hugely popular early access system, which lets people pay up front for unfinished, still in-development game builds with a promise of the final package at a later date. This has been host to a few decent games, but on the whole it's seen by gamers as a breeding ground for poor and often downright irredeemable trash. Just pop over to YouTube and watch Jim Sterling's series on Steam's early access if you want to know how bad things can get.

Despite the appalling level of quality that seeps into Steam's early access model, it's still a massive hit and has made it possible for anyone to get started in game design and earn some money. Steam even dabbled in the sale of game mods (modifications), although this backfired and was soon dropped.

Part of Steam's major success is its inclusion of a developer API that allows programmers to directly integrate Steam features into their games, including Steam's PC version of console achievements and trophies. It brings the developer and the gamer closer, and makes Steam a very attractive platform for companies wishing to make the most of digital sales, with little risk thanks to Steam's built-in security. Oh, and did we mention the summer sales?

Steam is huge, there's simply no denying this, and you wouldn’t be alone if you thought no other option comes close to matching Valve dominance here. This may or may not be true. Let's see...


Origin is Electronic Arts' answer to Steam, and the company has stated during investor presentations that it wants Origin to match Valve's service. This is odd, because Origin is limited to the distribution of EA games only (save for a couple of exceptions). Origin has been designed as a way for gamers to purchase EA titles online through an all-encompassing service that features social elements and other extras, much like Steam.

Origin has around 50 million registered users, making it a very successful service, but it's far from the numbers of Steam. The limitation of EA-only titles is the major problem here and is where Steam and many other digital distribution services succeed, selling games from many different companies. Most other options sell EA games too, meaning Origin isn't as big a temptation as EA may wish.

That said, Origin does offer users exclusives and some good deals, and with EA's massive range of eminently popular sports titles, as well as hits such as Battlefield and The Sims, there's plenty of scope here for EA fans.

Uplay (Ubisoft Club)

Possibly the most disliked gaming service around at the moment, Ubisoft's Uplay is a proprietary gaming platform that's evolved to be both a gaming store and an addition to Ubisoft's games.

Like Steam, Uplay brings with it such things as gaming achievements and social elements, but a big focus here is on giving players of Ubisoft's titles something extra. As people play the company's games, they earn Uplay points that can be redeemed via the store for rewards, such as in-game skins, levels, OSTs, desktop wallpapers and more. The PC client acts as a gaming store and game launcher too, and Uplay is directly integrated into Ubisoft's games. Uplay is cross platform, meaning one account covers the service on PC and console, and it also serves as a form of DRM.

Sadly, Uplay is criticised and outright hated by the majority. It's often condemned as being sluggish and unwieldy, and some games have suffered from serious server and DRM problems, such as Far Cry 3 on PC, which was rendered unplayable for some. Others see the rewards offered as pointless and uninteresting, and the need to log into Uplay and/or create an account, even on console, is enough to turn people off entirely.

It's no secret the gaming public don't like Uplay, but the service still persists, and Ubisoft seems keen to make it work.


Now this is more like it. GamersGate (not to be confused with the recent gaming industry controversy) is a good alternative to Steam and, like the Valve option, it offers a huge collection of games for PC through its online store and isn't limited to a specific publisher.

Originally created by Swedish publisher Paradox Interactive as a way to make its games more easily available to its fans, the service soon evolved to encompass more and more games, leading it to the collection of over 6,000 it has today.

Achievements, game tutorials and guides are featured, and the service has shunned DRM, meaning it hasn't run into the same problems with copyright protection as other services. It functions much like Steam in terms of layout and access of your games, and there are regular sales and deals to be had.

Overall, GamersGate is one of the better alternatives to Steam, offering as it does a large range of games with few limitations on publishers and deals. Well worth a look. is arguably considered the biggest competitor of Steam, even if it doesn't have the same diverse range of mainstream games. The service started out life as 'Good Old Games' and carved a niche for itself selling old games that were altered to run on new machines. It quickly became a favourite service for retro gamers.

Eventually, GOG began to sell more recent games and made a big push for indie titles, not to mention parent company CD Projekt's highly acclaimed Witcher series on PC and Mac. Now known simply as, the service has its own new Steam-like client (GOG Galaxy), and the site remains a pioneer of DRM-free releases, making it a big favourite of many gamers. is also known for its regular sales and offers, many of which feature huge discounts on single or even collections of games. The site even gives away some games for free as part of a promotion. Most recently, it gave away the classic System Shock 2. is a superb site, and if you're an older gamer looking for classic titles to play on new machines or you wish to dip into the indie market, it's great. Sadly, the lack of mainstream modern releases means it's not quite as attractive as some alternatives, and if you prefer more contemporary titles, you'll probably need to look elsewhere. isn't all that much like Steam or other alternatives. Instead it's a web portal for users who want to upload their own games for public consumption. Developers can charge for games, with 10% of the money going to, and many games are released free of charge. It doesn't host any commercial games, only indies, but there's a massive collection available, with just the free games amounting to over 32,000 results.

With such a number on offer, you'll obviously find a lot of poor-quality titles, but it's surprising just how many good games you can find on, even in the free category, and it's a great service for aspiring coders who want to make themselves known and build up a portfolio of their work.

Green Man Gaming

Like GamersGate, this is more of a direct competitor to Steam and features a very similar service. Green Man Gaming is a UK-based alternative to Steam that also hosts it own social networking site, Playfire. It has more than 5,000 games available, and the Playfire service grants access to achievements and other integrated features, again similar to Steam.

All in all, Green Man Gaming is a worthy competitor to Steam, but it's been through some controversy in the past. Most notably, the service has been accused of selling unauthorised keys by some publishers, including Activision and Ubisoft. This has resulted in Green Man Gaming now clearly stating where redemption keys come from on the site.

Green Man Gaming managed to secure a deal with Nintendo UK in 2015, so it now sells digital copies of games for the Wii U and 3DS.


Desura is another indie-focused store, and it functions very much like in both appearance and function and also includes its own client. It includes DRM-free downloads, as well as Steam keys for games listed on the site, as well as social elements and the ability to launch games from the site itself.

Although it sits in the same market as Steam, GamersGate, and so on, Desura isn't as much of a competitor to Valve's service due to its focus on indie titles, and even isn't seen as a real worry, since Desura doesn't deal with older games. Because of this, the service sits quite nicely in between the much bigger names.

Indie Game Stand

We don't think there's any confusion in the part of the market this service sits in. Obviously an indie-focused store, Indie Game Stand is a bit different to most in terms of actual sales, and it offers some games in a pay-as-much-as-you-like model. There are also some free games, as well as alpha and beta versions of titles to try.

The suggested price games appear in daily deals, and paying over the average price nets you extras, which is just another way for new developers to get a leg up selling their wares.

Humble Bundle

The most famous charity gaming store. Humble Bundle is a store focused on time limited deals that offer a whole collection of games, often big name titles and series, as well as older titles for a very low price.

You can select what you want to pay for the bundle and decide how much of your payment goes to Humble, the developer of the game(s) in question and to charity. Pay above various amounts, such as the average price, and you can get more games added to your bundle. Sometimes new games are added at a later date, and even if you've already purchased the deal, you'll be given the additional title(s). Often, Humble's games are redeemed via Steam codes, pairing it with Valve's service.

Humble Bundle has hosted some of the best deals we've ever seen, giving player entire gaming series for under £10. The site doesn't just deal in PC titles but has also dabbled in other platforms, including mobile gaming.

Humble Bundle, due to its nature, is probably the best Steam alternative in terms of overall value, because you can get some killer deals, and there's the great feeling of donating to charity that goes with it, so it really is win-win. Of course, whether or not the games currently on offer are for you is purely the luck of the draw, but we really can't fault this great service, if only for the good work it does.

In Summary

We've covered quite a few Steam alternatives, as well as Valve's store itself, and in this brief look we've found that there are stores that cater for various types of gamers and not all are after Steam's jugular.

Sure, Steam has its competitors, with the likes of GamersGate and Green Man Gaming being particularly noteworthy, offering much the same array of features. However, services that many consider as being directly opposed to Steam are, in fact, not., for example, may be a very successful service, but because it doesn't offer contemporary games, instead focusing on retro and indie games, it sits in a different market. Sure, it takes away from Steam's indie sales, but Steam has plenty of other revenue streams. Likewise, purely indie-focused options like and Desura don't really compete with Steam. If anything, there's more competition between these services and the likes of

When all is said and done, Steam doesn't really have any major competitors that represent much of a threat, and this isn't just because of little threat from alternatives, but is instead due to the unrivalled selection of games and a mass of features others simply don't or can't offer. EA and Ubisoft's options are hamstrung due to titles limited to their own catalogues, and even if all services sold the same range of titles, Steam's extra features give it the edge, as do the summer sales we have mentioned, which are well known for emptying wallets the world over.

Steam may be the best, but it's not for everyone, and that's why competition can survive, by offering titles not found on Steam and focusing on specific themes and market areas. For this, we're covered, and just by visiting the sites listed here, you'll find pretty much anything you could want, Steam or otherwise.