Buying games should be the easiest part of playing on PC, but lately that has gotten more complicated as more companies build their own storefronts. Each offers its own catalog and features, but which one to buy depends on what you̵
What to look for in a PC store
While every storefront has its strengths and weaknesses, there are a few general things that can help you in your decision.
- Game selection: This is the biggest: if you want a specific game, there is no point in shopping at a store that doesn’t offer it. Whether because of exclusivity deals with publishers or just developer preference, certain games are only available through select storefronts. We’ll make general comments on the selection available for each, but know that one storefront can’t have it all, meaning you’ll likely be using multiple stores at some point.
- Store design: Buying games should be as simple as possible, so the shop windows should be well organized and easy to navigate. Fortunately, this is something all competitors are pretty good at these days, but it’s worth considering nonetheless.
- The Launcher: Most of the storefronts here don’t stop at the website, they also have launchers where you launch, well, the games you buy. Some force you to use their launcher, while others allow you to open the games without it. Regardless, the launcher is well designed and has some nice features (like organizing games, time tracking, or basic multiplayer gaming) which is a nice bonus.
General choice: steam
Steam is the most popular storefront, and while that’s partly because it’s been around the longest, Steam also offers a wide variety of titles along with a versatile launcher. From smaller indies to massive triple AAA releases, Steam covers it all and the store itself has plenty of sorting options for finding new games. You can browse games by genre, price, and release date, while also looking at personalized recommendations based on previous browsing or specified preferences. Sales are also common on Steam, allowing you to buy many great games for low prices.
And when it comes to the Steam launcher, things are well managed the same way. You can organize games in different folders, download user-created content from the Steam Workshop (for games that support it), and multiplayer gaming is made easy with the Friends list. If you just want to play games on PC without paying much attention to the details, Steam is your best option.
DRM Freedom: GOG.COM
GOG.COM has many older PC games (many reworked to function better on modern systems) that you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere, along with plenty of modern games. However, GOG.COM differs from the other storefronts in a big way. While most only allow you to launch games through their own launcher, GOG.COM allows you to purchase games that are standalone pieces of software – no launcher required. This is because GOG.COM games lack any kind of DRM.
Digital rights management software (often referred to as “DRM”) is used by publishers to, quite simply, verify legitimate copies and combat piracy. Many players don’t like it because it’s common for DRM to mess with the technical state of a game (making bugs and performance issues more common) and games can be locked down to just one launcher. Denuvo, a notorious DRM used by many major publishers, is an example of this as it has been widely criticized for causing games to underperform. DRM can also get in the way of modifying game files, which is often done in the PC gaming community. These reasons are why GOG.COM has carved a comfortable niche for itself along with its quality catalog of games.
And while it may not be necessary, GOG.COM’s launcher, GOG Galaxy 2.0, is great for organizing your digital collection. It offers plenty of time tracking and organization features and can even drag games from other launchers so you can have all your titles in one place.
Home or Game Pass: Xbox Launcher
The Xbox Launcher is an interesting storefront because its greatest strength is the Xbox Game Pass. This subscription (which costs $ 9.99 per month) comes with over 100 titles (and keeps growing) that you can install and play at no additional cost (although you will lose access to these titles if you stop paying). These games range from smaller titles to full triple AAA games from Microsoft, Bethesda and EA. This is of great value in the world of PC gaming, and why so many have turned to the Xbox Launcher in recent months. The actual window display is a bit clunky at times, but if you want to game on a budget it’s well worth putting up with.
The Microsoft Store also has video games and you can also access the Game Pass catalog there. But there isn’t much here that will tempt you to use it as the storefront features video games more like an afterthought. This leads to a store that is poorly designed for buying games and has a checkered past.
For smaller games: itch.io
Indie gaming has exploded over the past decade with multiple titles finding unbridled success on storefronts such as GOG.COM and Steam. But the world of indies goes deeper than that, and for that side of indie games, you want to look at itch.io. This showcase is home to a host of small, obscure titles that range from experimental technical demos to full-length games in their own right. You can find a lot of free or cheap games if you just want to mess around, but there are more substantial releases on the storefront as well. With some titles you can even quote your own price, so you only pay what you think the game is worth, or what you can do. And while there may be a lot to sort out, itch.io does a commendable job of organizing it all in a clean market.
Free games and exclusive games: Epic Games Store
The most recent contender in the PC storefront battle is the aptly named Epic Games Store – owned by Epic Games. While initially it was just a launcher for Fortnite and the other titles from Epic, it has become a real showcase with a few key selling points. For one, Epic has acquired numerous exclusive products over the years that are only sold on Epic Games (at least for a limited time), and it looks like this is a tactic that Epic will pursue. That may be enough to buy games here at all, but on top of that, Epic is also making deals with developers to give away free games every week. You can collect a collection of great games just with these free offers, which is why installing the launcher is 100% worth it, even if you never buy anything.
The actual Epic Games launcher is very simple, and while that means it lacks many of the features of other launchers (like in-depth game organization), it also takes advantage of this design by making game play as simple as possible. More features have been slowly added since launch, but for now it looks like Epic will keep playing it safe – for better or worse.
For a good cause: modest bundle
If value for money is your main concern and you don’t want to mess around with a subscription, Humble Bundle is your best bet. On top of the regular sales at huge discounts, Humble Bundle sells, well, bundles – of a whole host of things, including books, software, and yes, video games. With these bundles, you can choose how much you pay, after which you will receive rewards based on your payment level. You can easily walk away with 10 quality titles for the price you normally pay for them. And these games are delivered to you as keys that can be redeemed in other launchers or standalone software files.
And “humble” doesn’t just refer to the deals here, as a portion of every purchase at the Humble store goes to charity (which is always listed on the checkout page).
For Ubisoft games: Ubisoft Connect
Ubisoft Connect is a fairly straightforward store. Do you want to play Ubisoft games? Then you want to use this storefront and launcher. While Ubisoft games are available for purchase elsewhere (notably the Epic Games Store), they still need to be launched through Ubisoft Connect, so you might as well cut out the middleman. But Connect isn’t a bad storefront by any means; it’s easy to navigate, has regular sales, and you can also access Ubisoft + via – a subscription service that gives you access to most of Ubisoft’s games ($ 14.99 per month).
You will also receive rewards for playing games through Ubisoft Connect. As you play, you will unlock various in-game prizes (such as item skins or emotes) and even “Units” – the store currency that can be used to save a few dollars on your next purchase. Whether you are a huge fan of Ubisoft or not, the company went above and beyond to make sure using Connect was worth it.
For EA Games: Origin
Origin is no different from Ubisoft Connect – it is owned and operated by EA, is one of the few places you can buy EA games, and even if you buy EA games elsewhere, they still need to be launched through Origin . There’s also EA’s subscription service, EA Play, which gives access to a ton of EA’s catalog ($ 4.99 per month for the basic version, $ 14.99 for the full version). While it’s not exclusive to Origin, as it’s also available on Steam and the Xbox Launcher (it even comes with Game Pass), it works best with Origin.
If you want to play EA games, Origin is the way to go, even if it doesn’t offer much more.
So, which storefront should you use?
With so many storefronts all vying for your dollar, choosing the best one can be difficult. Fortunately, you don’t have to – you’ll likely use most of them. With how spread out the titles are and the unique benefits each storefront brings, you’re hurting yourself by shopping at just one or two. You can start with the more general options like Steam, GOG.COM and Epic Games Store, but at least one of the more specialized stores will somehow creep into your wallet.
And if you want to avoid having a bunch of games scattered across different launchers, there are a couple of ways to consolidate things. We already mentioned GOG Galaxy 2.0, which does a good job here, but another is Playnite, which is open source and a great central hub for all your games.