FIFA, The Witcher, Elder Scrolls, Counter-Strike, Fortnite, Dota 2 – there are now plenty of successful games. Big tournaments, gigantic own trade fairs and Hollywood adaptations prove that computer games are enjoying increasing popularity. Game platforms such as Steam, Epic, Origin or UPlay offer their users a wide range of different games online.
In the corona pandemic, many have more time for video games. With the gaming market, the business for game platforms is booming too, offering their users a wide range of products from many developer studios. TECHNOLOGY BUTTON compares the offer, user-friendliness and performance of six major gaming platforms. Steam, the platform of the American developer studio Valve, has been the undisputed leader for many years. Around 62.6 million daily users (as of 2020 according to our own Steam statistics ), of which 24.8 million were gaming at the same time at peak times, underpin this. But what other providers are there on the gaming market and there is a real alternative to the Top dog Steam?
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The Steam platform was launched back in 2003 – at that time only to sell the first-person shooter “Half-Life 2” from the Valve developer. Since then, Valve’s games such as the “Half-Life” series or the popular tactical shooter “Counter-Strike” have been offered and updated exclusively on Steam. The concept proved its worth, and games from other studios were also sold on the Steam platform from 2005 onwards. This is how Steam quickly became the market leader among gaming platforms and is still available with over 30,000 games to date.
The user can buy games on the platform and then download them. All purchased games are listed in a clearly arranged library, which also contains some additional content such as achievements for the game, comments from other players or various community guides. The Steam platform can not only be used for gaming: the players can also network in various groups, publicly or privately, via a friends list and the chat function.
As a Steam user, you create a public profile in which the community can see which games the user is playing and which achievements they have earned. Using an internal point system, you can achieve different ranks and badges over time, which you can also display on your profile if you want. For example, there are badges for the number of games purchased, for achievements earned and for participating in Steam events that take place several times a year. Steam users also benefit from the constant maintenance of the games by the developers; Updates and patches are rolled out promptly via the gaming platform.
The prerequisites for purchase and download are a Steam account and the so-called Steam client, a program that you load onto your PC or laptop. Games can be uninstalled when the hard drive is full; the license remains with the user and the game remains in their library. However, most games are only compatible with Windows and cannot be installed on Apple computers.
What good are the alternatives?
For many players, Steam is an absolute must because of its extensive range. However, there are also alternatives, which are usually made available by other large development studios such as Ubisoft or Electronic Arts. But can these really replace Steam or also supplement them sensibly? TECHNOLOGY BUTTON took a closer look at five other gaming platforms.
Origin (Electronic Arts)
The Origin platform belongs to the Electronic Arts developer studio and emerged directly from the EA Store and EA Download Manager. The goal was already clear at the start of the service. It should be an EA-focused alternative to Steam. At that time, the company withdrew many titles from Steam and only offered them on Origin. The EA studio received the rights to the Origin brand in 1992; Origin System was one of the leading game developers worldwide with well-known titles such as “Ultima”, “Wing Commander” and “Crusader”.
In the so-called Origin Store, which works similarly to the Steam Shop, users can buy all titles from the developer studio. The offer is constantly being expanded to include games from other developers, but it is still somewhat limited compared to the competition. Popular games such as “Assassin’s Creed Odyssey” are not only sold through the Origin Store, but also, for example, on Steam. To download the purchased games, you need the Origin Client, which is included in the app’s installation package. As with Steam, installation is free; the player only pays for the content actually selected.
Games subscription with EA-Play
With EA Play, formerly “Origin Access”, you also have the option of taking out a subscription for either € 3.99 a month or € 24.99 a year, which gives you access to selected titles for a certain period of time (approx ) in the platform’s media library. With an active subscription, there is also a 10 percent discount on all EA games. A premium subscription has also been available since 2018 for just under 100 euros a year or 14.99 euros a month: Origin Access Premier. There, players also receive special in-game rewards.
In general, the use is very intuitive and all games are easy to find, the offer can be easily filtered. For example, with its own “Battlefield” series, EA also has the exclusive rights to a very large and popular game series that is not available on Steam. In return, the overall selection is of course significantly limited and in comparison, your own player profile is also less structured.
|Battlefield, FIFA, The Sims, Madden, Anthem, Need for Speed, Star Wars Battlefront, Star Wars: The Old Republic||– Good price sorting in the shop
– great offers (especially on own products)
– top games like the Battlefield series
– subscription option
|– Little game selection
– limited user profiles
The official start date of Ubisoft Connect as a sales platform is July 2012. However, when “Assassin’s Creed II” was released in 2009, the operator Ubisoft launched a network that players could connect to. At that time, the service was still called “UPlay”, which was not replaced by Ubisoft Connect until 2020. This was primarily due to the great success of the first part of the series, which was released in 2007. The series is now one of the most successful in the world, has been filmed (semi-successful, but with Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons prominently) and includes eleven games in the main series alone (as of 2019). If it seemed logical for any gaming franchise to create an alternative to Steam, it would be this one. Players could network, communicate with each other and be rewarded for different actions in the game with so-called UPlay units. With these units you can then buy rewards – now even across games.
In addition to the “Assassin’s Creed” series, Ubisoft now offers other in-house games on the platform. Prominent representatives are, for example, the development strategy games “Anno”, the action-adventure game “Far Cry” or “Prince of Persia”.
Games subscription with Ubisoft +
With Ubisoft +, there has also been a paid subscription for 14.99 a month since 2019, which gives access to over 100 games. However, the offer only includes Ubisoft games and the entire platform software is geared towards and optimized for the in-house games. Although there are some titles on Steam, for example, the adapted reward system and special unlockable extras make UPlay very attractive for all fans of the games.
|Assassin’s Creed, Anno, Far Cry, Die Siedler, including Heroes of Might and Magic V, Tom Clancy’s||– Discount campaigns
– special extras that can be released
– PC guides
– Friends list and networking
|– very limited game selection
– subscription a bit expensive
BattleNet – or Battle.net – is the online gaming platform from Blizzard Entertainment. In this case, the doorbell will most likely ring for players of all generations, because the developer studio is responsible for the very successful “Warcraft” series and thus of course for the groundbreaking massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) “World of Warcraft”. Anyone who has not already wandered through Azeroth has at least heard of the game, which has been so successful since 2004 that it is still regularly supplied with expansions. In addition to the huge franchise, heavyweights like “Diablo” and Activision’s “Call of Duty” are also on the BattleNet. And almost all of these games are only available online there. However, the offer is limited exclusively to these series,
The functions are basically the same as those of Steam. The player can create his own profile, whereby it is positive how individually all areas can be managed. The community can network and coordinate well via the platform. In addition, Blizzard is known to severely punish cheating on BattleNet on irregular “Judgment Days”, which most players can certainly rate positively as well. The individual series are usually booked via monthly subscriptions, for “WoW Legion ” that is, for example, 12.99 euros per month – a proud, but reasonable price for the series.
|Diablo, StarCraft, Warcraft, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Call of Duty||– Good player support
– exclusive offers
– WoW exclusive
|– Somewhat confusing subscriptions
– limited offer (only own series)
GoG (CD Project)
GoG stands for Good Old Games and belongs to the Polish developer CD Projekt Red and was launched in 2008. As the name suggests, it’s primarily about older computer games. Many of them can no longer be bought in retail stores. In order to be able to play the particularly old games, some older operating systems have to be running on the respective computers. Only since the appearance of Windows 8 are at least the newly recorded games adapted to this system. A big advantage as a Steam alternative is GoG, due to the DRM copy protection. You don’t have to be actively connected to the servers to play the content in single mode after installation. However, this also severely restricts piracy protection, which means that some publishers do not offer their games on GoG.
In general, for most games – if available – additional, supplementary products such as the soundtrack or suitable desktop backgrounds are offered. In general, the platform has many international titles on offer, but English versions predominate. All in all, GoG complements every gamer household with its comprehensive and unusual offer, which despite its selection still holds over 3000 titles.
|The Witcher, cyberpunk||– Interesting and varied offer
– without DRM
– good prices
|– Big titles sometimes not available
– sometimes language problems in German translation
Epic Games Store (Epic Games)
The Epic Games Store only went live on December 6, 2018. In comparison, it is one of the younger alternatives to Steam and is sometimes still struggling with starting difficulties. The offer of the “Fortnite “ makers can certainly be seen. In addition, it must be said that Epic demands significantly less percent from the developers of the games that are represented on the platform than market leader Steam. As a result, the number of games on Epic is growing very quickly, which also results in various special promotions and discounts. In order to land exclusive contracts, Epic offers a sales guarantee that is paid out of pocket if the number of users is not met.
Many gamers criticize what is celebrated on the developer side. On the one hand, many who have “stocked up” on several gaming platforms in the previous years do not want any further client software. On the other hand, the Epic Games Store does not offer various additional functions that Steam, which has been established for many years, does not offer. For example, the achievement system is still a long way from being as extensive and mature as the competition. The VR and streaming support also leaves a lot to be desired; Improvements and extensions have already been announced. However, there is also a persistent rumor that Tencent, the company behind Epic Games, is passing on user data to the Chinese government.
Lots of special offers
Nonetheless, the platform is rising – anything but slowly – to become a real Steam alternative. The numerous exclusive deals in particular make the offer extremely attractive for players. For more than a year now, Epic has been giving away one or two games a week. These often include real blockbusters like World War Z and Grand Theft Auto V. In addition, the in-house blockbuster “Fortnite ” is of course only available in the Epic Games Store.
|Fortnite, Unreal series, Paragon, Rocket League, Infinity Blade||– Great deals
– free games every week
– wide selection
– huge growth
|– Sometimes short-term exclusive contracts put the competition at a disadvantage
– limited functions
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A comparison has shown that Steam is rightly the No. 1 game platform due to its extensive range and the technically well-developed platform. It owes its supremacy not least to the fact that it is a real veteran that has played a key role in shaping the industry since it was launched in 2003, true to the motto: “First come, first served”. Nevertheless, there are now mature alternatives to the top dog Steam. Other big representatives like Origin and Ubisoft Connect offer great deals, especially for their own games. The – not without reason – exotic in the comparison round is GoG. The developers are rightly proud of their “handpicked offer”, which no longer only includes older classics and indie games, but with titles like “The Witcher 3:“ Also has box office hits from the recent past.
More and more alternatives to Steam?
The Epic Games Store has also been revitalizing the competition since 2018. From the beginning, the advertised goal was to attack Steam’s supremacy, and the gaming platform manages that well with numerous exclusive deals and special offers. The technical implementation and the expansion of the community leave a lot to be desired in comparison, but players could benefit from the breath of fresh air.
Platforms more and more fragmented
If you play a lot and, above all, play a lot of different titles, you will unfortunately find it difficult to get by with a single gaming platform. A Steam account covers a lot, but some big titles are sometimes available elsewhere at better conditions or are even limited to other platforms (including the co-op shooter “World War Z “ , which at least so far is only available in the Epic Games Store) .
Since the distribution platforms are usually linked to a developer studio, it is only logical that there are special conditions and extended support for players for their own games (such as the “Assassin’s Creed “ series from Ubisoft). For passionate gamers this usually means that you have to fall back on two or more platforms in order to be able to play everything, not least because big titles such as “World of Warcraft “ or the entire “Sims “ series are only available on your own Distribution channels (in this case BattleNet and UPlay) are offered.