A Brief Introduction to Buying Games Online

Table of Contents

Introduction

Nowadays, people with decent or better internet connections often opt to purchase games through online stores and download their new games instead of buying a physical copy. There are a number of places that offer digital distribution services, and each of them do things slightly differently. Here's a little background and overview of some of the services available to gamers on the internet today.

Overview

When you buy a game from a brick and mortar store, you get a box with a CD or DVD inside it. If you lose the disc, it gets scratched or you lose the serial key for the game, you can't play it again until you buy another copy. Digital distribution systems do things a little differently, which safeguards your games from situations like that.

With a digital distribution system, you usually create an account with the service's provider and then buy your games through their own online stores. Instead of getting a physical copy in a box, you get a license to play that game when you want. You just need to use their method of downloading it and then you're ready to go.

The main difference between these services is how you download and run the games you've purchased. Most of them has their own library of titles, but sometimes an online store will also offer serial keys that allow you to register the game with another service. Some games are even exclusive to a specific service, so it's really not that unusual for people to have accounts at several different places.

Direct Links

This is probably the easiest method of downloading software. When services use this method, you're just given a regluar link on their website. Clicking the link has your browser download an installer or an archive file. Just unpack or install using this file and you can start playing.

Here's a little about some services that use this method:

Humble Bundle
The Humble Bundle is a unique concept when it comes to buying games. While they do offer a normal online store, their main business is selling bundles of games. These bundles are only available for a short time, but if you buy them while they are available you'll have the games forever and have saved some money. The key feature of their offerings is that you decide how much to pay for the bundle you want. This is because part of your payment (and you can select how much of the payment) is donated to a charity.

Many of the games they sell are also available through Steam, so you can get a serial key to register the game through that service.


SourceForge and Github
SourceForge and Github are two of the most famous online libraries of open source software. They host a lot of different programs, and since they are open source, you can download and use any of them for free; you don't even need an account to download things.

Most of the programs available through them have their own websites, but use SourceForge and Github to manage their downloads. There's a lot of fun games on these services as well as utilities and other types of software. It might be worth your time to check out their libraries sometime just to see what might be interesting.


Download Managers

A download manager is a program that assists with downloading something. These are becoming rather common, as it's a useful way to ensure that only the software the user wants is downloaded. A common example of this would be the installer for Adobe's Flash Player, which can be bundled with McAfee's antivirus.

Some examples of services that use these include:

Gamer's Gate
When you download a game through Gamer's Gate, you first download a download manager that has been prepared with your information built into it. When run, the download manager connects with Gamer's Gate's servers, downloads the required files for your game and runs the game's installer. Each copy of the download manager is compiled on demand, so some antivirus products like Avast treat the program as highly suspicious or report it as a false positive, which can be a tad annoying as you have to tell the antivirus to allow the download manager to run every time you want to install a new game.


Specialized Clients

The biggest names in digital distribution systems use their own fancy clients to manage your games. In addition to downloading and installing your games, they also have other features such as online profiles, forums or even the service's store as part of the client itself. In order to use these services, you need to install and run their client programs. These clients then sit quietly in the background until you need them to do something.

Examples of these services include:

Steam
By far the biggest name in digital distribution services and one of the biggest online retailers out there, Steam provides everything from a large community to virtual trading cards. A majority of games coming out today can be registered with Steam or even require it. If you're into computer gaming to any extent, you really should consider getting a Steam account of your own.


Origin
Electronic Art's Origin is a somewhat controversial competitor to Steam. It primarily exists as a means to sell, distribute and manage EA's own titles, so the store's inventory is very limited compared to other online retailers. However, an Origin account is required by the majority of EA's recent games, and so gamers are left with the choice to either use it or never play an EA game again. Since a large number of AAA games are EA property, gamers end up drawn back to Origin, no matter how much they say they hate it. Personally, I think creating Origin wasn't in EA's best interest, but that doesn't stop me from using it.


Disclaimer

This page covers several different services and provides a brief overview of what to expect when you patronize them. However, this is far from a complete list; I do not have first hand experiences with other services, and so I've refrained from commenting on them.