I love playing videogames, and for a long time PC has been my preferred platform. I've suffered from the old days of MS-DOS with 640KB base memory (until DOS4GW came along) to most Windows versions (until Windows 7, with which I'm staying until really forced to upgrade). I've seen come and go all kinds of installers and copy-protections up to the coming of the digital era, where I no longer need more than two hard disk drives full of my old CD/DVD games dumped to ISOs plus an internet connection to download the ones I have in digital format. I've suffered quite a few graphics driver crashes (I'm mostly looking at you, NVidia), until Windows 7 came along with user space and system space drivers, and I no longer get angry whenever most games I want to play asks me to update itself before I can have fun.
Three factors have changed the rules of play and made everything in theory easier and simpler by going digital:
- Steam got so popular and big that it became the de facto distribution platform for the majority of games, and a really high percentage of indie titles.
- Piracy, (often terrible) copy protections for games and broadband connections made very convenient to ditch out physical media and instead do server-side checks.
- Game sizes are growing at a rate that not even a single Blu-Ray disk can contain the full game data, with all the multi-language assets. Plus it would be very risky to force everyone to buy a Blu-Ray reader, when laptops and most desktop rigs no longer have any optical drive at all.
All this initially sounds good and great for us gamers. For many years, only Steam was doing it, and PC sales slowly decayed until now, so marginal that I cannot conceive buying PC physical titles except when via Amazon are cheaper (and then, I just throw away everything except the CD-Key). It came to a point where most retail games are now just a Steam installer binary plus the downloaded steam data: You add the game to your collection, install it from the DVDs and then it updates with the latest patch.
But lately, other major game publishers wanted their share of the cake instead of paying Valve, and thus started to create their clients, their gamification layers (with cross-platform accounts, friend lists, achievements and the like)... and as of 2019 I currently have six game launchers installed:
- Activision Blizzard's Battlenet
- EA's Origin
- Epic Games Store
- GOG Galaxy
- UbiSoft's UPlay
And there are even more (like Bethesda launcher or the Windows Store), so this list is just a sample and it can be even worse.
I now have the fun? sad? problem of sometimes not knowing if I got a certain game on Steam, GOG or Origin (e.g. Dead Space). I also have to keep a list of user accounts, complete with 2-factor auth configurations or "authenticator apps" for each. Just compare that with any console, where you have a single, centralized store, with a single list of installed games, that you launch with a single button.
I totally understand publishers not willing to "pay the competitors" (mostly Valve) when the PC is an open platform, and of course it is so good for them controlling everything and having their games distributed digitally because they also solve the problem of resale/second-hand market (which probably hurts them way more on consoles than on PC, but anyway one less problem to care about).
But at least there's some hope, as GOG recently announced they're working on an universal PC launcher, GOG Galaxy 2.0. If this idea works, and specially if they don't attempt any self-promotion over other store titles or anything that could get the other store publishers angry, it could be our salvation for this chaos. Just by scanning your hard drive, and keeping a list of game "shortcuts", even if those then launch the corresponding secondary launcher/store and boot the game (as now Steam does with for example some Ubisoft titles launching UPlay), that would be more than enough for me. There's really no need of unified achievement systems, unified friend lists or "one shop to rule them all".
A small note: GOG Galaxy will only be for PC, so I can forget about Linux, but there at least we have some other nice alternatives like Lutris with its amazing Wine-tuned installers. Gaming on Linux is getting better but it's still far from being a viable alternative for the masses.
Now, I'm no expert on the field but I've been playing games for long and this is the only thing I really need and want: A unified "installed games library" for PC. 🤞 Fingers crossed we'll get at least that.