Editor’s Note: We’ve updated this story with news about Discord’s announcement of their self-publishing platform.
PC gaming is all about having options, and if you think Steam is the only place worth getting your games, you may be missing out on deals or entire catalogs that aren’t available there.
Each platform brings something a little different to the table, and you might be surprised about what’s on offer. DRM-free games on GOG, monthly free games on Origin, or just exclusive releases are some of the things your good old Steam account can’t match. If you’re serious about PC gaming, we recommend you keep an eye on each of these services for the best deals available, and to make sure you’re not missing out on games that don’t release on Steam.
EA’s publisher-run storefront has a large catalog of EA titles, many of which can only be found here for PC players. Like Steam, Origin offers all the contemporary amenities of a digital store, like cloud saves, a comprehensive friends list, game forums and access to your game library while offline. There are also non-EA titles for sale, like Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XV and CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Unlike Steam, Origin offers a premium subscription service called Origin Access for $5 a month, or $30 a year. This gives players unlimited access to the EA “Vault, which, at the time of writing, includes 91 games that range from older titles like Dead Space 2 to newer releases like Titanfall 2 and Mass Effect: Andromeda, for as long you stay an Access member. Members also get a flat 10 percent discount on game purchases, a monthly free game to keep with your membership, and the ability to download and play new EA releases before release date.
GOG, formerly known by its full name Good Old Games, runs a strict no DRM policy. DRM (Digital Rights Management) is a system used by platforms like Steam and Origin to control access to your downloaded games by requiring an online authentication. GOG simply lets you download the game’s EXE file in your browser from their website, no frills and no strings attached. The files can be copied and backed up as much as you like, for every game the platform sells, and are always accessible offline.
But if you do like some of those frills, you can download GOG Galaxy to manage your game downloads, access support forums and automatically install the latest patches and other standard features common to Steam. GOG’s catalog is smaller than Steam’s, but still includes big titles like Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Witcher 3.
Itch.io has a strange name but a great premise: a place for independent PC game developers to sell their work with a pay-what-you-want model. Some games come with minimum prices, but you can pay more than this amount to help support the creators. Many free games are also available, which you can pay nothing or as much as you want for. Itch.io does offer some indie titles you can find on Steam, like Chuchel, but most of what you’ll see are amateur efforts by aspiring developers and a lot of odd stuff. You won’t find David Lynch Teaches Typing anywhere else (probably).
You’ll need to sort out the diamonds in the rough, to be sure, but it’s easy to give things a try when they don’t cost anything or can be played in your browser. There’s also a desktop app that lets you organize your downloads and play any browser-based games through the app while offline.
Gamersgate is the oldest Steam alternative on our list, and offers many of the same high-profile releases you’ll find on Steam. Resident Evil 7, Far Cry 5, Ni No Kuni II and more are all on offer either through their website or their downloadable client. And similar to GOG, Gamersgate provides all of its games free of DRM restrictions.
Unique to the platform is the Blue Coin currency, which you can earn by participating in the community with reviews or helping other players with the Game Tutor feature. You use Blue Coins to buy or lower the price of games, so it pays to be an active member of the community. Gamersgate is also another good place to watch for seasonal sales.
Battle.net is the oldest platform to make our list, originally made to service one game in 1996: Diablo. Today, Battle.net is the exclusive home of Starcraft, Starcraft II, Diablo 3, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm. Aside from games developed by Blizzard, Activision’s Destiny 2 is also exclusively sold and launched through Battle.net.
While the catalog is limited to eight games from a single publisher, Battle.net offers the standard complement of a friends list, chat function, links to the official game forums and automatic patching. You can also stream your gameplay to Facebook and keep tabs on the Overwatch League esports initiative via Twitch streams of tournaments, information about upcoming events and team stats.
Epic Games Store
Steam has now got some serious competition from the house behind Fortnite. In December 2018, Epic launched the Epic Games Store, a PC gaming marketplace that will stand out from the bunch by offering developers 88 percent of all sales revenue — a significantly higher cut than what most competitors offer.
As well as containing Epic’s own PC games, it holds some exclusive content like Hades, Ashen and Hello Neighbor: Hide and Seek, new to PC titles like the previous Playstation exclusive Journey, plus many more games old and new coming to the services as it grows after the launch. It also promises close integration between publishers’ social media and their store pages, bypassing the need for forums, a part of Steam that Valve often struggles to keep in check due to misbehaving users.
Discord launched the Discord Store in October 2018 with a few “First On Discord” titles like Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption, Minion Masters and King of the Hat, and now to sweeten the pot, Discord will be adding a self-serve game publishing platform to its store in 2019. On top of that, Discord will offer 90 percent of all sales to developers regardless whether it’s a one-person team or a AAA company.
The future is looking quite bright for Discord-exclusive games in 2019, but for now you still have access to the entirety of the Discord Store. It doesn’t have the biggest selection of games, but it’s home to popular indie titles like Dead Cells, Hollow Knight and Into the Breach. There’s also Discord’s Nitro Subscription, which is basically like Netflix for PC Games, offering access to over 60 titles for just $9.99 month.