Purchasing games should be the simplest part of playing on PC, but in recent times that’s become more complicated as more companies build their own storefronts. Each offers its own catalog and features, but which one you should buy from depends on what you’re playing and how you want to pay for it.
Table of Contents
- What to look for in a PC Storefront
- General Choice: Steam
- DRM Freedom: GOG.COM
- Home of Game Pass: Xbox Launcher
- For Smaller Games: itch.io
- Free Games and Exclusives: Epic Games Store
- For Charity: Humble Bundle
- For Ubisoft Games: Ubisoft Connect
- For EA Games: Origin
- So, Which Storefront Should You Use?
While every storefront has its strengths and weaknesses, there are a few general things that can help inform your decision.
- Game Selection: This is the biggest one—if there’s a specific game you want, there’s no point in shopping at a storefront that doesn’t offer it. Whether it’s because of exclusivity contracts with publishers or just developer preference, certain games will only be available through certain storefronts. We’ll make general notes about the selection available on each, but know one storefront can’t have everything, which means you’ll likely wind up using multiple stores at some point.
- Store Design: Buying games should be as simple as possible, so the storefronts should be well organized and easy to navigate. Fortunately, this is something all the competitors are pretty good at nowadays, but it’s still worth considering regardless.
- The Launcher: Most of the storefronts here don’t stop at the website, they also have launchers where you, well, launch the games you buy. Some force you to use their launcher, while others allow you to open the games without it. Either way, the launcher being well-designed and having some nice features (like organizing games, time tracking, or simple multiplayer gaming) is a nice bonus.
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 feature-packed launcher. From smaller indies to giant triple AAA releases, Steam covers it all and the storefront itself has plenty of sorting options to find new games. You can browse games by genre, price, and release date, while also looking over personalized recommendations based on previous browsing or specified preferences. Sales are also a common occurrence on Steam, allowing you to pick up many great games for low prices.
And when it comes to the Steam launcher, things are similarly well-managed. You can organize games into different folders, download user-created content from the Steam Workshop (for games that support it), and multiplayer gaming is made simple with the Friends list. If you just want to play games on PC without much care for the specifics, Steam is your best option.
Steam covers all your PC gaming needs with a wide variety of titles available and a feature-packed launcher.
GOG.COM carries many older PC games (a lot reworked to function better on modern systems) you’d have trouble finding elsewhere, along with plenty of modern games as well. However, GOG.COM is different from the other storefronts in a big way. While most only allow you to launch games through their own launcher, GOG.COM gives you the option of purchasing games that are standalone pieces of software—no launcher required. This is because GOG.COM games lack any sort of DRM.
Digital rights management software (often called “DRM”) is used by publishers to, put very simply, verify legitimate copies and fight piracy. Many players dislike it because it’s common for DRM to mess with a game’s technical state (making bugs and performance issues more common) and can lock games down to only one launcher. Denuvo, an infamous DRM used by a lot of big publishers, is an example of this, as it’s been widely criticized for making games perform worse. DRM can also get in the way of modifying game files, which is commonly 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 in games from other launchers so you can have all your titles in one place.
A quality catalog of DRM free games.
The Xbox Launcher is an interesting storefront because its greatest strength is the Xbox Game Pass. This subscription (which costs $9.99 a month) comes with over 100 titles (and growing) you can install and play without additional fees (although, you will lose access to them if you stop paying). These games range from smaller titles to full-on triple AAA games from the likes of Microsoft, Bethesda, and EA. This is a great value in the world of PC gaming, and why so many have turned to the Xbox Launcher in recent months. The actual storefront is a bit clunky at times, but if you’re looking to game on a budget, it’s certainly worth putting up with.
The Microsoft Store also carries video games and you can access the Game Pass catalog through it as well. But there’s not much here to entice you to use it, as the storefront includes video games more as an afterthought. This leads to a store that’s poorly designed for buying games and has a checkered past on top of it.
Xbox Game Pass
Access over 100 titles for a great price with the Xbox Game Pass.
Indie gaming has blown up over the past decade with multiple titles finding rampant success on storefronts like GOG.COM and Steam. But the world of indies goes deeper than that, and for that side of indie games, you’ll want to look at itch.io. This storefront hosts loads of small, obscure titles that range from experimental tech demos to full-on games in their own right. You can find plenty of free or inexpensive games if you just want to mess around, but there are also more substantial releases on the storefront as well. Some titles even allow you to name your own price, so you only pay what you think the game is worth, or what you’re able to. And while there may be a lot to sort through, itch.io does a commendable job organizing it all into a clean market.
The best place to find smaller, more obscure indie games.
The most recent contender in the PC storefront battle is the aptly named Epic Games Store—owned by Epic Games. While it was initially just a launcher for Fortnite and Epic’s other titles, it’s grown into a proper storefront with a few key selling points. First off, over the past few years Epic has acquired numerous exclusives that are only sold on Epic Games (at least, for a limited time), and it seems like this is a tactic Epic will be continuing. That can be enough for you to buy games here in the first place, but on top of that, Epic also makes deals with developers to give away free games every week. You can amass a collection of great games solely through these free offers, and it’s why installing the launcher is 100% worth it even if you never buy anything.
The actual Epic Games launcher is very straightforward, and while that means it lacks a lot of the features of other launchers (like in-depth game organization), it also benefits from this design by making playing games as simple as possible. More features have slowly been added since launch, but for now, it seems like Epic is going to continue playing it safe—for better or for worse.
Epic Games Store
Epic has plenty of exclusives and free games on offer to keep you around.
If bang for the buck is your main concern and you don’t want to mess with a subscription, then Humble Bundle is your best bet. On top of common sales with huge discounts, Humble Bundle sells, well, bundles—of a whole bunch of things including books, software, and yes, video games. These bundles let you choose how much you pay, then you receive awards according to your payment tier. You can easily walk away with 10 quality titles for the price you’d usually pay for one. And these games are delivered to you either as keys that can be redeemed in other launchers or standalone software files.
And “humble” doesn’t just refer to the deals here, as part of every purchase on the Humble store goes to charity (which one is always listed on the checkout page).
Snag plenty of games for a great value, while also giving a little back.
Ubisoft Connect is a fairly straightforward storefront—do you want to play Ubisoft games? Then you’re going to want to use this storefront and launcher. While Ubisoft games are available for purchase elsewhere (most notably, the Epic Games Store), they still need to launch through Ubisoft Connect anyway, 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 sales frequently, and you can also access Ubisoft+ through it—a subscription service that gives you access to most of Ubisoft’s games ($14.99 a month).
You also receive rewards for playing games through Ubisoft Connect. As you play you unlock various in-game prizes (like item skins or emotes) and even “Units”—the store currency that can be used to shave a few bucks off your next purchase. Whether you’re a big fan of Ubisoft or not, the company went the extra mile to ensure using Connect was well worth it.
The best place to buy Ubisoft’s games from.
Origin isn’t dissimilar to Ubisoft Connect—it’s owned and operated by EA, is one of the only places where you can buy EA games, and even if you buy EA games elsewhere, they’ll still have to launch through Origin. There’s also EA’s subscription service, EA Play, which grants access to a bunch of EA’s catalog ($4.99 a 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 does work best with Origin.
If you want to play EA games, Origin is your best bet—even if it doesn’t offer much besides that.
While EA games may be available elsewhere, Origin is still the simplest place to buy them.
With so many storefronts all competing for your dollar, it can be difficult to pick out the best one. Fortunately, you don’t have to—you’re probably going to wind up using most of them. With how spread out titles are, and the unique benefits each storefront brings to the table, you’re hurting yourself by only shopping at 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 sneak its way into your wallet one way or another.
And if you want to avoid having a bunch of games spread across different launchers, then there are a couple of ways to consolidate things. We already mentioned GOG Galaxy 2.0, which does a good job at this, but another is Playnite, which is open source and a great central hub for all your games.