I remember the days when my mother would take me down to the local speciality games store to look at spending my pocket money on a new NES game and the excitement that it would bring. Back then you could only actually go to physical retail outlet and the joy it would bring was something of my childhood I remember fondly to this day. At the time all I could do was "lay-buy" a game and pay it off, $5 a week. This made me even more excited as weeks went by and I slowly paid off a game that I had washed cars, weeded gardens and taken the trash out for. This was also during an era where you could rent games from Blockbuster video and because it was the latest and greatest game you only had it for one night so you would stay up until the early hours of the morning to finish it before you had to return it the following day.
From there came Electronics Boutique which specialised in selling consoles, gaming paraphernalia and of course games themselves and Electronics Boutique then became EB Games where to this day you can buy the same offerings of Electronics Boutique; Gaming consoles, headsets, POP vinyls and of course physical copies of games. I used to love reading the instruction booklets that came with my games and enjoyed having a physical game in my hand with all the beautiful artwork and design that went on the box.
I got into PC gaming when I was young and had some nice big boxes with beautiful designs that came with a disk to install. The boxes were quite big for PC games back then and even more recently other games like WoW I purchased as a "battle chest" with the game itself and some of the expansions. The Skyrim and Diablo III collectors editions came well packaged and quite polished and I still cherish the items I got from these to this day.
Reminiscing of days bygone with the milieu of actually going into a store to browse games and purchase actual things with actual CD keys. This may trigger fond memories to all gamers as physical retail stores are still a thing, however, I can't even remember the last time I paused and had a look at an EB Games (or GameStop for our US friends) store and check out the latest deals or even buy a physical copy of a game.
This is because of the prevalence of online gaming stores and game launchers that have risen and have taken flight as they realise the value of selling digital 1's and 0's on the internet. This is all thanks to Steam and the amazing offers and deals Steam put forth and still offer through various sales throughout the year. Don't get me wrong, bricks and mortar retail stores aren't dead yet. However, with the competitiveness and variety of all the online digital gaming marketplaces, surely it is only a matter of time before even these retail stores move away from being speciality gaming stores to be operating fully online and where physical games and consoles will be relegated to being sold in department stores who can afford the overhead.
This blog isn't about online VS physical retail stores but it is about the plethora of gaming launchers we have these days. It seems like every publisher is vying for their place in the online gaming marketplace with the development of their own launcher with their own exclusive titles. It is getting to be a bit much. Recently I had a look at all of the launchers I have on my PC and had a look at my system tray and realised how many launchers I actually have running at any one time.
There's so many launchers it can be confusing when you feel like playing a certain game as to where you actually have to launch it from. Obviously Steam is the big player out there and has most of my games but then you also have;
- U Play
- GOG Galaxy
- XBOX Live
- Playstation Store
- Epic Games
- Windows Store
This is to just name a few! Then you have online retail stores without a launcher such as GamersGate, G2A (dodgy AF!), Greenman Gaming, Humble Bundle, IndieGala and the list goes on. You can definitely say it is a good time to be a gamer with all the different options and offerings out there but there are just too many launchers. Not to mention many online market places seem to specialise in shovelware - Poor quality titles used as money grabs. Steam at least is trying to moderate the amount of iffy titles in their marketplace by reviewing more titles than ever before prior to publishing but we all know of one game or another that has slipped through the cracks.
Steam will be launching ANOTHER platform in conjunction with "Perfect World" in China called Zengqui Pingtai, where all games being released will be heavily scrutinised by the Chinese government but will give official access to games like Dota 2 to the Chinese market. Steam are releasing under this name and will be run as a separate entity to try and buffer against gamers that aren't happy that Valve are bending to the almighty will of the Chinese government. I don't begrudge Valve for making this move as I'm sure cracking the Chinese market will be quite lucrative for them.
Currently Zengqui Pintai have announced that they will release around 40 games to this new online Chinese marketplace but sources are unsure about whether or not they will have Chinese exclusive titles at this stage.
Whilst writing this article I thought to myself that now would be the perfect opportunity for a developer or other to release a launcher to launch all launchers! One single program that will launch any game from any launcher. I know currently you can do this by adding non Steam games to the Steam launcher but to be frank this is a bit of a chore, it would be great if this program searched all directories and loaded it into the program automatically.
There is a program I've found that will do just this; Playnite. This launcher is one that acts as a central hub you can launch any game from. You still need to install all the other launchers but these then act like "cloud save hubs" as all you are really looking at is a full game library. More investigation into this service is required but it looks like just the thing for all of us that have a smattering of games littered about the place.
I can't say I'm unhappy with the amount of competition in the online gaming space, companies are offering free monthly games to attract new business which for all of us gamers is fantastic. What I'm not too thrilled about is how some of these online marketplaces are trying to keep certain titles exclusive and only available on their platform. This means if you want to play a certain game you will have to use a particular launcher to play it which is quite onerous and annoying. I know with many titles we already do this and I can understand why consoles do it but I think an online store or launcher having exclusive titles forcing us to download extra launchers we don't really need is a bit much. We already have some games that have their own launcher which can be a pain as well but the over saturation of launchers and marketplaces really only mean one thing; Better deals for us as gamers which at the end of the day can't be a bad thing, right?