Steam Sucks, but What Does One Replace It With?
Steam sucks. Valve’s paean-cum-storefront to all things PC gaming is a groaning trainwreck of poor discovery, with features stapled into and on top of a UI that hasn’t been overhauled in years. The entire application needs a ground-up redesign. Much like iTunes, it staggers onwards nonetheless, courtesy of a company mostly interested in rent collecting as opposed to developing games. Or hardware. Or operating systems. Or anything, really.
The quest for an alternative service, however, has generally foundered on the shores of poor, publisher-specific services. As PCWorld details, Bethesda.net is the latest product to fall into this trap. The problems here are distinct from those infecting Fallout 76, a game that now seems destined to go down as the worst-rated entry in the Fallout universe, beating out distinguished competitors like the Xbox/PS2 title Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.
The Bethesda.net client first came to prominence when a bug forced FO76 players to re-download the entire 50GB beta twice. Since then, the situation has scarcely improved. There was no way to uninstall the beta when it ended, forcing players to do the job manually. Account creation is a nightmare. Friends requests aren’t handled properly and don’t carry over between games, forcing players to jump through hoops to add each other to each and every game. Finally, Bethesda has a no-refunds policy — something EA and Valve, at least, have managed to implement.
The problems with Bethesda.net point to a larger issue in this area. There’s a mélange of game library services like Origin and uPlay that do a better-or-worse job of handling overall game libraries, but most of these are publisher-specific. The larger alternatives that might have played a more plausible role, like Microsoft’s own Windows 10 Storefront, are wretchedly organized.
Of course, the reasons not to use Windows 10 for game management go far beyond a poor UI design. The restrictions around UWP apps and generally awful quality of the games released for Windows 10 have made this version of gaming the least desirable in the market. Until and unless Microsoft fixes those problems, the baked-in storefront is a non-starter.
But while PCWorld doesn’t mention it, GOG can serve as a substitute for Steam in certain instances. It’s not a perfect, drop-in replacement — GOG’s catalog isn’t as large as Steam’s, obviously, and it doesn’t have the same money-back guarantee if you simply don’t like a title. With that said, GOG does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee if you can’t get a game working, and it offers all of its games without DRM. It’s not a true general-purpose replacement, mostly due to catalog limitations, but it can be worth checking if you’re interested in older games. Fans of classic Sierra games, for example, should see quite a bit to like in the screenshot below:
For anyone trying to build a library of games without Steam, missing titles are a fundamentally frustrating situation. Publisher-specific services work in some cases but not in others, and often come with their own idiosyncrasies, functionality failures, and general quirks. Microsoft’s built-in capability is bad for a host of reasons, including the complete lack of modding support. GOG has an appealing position with its no-DRM policy and classic games library, but lacks a number of major releases. Civ fans, for example, can only buy Civ V or Civ III — no IV or VI. It would be nice to see more companies tackle the job of building better, more robust platforms and an actual Steam contender — if only because it might give Valve an actual reason to pay more attention to the design and capabilities of its own software.