When it comes to PC gaming, Valve's Steam platform is the 800 lb gorilla and I know plenty of gamers who love the platform. In case you're not familiar, Steam lets you buy and download PC games and it keeps your games updated. It also serves as a social space for gamers to interact via friends lists, forums and showing off achievements.
I don't really have anything against Steam except that it is too dominant. Competition is good for consumers. There are services that are technically Steam competitors: Origin from Electronic Arts, Amazon's digital downloads, and GOG.com (which got its start as an online shop that sold older games tweaked to run on modern hardware and free of DRM), but none of these come close to matching the size and scope of Steam.
Now GOG.com is stepping up to try to compete more directly with Steam. Yesterday they announced signups for the open beta of GOG Galaxy a new platform that handles the same sorts of things that Steam does but with two key differences; all its features are optional and all its games are still DRM free. Here's the pitch video:
GOG Galaxy's first big title will be The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, due out later this month. In a press release Piotr Karwowski, GOG's VP of online technologies said "The first major release will be The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which will offer automatic updates, achievements and stats. We're getting ready to release and fully support even more AAA titles in the future."
GOG Galaxy also supports one-click installation and auto-updates of over 1000 titles that already existed in GOG.com's library. The platform includes a friends list, achievements and it tracks time played. It sounds like they're hitting most of the major features that Steam offers.
So what does all this mean in practice? Why would you potentially choose GOG Galaxy over Steam? While I signed up for the beta there's a waiting list so the following isn't based on personal experience but on what GOG is telling us.
First of all, you can back your games up. You can download a DRM-free copy of your game, burn it to a DVD and then install it on a system that has never been online and it'll work. That means if GOG goes belly-up it won't take your games with it. If you lose your Internet access for an extended period of time you'll still be able to play your games.
Second you can opt out of patches, or even roll back patches. Sometimes games change, and depending on your tastes those changes might not be for the better. With Steam you take what they give you and that's that. With Galaxy you can decide you don't like the latest patch and roll your game back to its original state.
One other nice features is Cross-Play; that means if you buy a game (and they say this is available 'on select titles') on Galaxy and your friend buys it on Steam, you can still play together. No one wants to live in a silo.
There are a few obvious features that Galaxy doesn't have that Steam does. It doesn't have anything like the Steam Workshop, a system that lets you easily download mods for your games. It doesn't work on Linux like Steam does (Galaxy is for Windows and Mac only). It doesn't offer in-home streaming or the native broadcasting support that Steam offers.
But it's also brand new and it's possible that some or all of these features are coming. To be honest what I like most about GOG Galaxy (at least in theory — I'll know more when I actually get my hands on it) is that it isn't Steam. The PC gaming world needs strong competitors to Steam, so I'm willing to give Galaxy a try. If you want to give it a try too, sign up to get on the waiting list here.