Review: GamersGate, an alternative direct-download games service

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When people think of games on demand, Steam is usually the first thing that comes to mind, since so many of us have it by default, after having bought Half-Life 2 and whatnot. But there are services that have been around for just as long and which offer the same huge variety of games, like GamersGate, which we’re highlighting because of CrunchGear’s ongoing war with allowing the tech status quo to go unchallenged (viz. Zune). They’ve been around for a while but have been making some changes and expanding their stable.

Online game distribution is becoming as standard as ordering books and electronics online — so why should you tether yourself to a single store? It’s no different than checking prices on both Newegg and TigerDirect — just open an extra tab. You may find GamersGate’s clientless format more or less convenient, or maybe the game you’re looking for is on sale at one but not the other. There’s no reason you shouldn’t put your search into more than one box if it means a chance to save a couple bucks.

The selection is similar but not identical to Steam and Direct2Drive, likewise pricing. I found Chrome for $5 (Direct2Drive and Steam don’t have it), which is awesome, and X3: Reunion and Civ 4 for $10 less than D2D and Steam. On the other hand, they’re missing (for example) the first Serious Sam. Point being that shopping multiple shops is a good idea, and GamersGate has some solid deals and things you’ll only find there — like its competitors. They have a ton of indie and small developers, although for really old school stuff you’re better off with Good Old Games.

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How does the service itself work? Well, they’ve been proud to move to a clientless service and keep everything except the actual game downloads web-based. The web interface is a bit cramped, but it’s informative and thankfully keeps most of the info on one page. There’s a tab for video but I never saw any. When you buy a game, it appears in your account and you download a little tiny downloader file, which you can launch and close at your leisure. Once you install a game, you can throw away the files or keep them around and reinstall whenever you like. If you own a boxed copy of a game, you can put in your serial number and keep a digital copy on their server for download any time. Sounds great so far, right?

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Now the bad news. Download speeds. Under each game is a little “estimated download speed” box. I have a >24Mbit connection, so it guessed the 5.6GB Fallout 3 download would take about half an hour. Unfortunately, the downloads I’ve tried have ranged between 100KB/s and 300KB/s, which means it would take ages to get it. Convenience is the key here and waiting 5 hours to play a game you’ve paid for isn’t convenient. To make sure it wasn’t me, I tried installing a game from Steam: 2.2MB/s. So yeah, your mileage may vary quite a bit.

So while I can’t recommend that GamersGate be your only digital download service, you should definitely make a custom search for it, or at least bookmark it for when you’re looking to get your Thief on. Also, its clientless setup may appeal to those of you who can’t stand waiting for a separate client program to start up every time you launch a game (looking at you, Steam). I happen to know they’ve got a few surprises up their sleeves for the coming months as well, and we’ll keep you informed of them.

Dave Freeman adds:
I tried this service too, and had much the same experience as Devin. I’m really glad to see stuff from the smaller studios too, I’m always happy when someone that maybe hasn’t been bought out by EA has a forum to sell their games from and maybe get some attention. And no, the download speeds are not just a fluke. I’ve been downloading Fallout 3 for almost 24 hours, and I’m currently getting a 72 kb/s speed. This is really crippling to the functionality of the service. I hope that one of those surprises coming in the future is a little better speed.

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