Living the life of a PC game hoarder, I find it hard to pass up a great deal. 75% Off? 90% Off? FREE, you say? I’m in! But with so many websites offering discount Steam codes or direct downloads of cheap or obscure games, it’s sometimes hard to know who to trust or if you’re, in fact, getting the best deal. Here is a comprehensive guide to the best places to buy the games you want at the prices you can afford.

 


 

Steam

Steam

We’re all familiar with Valve’s virtual powerhouse of PC-gaming goodness. They offer everything from older games to new releases and their sales are legendary. If you’re looking for a safe bet that’s a one-stop shop for virtually all your PC gaming needs, this is it.  

The Pros

  • Steam Client. Not only does Steam offer access from the web but you can choose from a stand-alone program available for PC, Mac, and Linux, as well as a mobile app.
  • MASSIVE Library. There are currently over 3,500 games on Steam with an average of 55 new titles added every week.
  • Wishlist. The ability to Wishlist your games so you can buy them when they actually go on sale is awesome. You’ll even receive an automated email from Steam letting you know when that day comes, but it’s up to you to decide if that price is the right price
  • Discovery Queue. Based on what you buy, what you play, and what’s popular at the time, Steam will give you a list of games to go through and rate whether or not you’re interested. This service, similar to that of Good Reads or Anime Planet, will recommend new games in the styles that you like most. There have been issues with this service, from pushing some of their promoted Free-to-Plays to repeatedly recommending FPS games that are amazingly popular but out of your particular taste. While it does need some tweaking, it is an interesting service that not many other places offer.
  • Game & Save Backups. Since your game library is stored online, you never have to worry about losing your games. After a game is purchased, it will always be in your library for you to download later should your PC catch on fire and burn down every Game Stop in town. Steam also offers Cloud Saves for many games, which means that you won’t lose your scores or progress whenever you have to reinstall, or have to spend another millennium getting to World 6 in Super Meat Boy.
  • Family Sharing. If you live in a household where there are multiple computers, multiple gamers, and multiple Steam accounts, Steam feels your pain. You have the ability to enable the Family Sharing service so you can get access to a family member’s library as long as they aren’t using it.
  • Social Media Aspect. Using Steam Friends gives you access to chat, an easy way to join your friends games, watch what they’re playing in real time, join gaming groups, and send gifts.
  • Extra Features. Steam offers several unique features such as Achievements, Badges, The Workshop (which can easily integrate fan-made mods into your games), the ability to follow Curators, write/read reviews, and participate in the Steam Greenlight process so you get a say in what new games you want to see in the shop.
  • Money Back Guarantee.

The Cons

  • Steam DRM. Ehhhh… Digital Rights Management, how I hate thee. Let me count the ways. You have to register your game to your account and to Steam. You can, in effect, never sell or share the game. It’s an example of buying a product and the company telling you how you can and can’t use a product that you own. Which, while I understand trying to preserve the integrity of copyright laws, if someone is going to break the law, let them. And then let them deal with the consequences. It’s no one company’s job to police us.
  • Internet Requirement. Internet is required to download a game from your library every time you want to install it, but a connection is not required to launch the games themselves.
  • Account Security. Some people would say that extra security is a definite plus, but in Steam’s case, it’s the equivalent of a firehose colonoscopy. If you do not have their mobile security service, Steam Guard, enabled or if you haven’t used the service within 2 weeks it places a several day hold on all of your trades.
  • Past Security Issues. It’s very rare that Steam has an unscheduled outage, but when it does go down, terrible things happen. There was one instance in particular where, after an outage, users trying to log back in were suddenly logged in to another random user’s account. How this oversight happened is beyond me, but more than a little disconcerting considering the hundreds if not thousands of dollars some people pump into their Steam Libraries.
  • Game Removal. Sometimes either Steam or the game publisher loses licensing to certain games and they are removed from the store. If you already purchased the game, you still have access to it and can redownload it at any time. But, if you were holding off for that amazing sale price, you’re left empty-handed and looking elsewhere. The best example of this is when Deadpool was removed from Steam in early 2014 and consumers were forced to buy the console version as their only option if they wanted to see the lovable merc with a mouth in action. It wasn’t until the movie hype began that the game suddenly reappeared on Steam in mid 2015.

Getting the Best Deals

Steam does offer many Free-to-Play games so if no money is the best price for you, there’s quite a selection to choose from. They are also notorious for their Summer and Winter Sales which offer games at astronomically low prices. But there’s no way of knowing beforehand which games will go on sale. Your best bet if you want to get a good deal on Steam is to Wishlist and get some tools like the Enhanced Steam Chrome Extension, which allows you to see historical data on a game’s sales price. This way you can get an idea of how low that sales price you’ve been waiting for could potentially go.

 


 

GOG

GOG (formerly Good Old Games)

Similar to Valve’s Steam service and one of their main competitors, CD Project’s (the makers of The Witcher series) GOG is a great place to pick up a wide range of PC games. They mostly specialize in older titles but they’re known for their games being fully DRM-Free. They do give away quite a few free games from time to time, including a package with Fallout 1, 2 and Tactics a year or so ago. And, like Steam, they do have wonderful Fall and Winter sales as well as other unique-themed limited-time promotions.

The Pros

  • DRM-Free. This means that when you download the game, you get an actual install file that you can save, burn to a CD, take with you. You own the actual game and get to have the next best thing to a hard copy in hand.
  • The Wishlist. Like Steam, GOG does offer a wishlist, which makes it easier to find the games you want to buy when they go on sale.
  • Money Back Guarantee.

The Cons

  • Limited Selection. Since GOG specializes in older games, you can find many different titles than what is available on Steam. But if brand-spankin’-new titles are your jam, then this may not be the service for you.
  • The GOG Galaxy Client. While having a program available to handle the social media and library management aspects of your collection can be handy, GOG Galaxy is still in development and not quite as fine-tuned as Steam.

Getting the Best Deals

The best way to find that sweet price you’ve been waiting for on GOG is to Wishlist a game and wait for one of their yearly or periodic sales. Create an account to be notified on various sales discounts on Wishlisted games.

 



BundleStars

Bundle Stars

A third-party, UK-based Steam key retailer, Bundle Stars specializes in offering themed game bundles and a select catalogue of newer single games for discounts as much as 99% and frequently offer promotions for free games. While, like GOG, they do not carry new releases, they do have a good selection of newer games, including everything from indie to AAA.

The Pros

  • CHEAP Games. If you want more bang for your buck, this is definitely the place to get it. They frequently offer bundle deals giving up to 99% off on great (and admittedly not so great) games.  
  • FREE Games. As long as you’re registered for their mailing list, you should be eligible to receive 100% free games on occasion. That’s by no means a guarantee that the game will be good, but hey, it’s free.
  • Mailing List. This is one mailing list I’m happy to be on. Nothing makes your day like opening an email to find you can get all your favorite Indie RPGs for $1.99.

The Cons

  • 3rd Party Retailer. Since they’re a third-party Steam key retailer, products are only redeemable on Steam. This means that the Money Back Guarantee that Steam normally offers does not apply. You don’t like the game? Well, you wasted $0.20. I think you’ll get over it.
  • The Website. Their website, especially the mobile app can be screwy at times. Logins will suddenly not work, games will disappear from your Shopping Cart, or you may have to attempt 3 or 4 times to make a purchase. But, for 90+% off on games, the hassle is normally worth it.

Getting the Best Deals

Since all their games are discounted, as long as the game is on the site you’re probably going to get a good deal. The best way to stay up to date on the BEST deals is to sign up for an account and opt-in to receive emails and occasional free games.

 


 

Humble Bundle

Humble Bundle

What’s better than saving a ton of money games? How about donating to charity AT THE SAME TIME. That’s what Humble Bundle is all about: supporting great causes. They offer limited time bundle deals and have a full store of mostly new games. Like Bundle Stars, they primarily offer Steam Keys but do also have a few DRM-Free titles that are activatable on GOG as well as mobile games.

The Pros

  • Setting Your Own Price. Yes, you read that right. YOU choose how much you pay for bundle games. Each bundle offers different tiers and, depending on how much you pay, you get additional games, music, or extras included in your purchase. So, theoretically, you could pay just $0.01 to get all the games offered on the 1st Tier… although it would be just a tad douchey.
  • It’s For Charity. Whenever you make a purchase, you choose exactly how much of your money you want going back to the Game Devs, toward Charity, or left as nice little tip for the Humble crew.
  • Purchase Info Retention. They keep track of what you buy and how you redeemed it so if you forget to input your Steam key for a year or two, it’ll be there when you do eventually think about it.
  • Mobile Games. One thing that Humble offers that most other stores don’t are mobile games, although, sorry Windows and iPhone users, they only carry Android.

The Cons

  • Third-Party Steam Keys. Like Bundle Stars, since you aren’t buying games directly through Steam, their Money Back Guarantee does not apply. However, Humble Bundle does offer refunds on a case-by-case basis.
  • Limited DRM-Free. They advertises DRM-Free content but it’s only on a few select games.
  • The Humble Store. While it is a great idea to offer a full catalogue of games separate from their regular bundles, the games are not that cheap, most of the time being comparable to their regular price on Steam. But, you do have the option of giving some money to charity instead of giving Valve more pocket change to misplace under Gabe Newell’s 4th chin.

Getting the Best Deals

The only thing better than getting a bundle of games for $0.01 is getting them for free. And while Humble Bundle is a great option for paying exactly how much you can afford to spend on a bundle, you have the option of donating to a good cause.  For its flaws, the Humble Store does have a Sale rotation of 30 or so obscure games and indie pre-orders which are decently priced but not worth tracking or checking on a daily basis.

 


 

GamersGate

GamersGate

With a fairly small library of occasionally discounted or bundled games, GamersGate is a decent alternative to getting cheaper new releases and even pre-orders but there are definitely a few things to watch out for.

The Pros

  • Discounted Bundles, New Releases & Pre-Orders. It’s understandable that most devs and publishers don’t want to start slashing their profits before their game even leaves the warehouse, so it’s often hard to get a good deal on a new game… except on GamersGate.

The Cons

  • Minimal Labeling. They sell a mixture of direct-download DRM-Free titles, Steam Keys, and mobile games. So, you have to read carefully and make sure you know exactly what you’re getting before you buy it.
  • Pricing Disparities. While they do have some good deals on the new stuff, most everything else on the site has pricing that might as well be based on the weather. Some price tags are in-line with their competitors while others are more than twice as expensive as Steam’s regular price for the exact same game.
  • No Refunds.

Getting the Best Deals

Check back periodically or create an account and opt-in to receive on their current Bundles or Specials.

 


 

Amazon

Amazon

The internet superstore, Amazon has been around since what feels like the beginning of time, and they sell absolutely everything under the sun. From digital downloads to boxed copies of obscure or no longer in print PC games, they have something for everyone.

The Pros

  • HUGE Selection. With over 10,000+ titles available at any one time, it’s safe to say that Amazon has one of the largest collections out there.
  • Mechanical Turk. Not only can you pay cash for games on Amazon, you can, in fact, work to get your games for free. Mechanical Turk is an Amazon service where you complete surveys, repetitive tasks, or transcription online to earn money redeemable for goods on Amazon.  And it is TOTALLY legit.  Hell, it’s how I paid for my last monster of a Cooler Master CPU fan.
  • Keys Activatable on Multiple Platforms. The majority of the digital downloads available on Amazon are activatable on Steam, GOG, or Origin for EA titles. This makes it easier to have your games ready and available on the platform that you prefer.
  • Physical Games. This is where Amazon has the edge. While all the other services listed here specialize in digital downloads of games, Amazon offers boxed copies for all you shelf-hoarders.

The Cons

  • Pay Attention to Who You’re Buying From. Amazon offers sales on both digital downloads and boxed games, but you have to be SURE you’re buying directly from Amazon before you click that Buy button. There are also an infinite number of private sellers (similar to how you think of eBay) offering their goods for sale, and some of them have far from reputable reputations.
  • Used Game DRM. If you’re buying used box games off Amazon, be sure to check out the DRM for it first. If the game was previously activated online, you may be stuck with an unplayable $50 pile of junk.
  • No Refunds.

Getting the Best Deals

Check their sale section periodically, earn cash through Mechanical Turk, and rake in those cheap or, dare I say it, even FREE games!

 


 

Origin

Origin

If it’s a newish EA game you’re wanting, Origin is the place to get it. Origin is a stand alone program similar to the Steam Client or GOG Galaxy, the main difference being they only carry their own titles.

The Pros

  • Demos, Betas, and Free Game Time. You automatically gain access to demos, beta releases, or a set number of hours to test out select games before you buy them.
  • Free Games. Every once in a blue moon, they’ll have a free game available to add to your library.
  • Origin Access. For an additional $4.99 a month you can gain access to a dozen or so free games, DLC, and perks. Normally this wouldn’t be something that noteworthy, but the games list include fairly new or iconic titles like the ENTIRE Dragon Age series, the Dead Space Trilogy, Titanfall, or some of the latest entries in the Battlefield collection.
  • Money Back Guarantee.

The Cons

  • Limited Selection. It’s EA, offering only EA games on a separate platform from everything else. If you like to see all your collection on one list, Origin is NOT for you.
  • Password Security. This might be a personal pet peeve, but their password requirements have forced me to reset my password at least 3 times in the course of writing this article. 1 uppercase, 1 lowercase, and 1 number are standard, but some special characters are not allowed. If they’re going to force you to pick a “secure” password by having 3 different requirements, then all special characters should be allowed.

Getting the Best Deals

If you’re in the mood to grind through some games, paying $4.99 for a couple of months to play all the way through all the Dragon Age or Dead Space titles seems like an extremely reasonable price.While most of Origin’s free games aren’t that enticing, they do have some decent sales that you can log in and check out at your leisure.

 


Online Game Store Overview

Steam GOG Bundle Stars Humble Bundle GamersGate Amazon Origin
Year Founded 2003 2008 2012 2010 2006 1994 2011
Library Size 3,500+ 1,400+ 2,000+ 3,300+ 450+ 10,000+ 10,000+
Library Mgmt Program YES YES NO NO NO YES YES
Mobile App YES NO NO YES NO YES YES
Multiple OS Support Win, Mac, Linux Win, Mac, Linux Win, Mac, Linux Win, Mac, Linux, Mobile Win, Mac, Linux, Mobile Win, Mac, Linux, Mobile Win, Mac, Linux, Mobile
Money Back Guarantee YES YES NO LIMITED NO NO YES
Refunds Valid Thru 14 Days* 30 Days N/A N/A N/A N/A 7 Days**
Older Games YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
Newer Games YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
New Releases YES YES NO YES YES YES YES
Pre-Orders YES YES NO YES YES YES YES
DRM-Free NO YES NO LIMITED LIMITED LIMITED NO
              * Timeline varies based on product type (Game, DLC, in-game purchases, pre-orders, etc.)

              ** Timeline varies on when you buy, pre-order, or first launch the game