A guide to digital game distribution and delivery services for adventure games
First posted on 22 September 2013. Last updated on 22 May 2014.
The catchphrase "going digital" has been popularized by content providers in the entertainment industry. Music, movies, and even television shows can now be easily accessed online as media-on-demand. In the games industry, by extension, gamers want their entertainment delivered digitally to their desktop or mobile computers and devices.
- References to companies and services in the following article are provided for informational purposes only and are not endorsements by the author or this website.
For the adventure game genre, many developers, publishers, and distributors have joined the digital delivery revolution. This revolution is not a violent overthrow of the current regime of content delivery but a slow and deliberate process of change in how games are delivered to the marketplace. There is no doubt that the adventure game genre is benefiting from this digital revolution. What once begun with only downloadable extras for existing games (which later morphed into DLC) now includes distribution of entire games en bloc or in an episodic format.
Benefit of digital distribution
The most obvious benefit of digital game distribution is that it bypasses the conventional distribution of games on physical media (such as Floppy Disk, CD, and DVD). For game publishers, a major attraction of digital delivery is that they no longer need to negotiate with game retailers for spacing in brick and mortar stores for their games to compete for customers' attention. For adventure games in particular, releases that may otherwise not be available elsewhere can now be distributed online. Consequently, these adventure games can now be accessible to a larger audience. This new way of delivery is especially important for indie adventure games and has encouraged the development of many games from indie adventure game developers who otherwise have no easy way to distribute their games, thus spurring a renewed interest in a genre whose popularity has admittedly declined in recent years.
Framework of digital delivery
A common framework for digital game delivery is with the use of a client that the user must first download to install to use the service. Often, the client acts as both a marketplace for purchasing the games and a downloader to download the purchased games. The client may also give user statistics on the games that the user is currently playing or has previously played and sometimes even allow the user to change the games' settings. The client is, therefore, the "face" of the digital content provider. Not uncommonly, the client also installs a game launcher. The launcher alerts the user of any updates or patches to the games that can then be installed, often automatically.
A controversial component of digital game distribution is the use of Digital Rights Management. Better known as DRM, it is used by game developers, publishers, and publishers to protect their digital content after sale. It gives control to the digital content providers on who can access the games after they are sold. When a game is protected by DRM, the user will not be able to copy or access it without the digital content provider's authorization. Often, DRM also restricts what hardware (and sometimes even software) with which the user can access the game. Proponents of DRM commonly claim that DRM is necessary as digital locks to prevent copyright infringement and to protect the intellectual property of game creators whose livelihoods depend on the sales of those games that they have created.
The use of DRM is not universally accepted by the games industry. Opponents of DRM claim that DRM unnecessarily inconveniences users. More importantly, if ever the service through which DRM is managed is itself discontinued, then the user will no longer be able to access the protected games that the user has previously purchased. It can be argued that the user does not have ownership of the games but is merely granted a limited license to access those games. However, this argument ignores that longstanding tradition of ownership of games distributed on physical media in which access to the games cannot be revoked remotely.
Popular digital distribution and delivery services
For adventure game fans, a number of online game delivery services are now available to offer digital game delivery of adventure games. The choice to use which service obviously depends on the library of games being offered as well as the prices and regional availability of those games. Some of the most popular commercial digital distribution and delivery services for adventure games for the PC are (in alphabetical order):
- Desura (1): Originally based in Australia, Desura offers digital delivery of mostly indie games of all genres, including many indie adventure games. The client is available on the Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.
- DotEmu (2): Based in France, DotEmu offers digital delivery of mostly retro games of all genres, including adventure games. All of the games are offered free of DRM. The client is available on the Windows and Mac platforms. Like GOG, DotEmu bundles many classic games with open source or freeware emulators, such as DOSBox or ScummVM, that allow those games to run in current operating systems that may otherwise be incompatible.
- Gamefly (3): Since the recent acquisition of Direct2Drive, Gamefly now offers digital delivery of new and old games of all genres, including many releases from major developers and publishers. Aside from a subscription based service which the company is best known for, the company also offers purchases of games on rental. The service has a large library of adventure games, including many classic titles that are not available elsewhere.
- GamersGate (4): Based in Sweden, GamersGate (previously known as Gamer's Gate) is a pioneer in digital delivery of games on the Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. The service offers a large library of games of all genres from major as well as indie game developers and publishers. Unlike most other services, games can be downloaded and installed without the use of a client. If also offers a loyalty program in which rewards earned from previous purchases or participation in community activities can be used to make future purchases.
- GOG (5): Formerly called Good Old Games, GOG is best known for offering digital delivery of classic games from both major and indie game developers and publishers. The company is a strong opponent of DRM and is the first digital game distributor to be committed to offer only games that are free of DRM. Like DotEmu, GOG bundles many classic games with open source or freeware emulators, such as DOSBox or ScummVM, that allow those games to run in current operating systems that may otherwise be incompatible.
- Green Man Gaming (6): Based in United Kingdom, Green Man Gaming offers digital delivery of new and old games of all genres, including a modest library of adventure games. Unlike other services, it offers the option to trade in previous digital purchases from the service for credits that can then be used to purchase other games.
- Origin (7): Owned by Electronic Arts, Origin offers digital delivery of many games for the Windows and Mac platforms from its own catalog as well as selected catalogs from other publishers. The library of adventure games is limited but expanding.
- Steam (8): Owned by Valve, Steam is currently the largest digital game distribution and delivery service. It offers the broadest library of games from all genres, including adventure games. The client is available on the Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms and supports cloud saving.
- Zodiac (9): Zodiac offers digital delivery of indie adventure and casual adventure games. Unlike other services, its catalog is principally focused on adventure games. The client is integrated with DOSBox and ScummVM to allow games to run in current operating systems that may otherwise be incompatible. It also offers an incentive program in which points earned from previous purchases can be used to make future purchases. In addition to digital downloads, physical backup discs of games can be ordered optionally during purchase.
For adventure games, digital distribution is the future. With digital delivery, adventure game developers and publishers no longer need to concern themselves with competing with other developers and publishers for retail spacing to sell their games. The advent of digital distribution is destined to lead to a renaissance for the adventure game genre.