When you buy a game on Steam, or GOG, or anywhere online, what you’re really buying is a code—a sequence of numbers and letters that sits in a vast database of similar numbers and letters and represents one particular license for one particular game. These days, usually through Valve’s developer platform called Steamworks.
Millions of Steamworks codes, deliberately generated by game publishers and vetted by Valve, are sent across the internet to other storefronts to be sold.
Some game purchases grant a Steam key, others are downloaded as a simple installer or are playable in-browser.
They all have strengths and weaknesses for both gamers and game developers that are worth knowing about before you buy from them.
The information we’ve put together below will help you better understand where your games come from and where your money is going.
Features like cloud saves, while not universally supported, improve the PC gaming experience. Why we don’t like it: Steam’s size can make game discoverability challenging, which is a negative for both gamers and developers.
Size has also made for poor customer support for many gamers.