Can GoG Galaxy finally offer an alternative to Steam?

Can GoG Galaxy finally offer an alternative to Steam?

There's no denying that the impact Valve's Steam digital distribution platform has had an everlasting effect on the PC gaming industry. It almost single handedly spawned the popularisation of game downloads, of community features like trading cards and perhaps most importantly, it was the first service that ever let you take your games with you, wherever you go in the world.

However that doesn't mean that Steam is the holy grail of digital gaming. In-fact, in the last year or so some cracks have appeared in the glossy sheen of praise that is constantly heaped on Valve and everything it touches. Whether you look to the consistent over the top gamificaiton of sales, to the failures of the Greenlight platform or the temporary instatement of paid-for-mods, the scene is ripe for a new upstart to disrupt the status quo.

Of course though, that upstart is not going to be one of the smaller, already existing digital platforms like Ubisoft's Uplay or EA's Origin, as those are already not even a patch on Steam and even though there are a couple of features people quite like, they are for the most part very limited and hardly likely to supplant Steam in their own right.

But perhaps GoG Galaxy could. The newly launched service from long running DRM free game seller, Good Old Games – more commonly shortened to simply GoG these days – has almost all of the same features Steam does, but with a lot less of the gumf that people don't like on Valve's platform.

For starters, it has a large library of available games right off of the bat, many of which are exclusives and can only be bought and played through GoG's platform. That puts it on relatively even footing with Steam, even if the latter's library is larger and more contemporary.

Still, GoG Galaxy also comes with simple, one-click installs (making it less clicks than Steam requires), automated updates that can be turned on and off and support for offline play. There's also matchmaking, friends list, chat systems, achievements, game tracking and a game overlay that's coming soon.

On top of that, it's also twinned with a developer studio that has been in the good graces of gamers for years. GoG is a project spawned by CD Project Red, the Polish developer behind the Witcher series of games. Not only has it produced several highly rated RPGs to date, but the Witcher III is breaking records for how much it's beloved among the press. If gamers like it as much as they do, then Galaxy has a great springboard to jump from in its opening weeks.

However as much as all of these features are great in that they put Galaxy on the same level as Steam, it's all of the non-Steam features it's rolling out which are the most exciting.

For example, GoG Galaxy will soon allow you to rollback your games to a previous version. Download a patch from a developer that broke a game? Just roll it back to the previous version till they fix things. Better yet, why not back up the version of the game you like to your hard drive. Thanks to the fact that GoG Galaxy has no DRM on any of its games – a pre-requisite of selling it through the platform – you can download the install files and save them offline for that day when the internet dies.

One of the big things a lot of people don't like with Steam, are all of the little extras which they don't want to bother with. Things like achievements that break an experience's immersion, or the little trading cards and unlocks. While GoG Galaxy may have those, the client is entirely customisable, so turning off the game-sale-adventure that Valve might have forced upon you is just a click away on GoG's new service.

Another feature which will likely please security concious gamers, is that the digital distribution platform doesn't record any data on its users. There are stats for certain games, but as far as your usage of the service, nothing is tracked and even if it was, GoG staff couldn't look at it anyway. That means there won't be personalised recommendations, but it also means that GoG isn't making some extra money by selling your data on the side.

Perhaps the best feature however, is that GoG Galaxy is entirely optional. The standard GoG site will still continue to offer individual games to be installed on their own. Nobody will ever be forced to use the Galaxy client to install or play their games. While Valve has an offline mode, it's far from perfect and you can't use it without logging in at least once.

Although not all of these features are in place just yet, if GoG is able to deliver on a good number of them, we may well have our very first legitimate competitor to Steam. Sure, if games don't support cross platform play the communities will be smaller in multiplayer titles and yes, you'll need to bring your friends over too if you're wanting to chat on Galaxy, but considering the focus on single player and retro experiences on GoG, that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Of course Galaxy may fall afoul of the problems that many competitors services have found and that's the Steam is simply too big to fail at this point. With such a domineering position within PC gaming, perhaps Galaxy is just too late to the party to really make an impact. Somehow I doubt it though.

At the very least, the very existence of the Galaxy client could mean Valve looks at some of its own business practices and considers whether everything it touches does turn to gold like it often seems the company thinks.

What do you guys think of GoG's new client?