GAME beats Steam in MCV's digital store survey

James Batchelor
GAME beats Steam in MCV's digital store survey

Think Steam is the be all and end all of download games? Think again.

In a new study by MCV, UK High Street chain GAME outperformed Valve’s market leading store, commended for its convenience, ease of use and customer service.

We conducted a special digital edition of our Mystery Shopper survey, testing six of the leading PC download stores. Each one was approached as if we had never bought a title from that site before.

Our study takes into account:

  • Sign-up required: Did we need to register an account before we could buy games?
  • Download client: Did the game we purchased require additional software from the retailer or would it run as a standalone?
  • How many clicks: How many webpages did we have to go through from the home page to a ‘payment complete’ screen?
  • How many confirms: How many times were we asked to confirm that we wanted to pay £X?

We also looked at the how easy it was to find the game we were looking for or other games like it. Finally, we fabricated a problem and tried to find the solution via each site’s customer services section.

Here's what we found...

 

STEAM

store.steampowered.com

Sign-up required? Yes 
Download client? Yes 
How many clicks?
How many confirms? 2

Valve’s pioneering download store is held by many as the pinnacle of digital retail, so I wanted to see if it deserves this reputation.

Before I could buy my chosen game – the oft-lauded Torchlight II – I had to sign up for a Steam account. This was a minor irritation given that almost every online service demands an account these days. But it was only when I finished paying for the game that the site informed me that I needed to download the Steam client before I could install and play my game. Again, this is nothing new, but still delayed me from playing my new purchase.

Searching for games is easy enough, with the discounts from the popular wallet-draining Steam sales clearly marked. The search bar even predicted what title I was typing in, offering a dropdown selection of options, complete with prices.

I liked the option to purchase titles as a gift for other Steam users, something that very few download stores offer.

The big letdown for me was the customer service. While there is a good Q&A section, if I wanted to speak to someone directly, I had to sign up an entirely separate Steam Support account – despite having just signed up a Steam user account thirty minutes earlier. And it took two days to hear from them.

SCORE: 7/10

 

GOG.COM

www.gog.com

Sign-up required? Yes
Download client? No
How many clicks? 5
How many confirms? 1

A surprisingly strong contender, GOG.com originally specialised in selling older games engineered to be more compatible with modern systems.

Its key selling points are that all purchases are DRM-free, meaning you can download and install them on any system, and that each one comes with bonus content such as soundtracks, making of documentaries and so on.

The only issue I encountered was price discrepancies. I attempted to purchase The Witcher 2 but was presented with three different prices. The auto-filled search bar said it would be $19.99, while the product page translated this to £14.99. It was only when I began to buy the game that this changed to $24.99.

I searched in vain through the Q&A support section for a reason, and getting a human response took a message sent via a Contact Us form and about a 12-hour wait. The justification I received was that GOG?has “a legal obligation to change price depending on user location”.

The GOG representative added that: “We believe that it is not fair in any way. So users who pay a higher price will receive a bonus code for a game from our service covering the price difference.”

Beyond this, shopping with GOG was a pleasant experience. The site’s filters let me not only search by genre, but also by price and whether or not it has multiplayer modes. It had the quickest purchasing system out of the sites I surveyed, and being able to play a game without a separate client was a welcome feature – as was the nine free titles I received just for signing up.

SCORE: 8/10

 

GREEN MAN GAMING

www.greenmangaming.com

Sign-up required? Yes, but can use Facebook 
Download client? Yes 
How many clicks?
How many confirms? 1

UK digital retailer Green Man Gaming attempts to differentiate itself from other stores by letting you trade in games.

Sadly, this was something I was unable to test, as it’s quite easy to miss the purple text on a black page stating my chosen game – Bastion, in this case – cannot be traded. In fact, I missed this twice (I also purchased Sid Meier’s Pirates in the hopes of trying the trade-in system). It’s an odd oversight given how well the site signposts if a product requires a third-party client such as Steam.

GMG also deals in physical games for PC and consoles, but this made it tougher to find the game I was after. Clicking on PC Download and then a genre gave me a list of digital titles in that category, but as soon as I tried to sort the results by price or release date, it included all GMG’s catalogue – including console games.

It’s a shame because the search filters could have been one of GMG’s strongest features. They let users search by genre, age rating and even specific price brackets; I could search for all games priced between £11 and £13, for example.

On the upside, I could use my Facebook details to register an account – a welcome change to the usual lengthy sign-up process of other sites. But once done, I was returned to the home screen with an empty basket and had to start all over again. It was also the only site that gave me a time limit (14 minutes) to complete my transaction.

The customer service section was easy enough to use, and attendants replied within ten minutes of my request, offering to handle my problem personally.

SCORE: 6/10

 

GAMEFLY

www.gamefly.com

Sign-up required? Yes, but can use Facebook or Twitter
Download client? Yes
How many clicks? 8
How many confirms? 2

It's easy to see why Gamefly is one of the world’s biggest digital players. I found the site easy to navigate and user-friendly to new customers.

It was great to be able to sign in with either my Facebook or Twitter details and while I had to download and install the GameFly client, the software greeted me with a brief tutorial for first-time users when I opened it up.

The site also seemed to protect me from accidentally buying multiple copies of the same game – in my case Wolfenstein 3D. While other sites mindlessly add the same product to the basket, GameFly actually limited me to purchasing the game once. I was asked to confirm I wanted to purchase Wolfenstein as soon as I clicked ‘buy’, which also prompted a window with a brief ad for similar titles, which was less annoying that you’d think.

The customer service was also more helpful than some of the other sites I shopped with. At first, I went to the ‘Answers’ section of the site, assuming this was the support area, but it’s actually a community forum where users can help each other out.

Because my question was about customer support, I received an automated response with links to potential solutions to my problem.

SCORE: 7/10

 

ORIGIN

store.origin.com

Sign-up required? Yes, but can use Facebook
Download client? Yes
How many clicks? 8
How many confirms? 2

Electronic Arts’ downloads outlet was one of the most pleasant surprises when researching this piece. The variety of titles available was better than I expected, with plenty of titles from EA’s publishing rivals such as Warner Bros, Ubisoft and Square Enix.

Naturally, EA’s titles get the biggest spaces on the Origin site but I was still impressed by the number of third-party games promoted on the homepage.

While some of these require other software – Warner’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, for example, needs Games For Windows – these clients are downloaded in the background, which made installing the game easier.

The buying process was reasonably quick, but the real joy was the customer service. There was a comprehensive Q&A section, and the search bar even recognised game titles I entered into it, saving me from having to specify that title in the accompanying form.

Best of all, I didn’t have to wait for an email to be sent to me “within 24 hours”, as is the case with most sites. Instead, I was put in touch with a human customer service operative via a live chat system.

My extremely polite and friendly attendant Alvin talked me through each step of the process, even apologising for the need to do a security check.

SCORE: 8/10

 

GAME

www.game.co.uk

Sign-up required? No 
Download client? No 
How many clicks?
How many confirms? 1

I’ll admit I was cynical about this one to begin with. What does a High Street chain know about digital beyond selling points card, right?

Turns out GAME’s PC Downloads section is easier to use than any of the dedicated digital stores I tried. There was no client to download, no need to sign up (not even with Facebook or Twitter details) – it was no different to buying a boxed game.

In fact, you can tell GAME is using the same system because the form mentioned Two-Day Delivery. Which was odd. But as soon as I’d paid, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was ready to install.

When you click ‘buy’, a window pops up with one-click buttons letting you add similar games to your basket – although this makes it easy to buy the same product twice.

I was glad to see the site clearly marked if a title requires Steam, Origin or Uplay, and these clients are downloaded with your chosen game.

Customer service is also well thought out, giving me the option of email, phone or a live webchat service. I chose the latter and was put in touch with the lovely Mia within minutes, who quickly solved my problem – even staying online to check I had no other problems.

Mia also informed me that GAME may be able to offer a refund if I sent a screenshot of any persistent errors.

SCORE: 9/10

 

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Tags: GAME , steam , Digital , mcv , origin , downloads , gamefly , green man gaming , gog.com , gog , mystery shopper , EA origin , digital retail , game downloads , digital store , download store

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