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…


Sign-up required? Yes
Download client? Yes
How many clicks? 6
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


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

A surprisingly strong contender, 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


Sign-up required? Yes, but can use Facebook
Download client? Yes
How many clicks? 9
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


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 brie

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