Having games that rely on online features is nothing new, but only in the last couple of years have gamers (and more importantly, game studios) really embraced the power of online. If I asked you 10 years ago where you buy your games (or at least a majority of them) the answer would have been at your local game/department store, and rightfully so as it was the only place you could get it all in one shiny package. Not to mention that at that time, the only games you could find online were quirky, and sometimes obscene, flash games (I remember spending countless hours at www.newgrounds.com during my high school years). But if I were to ask you today where you buy your games, the answers would be a lot different.
Maybe it's because gamers don't care so much for all the frills that come with buying a game from your local game shop, maybe it's the price difference, or maybe it's got more basic reasons like not having to leave your house. Whatever the reason is, more and more gamers are buying their games online, and why not? With online retailers like Steam, Stardock, and Direct 2 Drive it's never been a better time to join the bandwagon. For the same price (in fact usually less) gamers can now buy their games (currently PC only) from online retailers like Steam and have them downloaded directly to their computer and installed at the same time. Depending on the game the entire process takes on average about 2 hours. The other upside to online purchases is that platforms like Steam also manage your games. This means that whenever there is a patch, it will automatically update your game the next time you go to launch it. This may seem like a no-brainer but you'd be surprised how many studios out there don't incorporate it into their games.
But what about all you console lovers out there? are you still forced to go out to your local shop? Well... Yes and no actually. All of the current generation of consoles have an online store, Nintendo's Wii has the Wii Shop Channel, Sony's PlayStation 3 has the PlayStation Network Store, and Microsoft's Xbox 360 has the Marketplace. All of the above are a great place to find various goodies to make your gaming experience more enjoyable. Mostly available are wallpapers, themes, demos, trailers and the like. But they also have games from indie developers that don't make it to your local game stores. Games like Titan Studio's Fat Princess, are amazing full games in their own right but they just don't have the big budgets or price tags that come with store bought console games. Does this make them any less enjoyable? quite the opposite actually. I've had a blast with games like Fat Princess, which can be a refreshing break from the norm of mainstream gaming. Indie developers tend to take more liberal choices in designing their games, which is a very welcome change in the industry.
That's not all that's offered either, you can also delve into the world of Downloadable Content (DLC) which helps to expand your gaming experiences. DLC can come in various forms, from changing the skin (how your character(s) look in game) of various characters to adding new weapons, levels, enemies, and challenges to your favorite games. Sometimes DLC comes as a bonus when pre-ordering the game, other times it can be found in your respective stores but regardless DLC is usually a must have. Take Bioware's recent hit Dragon Age: Origins which just released a DLC pack title Awakening, which adds an entire new campaign with new party members, spells, increased level cap and new dungeons to explore. That's quite hard to ignore and makes for games that last longer than it takes to beat them once and put them on the shelf to gather dust.
So I ask you to take a break from going to your local game shop and embrace the downloadable generation. Take a peek through some of the online stores, you will find there are quite a few gems among them. And stay tuned as I'll be adding downloadable games to my reviews