GameFly, the video game rental service that is often described as the “Netflix of video games” is making moves into the PC game digital distribution space (often described as “Steam and its competitors”). With GameFly’s purchase of Direct2Drive in May 2011 and the launch of its beta PC client in September 2011, the company is taking big but slow steps into the market dominated largely by Steam. Not that there isn’t room for more competition, but is GameFly’s effort worthy of note?
I’ve been a GameFly member for quite a while, and the shipping facility in my city makes the mail service snappy and efficient for me. I received a beta invitation to the GameFly Client as they call it, so I gladly installed the application to check it out for myself. As an avid and possibly addicted member of Valve’s Steam, I was curious to see how a competitor approached the PC digital distribution game.
GameFly’s big selling point is the “unlimited PC play” for members of their mail service. This new service gives members unlimited access to a large library of PC games, and you can install and play as many as you want, whenever you want, so long as you’re still an active member of GameFly. Sounds awesome, right?
Well, the selection of “unlimited play” PC games is definitely substantial, but is unfortunately not very interesting. Pretty much all the available titles fall into one of two categories: games that are several years old, or crappy games that you’ve probably never heard of. Not that those are necessarily bad things, but if you think you’ll get to play some recent big-budget release without buying it at full price, don’t get your hopes up.
The actual process of installing and playing an “unlimited play” game is overly involved and complicated compared to the relative simplicity of Steam’s. These are the steps you have to take before you can start playing your game:
- Click “Download Now” to initiate the game download
- Verify your account by entering your GameFly password
- After waiting for the game to download, click “Install Now” to install the game
- Click “Play Now” to activate the game before being allowed to play
It’s kind of a pain in the butt. The upsides are the ability to play the games even when the GameFly client isn’t running (which can’t be done in Steam), and uninstalling the games is not nearly so laborious.
The GameFly PC client has features for buying games from the GameFly store and for managing your GameQ, where you add games to receive in the mail. You can also watch videos and read video game news from Shacknews, which is owned by GameFly. The whole client looks slick and attractive, which isn’t surprising as it’s an Adobe AIR application. This also means it’s quite the resource hog for the minimal amount of functionality it actually provides. Since the GameFly website can perform every action that the PC client can except for downloading the unlimited PC play games, the PC client feels kind of unnecessary and mostly redundant. The selection of unlimited play PC games is unfortunately not interesting enough to make this a recommendation, unless you happen to be particularly interested in a certain PC game that is available in the program.
Maybe the GameFly PC client will be worth another look in the future when GameFly can work out deals with publishers to get more interesting PC titles in the unlimited play program. For now, I’m uninstalling it from my computer.