The Curious Case of Too Many Launchers

Earlier today, GOG announced that selected games that you own on Steam could be added to your GOG account. This news was so well received that at the time of writing, the service has a few day delay before you can link your account.

When speaking to my friends about this, one of my pals, Reuben, raised a good point. Talking about the situation, he said:

I am tired of having 80 different launchers, but that will never change.

I couldn’t agree more, so I decided to write this piece and spew my views on the situation. I’d love to know what you all think, so please leave a comment on if you agree, disagree or have a different opinion altogether.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Many Launchers?

At the time of writing, I currently have roughly eight launchers (Nine if you count the Windows Store / Windows 10 as an app launcher) installed on my system; Not limited to the Epic Games’ Launcher, Uplay, Steam, Origin, Vive launcher, uPlay and GOG Galaxy.

In this day and age, it is considered the norm to have roughly this amount of launchers to gain access to your purchases across multiple platforms. The issue I have with this is that on my consoles; Specifically my Xbox One, PS4 and Wii U; all my purchases are unified into one user interface and essentially a single launcher.

Some might see this as an unfair argument. After all, consoles are designed to be more of a closed environment, whereas PC / desktop environments are considered more “Open” — allowing creators to make applications without having to wait for certification and all the fun stuff that follows. But is it crazy to hope for a one-stop shop launcher that houses all my games or a launcher for all of my applications?

GOG Galaxy attempted to alleviate this issue, and even Steam attempted to fix this as well, allowing you to add third-party applications to their launchers to help keep everything in one place. But their current solutions don’t feel adequate, at least to me.

By adding third-party applications to these launchers, you lose a lot of the features from both the original launchers and the current launcher. It is essentially a situation in which you have to compromise functionality in order to house your applications under one launcher. But why is this?

I understand that in some cases; it is the company’s way of telling you: “If we sell this application, we want you to purchase this through us as we are making no income from this application living in your library at this current time”. I understand this; these companies are essentially businesses at the end of the day, and they do not want people using their launcher for pirated material or material purchased elsewhere. But I feel this is against the consumer, rather than for them.

In doing this, your user experience is not the optimal user experience you could be having. It is my personal belief that this methodology bites these companies in the foot.

By giving people a sub-par experience, in some cases forcing people to purchase the application on their storefront, that user will spend less time in the specific launcher in question and will instead have to close (or at the very least minimise) the launcher in order to open the other launcher to use their application in an optimal way.

This, naturally, leads to less user retention in your launcher, which as a company is the opposite of what you want. You want your customers to use your launcher constantly. If people are in your launcher, they are more likely to visit your storefront and thus will purchase more from your store.

In the companies defence, this might not be the case in practice, and this could be one of the reasons it’s not like this at the moment. Perhaps the fears of piracy outweigh the gamble on the user’s spending money in the storefront. Perhaps they are worried they will be forced to offer support for external applications.

There could be a hurricane of reasons leading to their decisions to not offer feature parity between their applications and external applications but at the end of the day, we, the consumers feel like we’re losing out and we just have to deal with it.

GOG Attempts to Change the Game

GOG Connect is GOG’s attempt to try and aleviate this issue, letting users import specific games from their Steam library into their launcher in a native respect. This means that the GOG launcher (and website) would treat these selected games as GOG purchased games, offering all the features the launcher reserves for GOG purchased applications for no extra cost to the user.

However, as I’ve stipulated a few times, this is only for select few games and the companies of these games have to be on-board for this to work. Wether or not this ends up becoming a success for GOG, or even exists in a few years time, remains to be seen.

GOG previously tried to help this situation by offering GOG Galaxy; Their launcher that was billed to be the launcher “of all launchers”.

Originally planned to allow users to have the complete GOG experience even with games purchased on other platforms such as Steam, GOG Galaxy has sadly not lived up to these claims, due to the fact that you can’t actually add non-GOG games or applications to your library, so you still need to use Steam to use your Steam purchases.

The Many Problems of Steam’s Solution

The next logical step would be to add GOG games to Steam and launch them from Steam.

This, however, gives you a less-than-optimal experience. Below are just a few things you miss out on from when adding a “Non-Steam” game to Steam.

  1. Steam clearly states all over the shortcut that the item is an “NON-STEAM MOD OR SHORTCUT”. It even blasts this out to all of your friends when you load up the shortcut by saying “XX is playing XX — A NONE STEAM GAME.”
  2. No support for achievements or communities (even if the game is available on Steam and features achievements and communities).
  3. No news aggregation for the tiles a la “actual” Steam games.
  4. No links to DLC or Store Page .etc
  5. No statistics such as play time or purchase date.

The list goes on but essentially it treats these manually added games and applications as shortcuts, a far cry from titles on the Steam store (even if the title is for sale on Steam).

Essentially, to get the best user experience, you have to purchase a title a second time if you don’t initially own it on Steam and want the optimal user experience. As described before, this makes sense from a business standpoint but leaves customers with a sour taste in their mouth.

Some games and applications don’t even work using this method. Applications such as Unreal Engine 4 need workarounds to open via Steam, for example.

And it gets worse.

Some titles (Specifically Uplay titles) on Steam launch the Uplay launcher when you attempt to play them through Steam. That’s right — A game you purchase on the Steam Store loads up a completely different launcher when you attempt to play it via Steam.

To add salt to the wound, these titles feature all the optimal user experience in the Steam Library; You can see your friends, DLC for the title, view the Steam Store page and communities .etc — Yet you are forced to open up another launcher just to play these titles.

Do you see where the “This makes no sense?” feeling I have about it all comes from?

Where Do We Go From Here?

Honestly, I don’t know. With companies being the way they are, I highly doubt we’ll ever get that one launcher that treats all games and applications the same as their storefront counterparts in a nice user experience.

I hope I am wrong but I do not remain hopeful. Perhaps this is a non-issue that I’m completely blowing out of proportion. But it irks me to no end and I had to rant about it.

As I said before, I’m interested in your thought so please let me and as always, thank-you for reading.