PC Game Launchers, Ranked

On April Fool’s Day, Corsair joked about a game launcher launcher that would launch your PC game launchers. My colleague Mike Fahey and I halfway wished that it were real, and our conversation got me thinking about how many game launchers I have. Here are a whole lot of PC game launchers, ranked from best to worst, as well as a ranking of their desktop icons out of five.

Steam

I don’t know if Steam is actually the best or if I just have Stockholm syndrome, but look: all my games are here. I never forget what the screenshot key is when I’m on a different computer, and I can upload those screenshots to the cloud and have them whenever I need them.

The launcher does have its downsides. The pop-ups when you start it are annoying as hell, sometimes the downloads hang, and creating a group chat is needlessly confusing. But Steam has the nostalgia factor: it’s where I bought my first “real” PC game, and it’s probably where I’ll buy my last.

Icon: 2. It’s apparently a part of a steam engine, which would only be obvious if you’re a travelling salesman from the 1800s. I’ve spent ten years thinking it was a link from a bike chain.

Battlenet

Battlenet’s chat function is pretty OK. Sometimes I find my Facebook friends streaming Overwatch from the in-game stream function, which inspires me to open up Battlenet so I can play with them, only to end up watching Overwatch League instead. Intentionally or not, this launcher has encouraged me to spend a lot of time thinking about Overwatch without having to actually play it.

That means I avoid making my teammates mad at me when I don’t heal them quickly enough. I guess it might not be a game launcher so much as an esports launcher, but it’s still number two on my list.

Icon: 3. No clue what it is, but I can always tell it apart from the other stuff in my taskbar.

Epic

The lack of a playtime counter is annoying, and I hate that I have to use an outside program for screenshots and then I can never remember where they’re saved. But, as far as launchers go, it’s fine. I like the highly visible progress bar when a game is updating, so I can keep an eye on my update from across the room.

I mostly use it for Fortnite, but every so often, I remember I have other games in my library and am pleasantly surprised to see them there. It’s like a mini Christmas.

Icon: 3. Straightforward, but boring.

GOG

Every time I open GOG, I remember that I could be playing The Witcher 3. I appreciate a launcher that has my best interests in mind.

Icon: 3. See above.

Itchio

The only launcher that makes me feel like a good person, since it reminds me I’m supporting all those indie games. The desktop client allows me to revisit all the tiny games I bought and then immediately lost in my files.

Icon: 4. It looks like a controller, which might be weird for a computer icon, but there’s something whimsical about its design.

Uplay

This opens whenever I open a Ubisoft game on Steam, which does give me some time after I hit “play” to grab a drink. Also, sometimes Uplay gives me points. I’ve never done anything with them, but who doesn’t like getting points?

Icon: 4. I like the colour on this one and its design, even if I can’t tell whether it’s a flower or a whirlpool. Ubisoft calls it a “swirl,” so maybe it’s ice cream? Ice cream is nice.

Origin

I kind of like the way my game pages slide in from the side when I select them, but other than that, I hate this launcher’s guts. I can never figure out how to answer a voice or text message in a timely fashion, and it probably makes all my friends think I’m a jerk.

I recently bought Titanfall 2 through its store, and there were so many messages about getting Origin Premier or whatever that I almost gave up before I bought the game. (The game was good, though, so Origin has that in its favour.)

Icon: 5. God help me, but it doesn’t look like anything else I have installed, and the bright colour makes it easy to find.

Bethesda Launcher

This could have Skyrim on it, which is good if you need a special place just for Skyrim.

Icon: 1. Completely missable and a little bit ugly.

All those other random launchers, like Nexon or single-game launchers, that pop up whenever I turn on the office PC and I have no idea why.

Somebody wanted them, which I can at least respect.

Icon: 1. There are too many to evaluate, but they get a point for existing.

Windows Store

Never again.

Icon: 0. If it’s on my desktop somewhere, I don’t want to know.


Comments

    I have Steam and only just got GoG this year... how do people end up with so many launchers?

      By buying games from publishers that have decided their own launcher is the only option. EA, Ubisoft, and Blizzard for example.

      It ends up making them a little redundant though. The convenience of Steam is a massive advantage, and one a dedicated launcher can never hope to match. Nothing against them though, they're at least appearing committed to using them for their own products.

      But I think I counted 7 or 8 launchers when I looked the other day, and that wasn't counting games that launched just one game. and was really just an avenue to the patch servers.

      I've tried over a dozen mmos over the years and each one of them has their own launchers... luckily most will remove itself after you uninstall the mmo but some don't play nice

    Something like comparing launcher features, or resource footprint (idle CPU, RAM usage etc) would've been a lot more useful.

      These days I'm not sure that's an issue for most people. If you have 16 Gb of ram (or even just 8 Gb), a couple of Mb isn't going to hurt you, and likewise, there are so many free cycles with your CPU most of the time, thanks to multi-cores, that you shouldn't fee that either.

      Resource Monitor might be able to show that stuff though if you want to dig. Launchers though aren't resource intensive though. Not when compared to the basic specs of a modern PC.

    People complain about Epic game store, but it's way better than Microsoft Store. The only way that you can play Forza Horizon on PC is by buying it from Microsoft Store - and that's not even just a exclusive time period, that's permanent (and discounting is rare).

      Forza Horizon is a first party game made by Microsoft owned Studios.

      The games on Epic are not. They are bought for exclusives.

      Learn the difference.

    Back in the days the steam tray icon was animated, that surely gets some more points imo. =]

    While they were joking about a game launcher launcher, I use Steam to do just that. Because you can add third party stuff, you can just pop in Battle.Net, Epic, etc, and its less icons I have to care about. Steam is there to do the job so I can just put all the other launchers in a little folder, set them to not launch on boot up, and forget them.

    It also opens up launchers for many other games, like MMO's which are just gateways to launchers anyway. Think Rift, whose install really just gets you to the Glyph launcher before getting into the game. Or Skyforge, which (I think, its been a while) goes through My.Com's launcher. Some MMO does anyway.

    I supposed it depends on the games you started buying and for me, most of them started with a Humble Bundle as well as cheap games.

    I started late with Steam and I think the first purchase was a Bundle but I can't really remember now.

    one of the first Humble Bundles I brought was for Origin with some of its games (battlefield 3). and then Origin started the "On the House" which led to a heap of games that I don't play

    I started Uplay with a Humble Bundle and then it had a period of free games as well.

    I started GOG with its free games as well as the Witcher 3, I think. and then it did the steam connect.

    I started Epic so I was in University studying game design by using the Unreal Engine.

    I started Battlenet, with Overwatch and its demos.

    I give another example of excessive games on a system, when I brought a PS4 in late 2015 with a three Disc games.
    When I first booted the system, I found out that I had 44 games for it on PS+

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