Friday, 14 May 2010

Game download services

The idea of being able to easily download PC games is a great one. There are potentially environmental benefits (no physical products to ship around the world); in an ideal world savings from not needing to make and ship physical products would be passed on to the consumer; and it can be quicker to get hold of a game in some cases.

There are a number of game download companies, all competing for customers. Once someone joins a service then - if they are happy with it - it is likely that they will stick with it for all their gaming needs. It should therefore be important to companies to offer the best possible service to the customer, with the fewest barriers - to put the needs of the customer first.



So what are the best online services to use? CCS is going to look at the major players: Good Old Games (GOG); GamersGate; Steam; Direct2Drive; and Get Games. Update 11 June 2010: We have added Impulse. (Later we may include new ones such as Desura). Issues we are concerned about:
  • What DRM restrictions they use, or that they allow publishers to put onto their games - don't forget, if the download service doesn't want to allow certain restrictive practices it doesn't have to. The more restrictive the DRM, the worse the situation for customers (the worst being Ubisoft's new ridiculous DRM scheme that forces players to be online even for single player games, so no-one playing those games on your laptop while travelling...). Specific questions here:
    Is there a limit on how many times a purchased game can be activated? (This automatically earns one 'crap' rating, since the consumer is paying a purchase price for a rental service. Some people don't mind asking for permission to install a game they have bought; CCS find that to be a ridiculous idea.).
    Is there DRM from the publisher AND the platform itself? (Overkill).
    Can a game be kept on your PC and installed without going online? (I.e. could you still play the game in the future even if the download service or publisher disappeared?)
  • How much information they give in order that their customers can make informed decisions. Can a customer exclude games with extra DRM from results lists? Can they find out what the DRM is and what the implications are, such as limited activations (and if so, how many?) Can they search for DRM-free games? It is annoying if a download service allows restrictive DRM, but at least if customers can clearly identify the games it applies to and avoid them then they can still use the service with confidence for some purchases.
  • How easy it is to contact them. Do they have an email address? Are you forced to create an account just to ask a question? We have a huge number of accounts and logins and passwords already, so having to create an account just to ask a question is an example of putting unnecessary barriers in the way. Are we mad in thinking that many people might have a question about a product or service before they buy? So why force them to create yet more accounts just in order to find out if they want to create an account?
Then we'll see if they are crap or worth using. We should state that we would love to be able to recommend and use all the services. Greater choice is to everyone's benefit. We want to spend money on these sites, in exchange for great games!






Good Old Games (GOG)
This is one of those nice sites to review - everything about it is superb.

Native DRM: There is NO DRM on ANY GOG game! You can install them on any PC and re-download them whenever you want, as many times as you need, and you can install and play them on any PC without an Internet connection. You can't get any simpler or more user friendly than that.

Additional publisher DRM: See above. There is NO DRM on ANY GOG game!

Are there activation limits? No! See above. There is NO DRM on ANY GOG game!

Can a game be kept on your PC and installed without going online? Yes. So your games are safe forever.

Can you contact them easily? Yes. Click contact us, fill in a form. No need for registration; no barriers in place. They obviously care about their customers.

Other: The site oozes quality. Games have extras available on purchase (such as soundtracks). There are in-depth reviews, screenshots, often videos. There is no need for special software to be installed: the games can be downloaded through the browser, but there is the option of a special downloader if you want it.

Conclusion so far: There is absolutely nothing to fault in the GOG service. If you are browsing for interesting games then we would recommend starting there.

PS If you like GOG, have a look at DotEmu.

GOG's current score:








GamersGate

Native DRM: Games have to go online during installation to activate them (so you can't install the game if your Internet connection is down or if you want to play it on a PC without an Internet connection; and if GamersGate ever disappears as a service then you will never be able to install any of your games again). Not ideal.

Additional publisher DRM: Also GamersGate allows publishers to add EXTRA DRM on top of this. So games bought from them may include limited activations (these can be extended a few times but not indefinitely - so after a few uninstalls to make space, a new PC, and the occasional reinstall of Windows, you may be unable to install the games).

Are there activation limits? Update 30 May 2010: A GamersGate Customer Support Manager on Wednesday, May 05, 2010 said: "ALL DRM used on GG got 3 time activation limit"

Can a game be kept on your PC and installed without going online?
No. So there is no future-proof solution for if GamersGate ever disappears.

Can you find out about the DRM? Unfortunately it appears to be impossible to find out if there are limitations such as finite activations (and if so, how many) or online-only requirements (such as Ubisoft's ultra-draconian DRM systems) before purchase. Some games list the type of DRM, but that tells you little. For example, Batman Arkham Asylum says 'Securom' - but that might mean limited activations - or it might not. Trackmania United has no mention of DRM at all. Necrovision has 'other', which tells you nothing. The Penumbra Collection is listed as DRM free - but that is not true, since in that case the GamersGate DRM still applies - they just mean that there is no DRM above and beyond that, so it is still misleading. It is possible to go the 'ALL' tab and choose DRM-free in the Filter. However it is a bit of a con, because all GG games require online activation, which is a form of DRM. So anyone wanting to avoid limited activations will not be able to do so through the GamersGate interface.


October 2010 - game says to see below for DRM information...


...however there IS NO DRM information!

Can you contact them easily? Yes. They offer an email address (for anyone), or a form (if you have an account). They also allow customers to contact them via Twitter and Facebook. So full flexibility there.

Other: The company obviously have problems with punctuation - there should be an apostrophe in their name. They use a client-free download system, just using your browser - that is a bonus.


October 2010: GamersGate also has regional restrictions, made worse by the fact that it shows you games that you cannot buy. After clicking on Black Mirror on the UK site above...


...you see this.


Conclusion so far: The lack of information on restrictions makes the service impossible to use if you want to avoid two levels of restrictive DRM.

Update 30 May 2010: We were sent details of some GamersGate correspondence from someone who reads CCS. In an email sent by a GamersGate Customer Support Manager on Wednesday, May 05, 2010, the Manager said:

"ALL DRM used on GG got 3 time activation limit...well, with one exeption, but remember that we do reset the count if you send us en email. [...] Resetting the count is the best we can do and only within reason. 10-15 times would never be considered 'within reason'."

There we have it - when you buy a game with limited activations you will not be able to install it indefinitely. You will have to go through the hassle of asking for more unlocks (i.e. asking for permission to install the game you have bought!) until they eventually refuse. As the customer who received that email told us:


"I love games. If a game is good I will play it again and again. Some of my favourite games (System Shock 2, Thief, Deus Ex, Heroes of Might and Magic 2, Aliens vs Predator original etc) have been installed many times over the years - sometimes reinstalled because of a new PC, or reinstalling the OS, or because a mod wouldn't uninstall properly, or just to play it again after uninstalling it to save space. System Shock 2 has probably been installed 10-15 times, so you can see why I would never want to be stuck with a game with limited activations! I simply want to find a service where any games I buy will still be available to me in ten years. GamersGate said the publishers would regard that as excessive if I had bought the game from them, and they would have refused to keep activating it."
Update 1 June 2010: We have relented slightly after various polite emails from GamersGate, and removed the crap score they had been awarded for refusing to respond. CCS is nothing if not fair, and we actually want to find and promote good services. So their current score is now 3 instead of 4 craps: one crap for having multiple forms of DRM, sometimes on the same game; one crap for having limited activations on some games; and one crap for not enabling customers to easily find out how the games they want to buy have been hobbled. GamersGate could easily reduce their crap score further by: 1. Making sure every game listed the forms of DRM on it, including what that type means and whether there were limited actviations (and if so how many). 2. Make all of that a search criteria. 3. Allow publishers to choose between online activation or DRM-free but not limit the number of times a customer can install their game. (At least then you would have access to your games as long as GamersGate existed). 4. Saying that all games could only use one form of DRM, their own. Each step would improve things; if step 4 was achieved then they would get the same score as GOG. I.e. zero crap!

GamersGate's current score:








Steam

Native DRM: There is no obvious information about DRM on the Steam site, which is already a warning sign. However it seems to be the case that you have to install a Steam client and be online to activate a game. Therefore, as with GamersGate, you can't install the game if your Internet connection is down or if you want to play it on a PC without an Internet connection; and if Steam ever disappears as a service then you will never be able to install any of your games again.

Additional publisher DRM: Steam also allows publishers to add their own DRM on top of those restrictions. So games bought from them may include limited activations.

Are there activation limits? On some games, but it is not clear which.

Can a game be kept on your PC and installed without going online? No. So there is no future-proof solution for if Steam ever disappears.

Can you find out about the DRM? No. Unfortunately it appears to be impossible to find out if there are limitations such as finite activations (and if so, how many) or online-only requirements (e.g. Ubisoft's) before purchase. There are no filters for searching based on these criteria. Some games have extra bits of description but it is confusing. Mass Effect 2 mentions registration codes and activation - is that a separate activation with EA Games or is it the Steam activation? How does it work? GTA IV says 'Initial activation requires Internet connection' - but Steam already does that - or does this mean you also have to activate the game with the publisher too? How many times can that be done? Can the publisher halt your activation even if you have paid for the game? There are just too many unanswered questions here.

Can you contact them easily? No. There is no 'contact us' email address. You can only contact them by opening a support account. That is rather crappy customer service - why should a potential customer with questions have to put up with barriers, creating new accounts and recording details just to ask a question? Then jumping through hoops to close the account if they decide not to use the service. You even have to wait for emails to activate an account just so that you can send them an email!

Other: Games get patched automatically, whether you want them to be or not. Some patches change games in ways you don't like, or break other features - forcing updates on customers is not very flexible (two examples - changing the Michael Jackson zombie in Plants Vs Zombies, and changing the ending of Portal) . Also if you want to play games offline you have to manually select that option for every game - it should be the default option. You have to use their Steam download manager - no choices there. Fianlly, even if a game maker wants it to be DRM-free (as many indie-devs do), then they can't do that with Steam.

Conclusion so far: The lack of information on restrictions makes the service impossible to use if you want to avoid two levels of restrictive DRM. The lack of openness of Steam (e.g. no email address) suggests that they are not customer-focussed.

Update 21 May 2010: We went through the hassle of creating a Steam Support account just so that we could contact them. We did that on 15th May. They replied four days later with this:

"Thank you for contacting Steam Support. Thank you for taking the time to report this issue. We are aware of the problem and are investigating the issue further. For news regarding the latest updates and patches, please check the SteamPowered News page"

Are they taking the piss? We didn't report an issue, we asked them for information about their policies and pointed them to the blog! Obviously Steam Support does not even read their customers' emails, they just bash out standard responses which are nothing to do with the issue. So they gain a crap for providing a clueless customer service; one crap for having multiple forms of DRM, sometimes on the same game; one crap for having limited activations on some games; one crap for forcing people to create a separate account just to contact them (little good that it does!); and one crap for not enabling customers to easily find out how the games they want to buy have been hobbled.


Update 30 May 2010: Later that day (21st May) they replied after we had complained to them about their first response. The anonymous Steam staff member said: "I accidentally pasted a response I had sent to a previous customer into your ticket and hit reply." They also said they would forward our questions on to another team to answer. Nine days later and they still haven't bothered to reply. We have asked them to close our Steam account, there is no way we would ever support a company that offers such crap service to customers.

Update 11 June 2010: Steam ignored our request on 30th May to close the account and stop storing our personal details in accordance with data protection guidelines. They obviously don't care about such issues. What a Steaming pile of crap.

Steam's current score:








Direct2Drive

Native DRM: Games have to go online during installation to activate them (so you can't install the game if your Internet connection is down or if you want to play it on a PC without an Internet connection; and if Direct2Drive ever disappears as a service then you will never be able to install any of your games again). Not ideal. By default there are limited activations too, which is a massive turn-off.

Additional publisher DRM: It is not clear from the site whether Direct2Drive allow publishers to add EXTRA DRM on top of this.

Are there activation limits? By default there are limited activations.

Can a game be kept on your PC and installed without going online? No. So there is no future-proof solution for if Direct2Drive ever disappears.

Can you find out about the DRM? Unfortunately it appears to be impossible to find out if there are limitations such as finite publisher activations (and if so, how many) or online-only requirements before purchase. None of the games we checked mentioned this at all.

Can you contact them easily? No. There is no 'contact us' email address. You can only contact them by opening a support account. As with Steam, that is crappy customer service barriers to - (potential) customers. We created an account and selected 'general questions' - and even then there were fields that were not relevant such as 'Direct2Drive email address', yet they had been made mandatory. Extremely poor.

Other: You have to use their download manager - no choices there.

Conclusion so far: The lack of information on restrictions makes the service impossible to use if you want to avoid two levels of restrictive DRM. The lack of openness (e.g. no email address) suggests that they are not customer-focussed.

Update 21 May 2010: We went through the hassle of creating a D2D support account just so that we could contact them. We did that on 15th May. They have not bothered to respond at all. So they gain a crap for having either inept or uncaring Customer Service; one crap for having limited activations on all games; one crap for forcing people to create a separate account just to contact them (little good that it does!); and one crap for not enabling customers to easily find out how the games they want to buy have been hobbled.

Update 30 May 2010: They closed our support ticket unanswered. There is no way we would ever recommend a company that offers such a crap service to customers.

Update 11 June 2010: D2D ignored our request on 30th May to close the account: "Please close this support account. There is no point to it since you ignore requests sent through it." They are still storing our personal details against data protection guidelines. They obviously don't care about such issues. They are on the way to earning a 5th crap.

Update 12 June 2010: We received a response from D2D, but ONLY to our request to have our support account closed, since they don't offer it as an option. They said: "There is no account to shut down. There are no accounts attached to the email address used. To remove yourself from the database simply change your email address to a false email address at https://login.direct2drive.com/ and remove any personal information you may have provided."

The problem is that they are confused by their own systems, showing how overly-complex they have made them. We never created an account at
https://login.direct2drive.com/ or even mentioned that site. Though it is interesting that they don't even enable customers to close those accounts, which implies that their data retention policies are illegal and their data management systems are archaic.

The account we asked them to close was the support one at http://supportcenteronline.com/ - on this one there isn't even an option to change the registered details, let alone close the account. Crap systems, and a customer services team who either ignore questions or completely misinterpret them. Utter crap. Could they be any worse?

Update 14 June 2010: After pointing out that their response had been nonsense, they replied with: "Your support account will not be shut down until it's classified as no longer in use by the system. We do not retain any information from that account. We would be unable to shut that down for you."

This is not a very clear response, but seems to imply that not only are they unable to delete an account from their system (showing that they have built or bought a crap support system) but they the accounts close automatically after a certain (undefined) period of non-use: hardly helpful to their customers. Then they blatantly lied by saying "We do not retain any information from that account". Names and email addresses are 'personal information'.

Direct2Drive's current score:








Get Games

Native DRM: All games require online activation, via one of three methods.

Additional publisher DRM: The site implies that some games require Steam as well. It is a bit uclear.

Are there activation limits? On some games, but it is not clear which.

Can you find out about the DRM? There is a brief FAQ. However it is not clear. Some games have the name of a DRM system but no information on how it works e.g. Aliens Vs Predator 3 says 'Steamworks', Alpha Protocol says 'Uniloc', yet Necrovision says nothing at all. What is the difference for the consumer with all these?
Can a game be kept on your PC and installed without going online? No. So there is no future-proof solution for if Get Games ever disappears.

Can you contact them easily? Yes. After a quick filter you have the option of filling in a form. Full marks there.

Other: They also have games which are older but good, making sure that they are not lost for good: bonus marks there.

Conclusion so far: We'll see what they say when we contact them.

Update 15 May 2010: Get Games were the first to reply and were obviously interested in to suggestions and discussion. The fact that they made it easy to contact them means that they are definitely very responsive and open. Amongst aother things they said: "it is really interesting to get your perspective on what is good / bad / and needs better explanation. We are pretty new as a game service and consider where we are at as an open beta. In terms of content - our focus is on quality games rather than quantity of games [...] Going back to your point about explaining in a more clear fashion the DRM for each game and what the consumer is entering into when making a purchase > that is a really good point and I can see where we need to improve on that immediately. Please stay in touch and throw questions / issues my way as we do want to succeed as a company, but to do that we have to earn people's support." We will follow up this discussion.

Update 21 May 2010: Get Games had emailed us a few times as part of a discussion of these issues, so they are a company that listens and responds. It is a shame that they do not just use one form of DRM with unlimited activations and make it clear how it works - if they did we would promote them equally with GOG.

Based on our scoring system we have to award one crap for having multiple forms of DRM; one crap for having limited activations on some games; and one crap for not enabling customers to easily find out how the games they want to buy are restricted.

Hopefully two of those issues are being worked on and we can remove the bad marks for them in the near future. We feel that currently their score is more accurately a 2.5 crap than a 3 crap, but they don't sell crap by the half bucket at our local shops.

Get Games' current score:








Impulse

Native DRM: Impulse uses a client as a form of DRM (since you have to have it on your PC to download and install games). In their email to us (15th June 2010) they said the Impulse client is for "facilitating a secure download from our CDN servers to the user's PC after validating their user account credentials. Customers have the ability to create an archive of the game on their PC, move it to another PC, burn the archive to a disc, etc. Impulse is required to unarchive/reinstall the game, but it does not need to be online." This implies that you can install a game if your Internet connection is down or if you want to play it on a PC without an Internet connection, so that if Impulse ever disappears as a service then you will still be able to install any games you had already, not tied to just your current PC. However because it ties things to the Impulse client it is not clear whether you could install the client itself if the Impulse service disappeared (e.g. if the Impulse client requires connection to the server as part of its installation) - if not then the text above is incorrect, and you actually wouldn't be able to install the games you had bought.

On top of this, some games require online activation: "some Stardock products require activation over the Internet to use their enhanced versions"; "Internet access is required for activation of appropriate products purchased through our online store" (text from here). However there appears to be no way of finding out which games don't require activation.

Additional publisher DRM: Impulse allow publishers to host games on their system with additional DRM such as strict activation limits (e.g. restrictive software by 2K Games, EA and Ubisoft).

Are there activation limits? See 'Native DRM' above. Yes, on some games.

Can a game be kept on your PC and installed without going online? See 'Native DRM', above. So it is not yet clear whether there is a future-proof solution for if Impulse ever disappears.

Can you find out about the DRM? Can a customer exclude games with extra DRM from results lists? No. In their email to us (15th June 2010) they told us about the information they do provide though: "Generally speaking if nothing is listed in the "Protection" field on one of our product pages, then the game is DRM free. As an example, you can see on the Prince of Persia - The Forgotten Sands page (http://www.impulsedriven.com/popfs) that we list "Ubisoft’s Online Services Platform" as the Protection method; also for Capcom's Dark Void Zero (http://www.impulsedriven.com/darkvoidzero) we list that the game uses "SecuROM Activation (Unlimited Activations w/Revocation)". This is a start, though at present is unsatisfactory because the description does not link to information telling you what "Ubisoft’s Online Services Platform" or "SecuROM Activation (Unlimited Activations w/Revocation)" actually means. Does the latter one mean the game needs activating with an online connection? Can it be done limited times by default, but unlimited times if you use a piece of revocation software each time? Or is it online activation but as many times as you want (as long as the server exists) with no need for a revocation tool? Impulse added that "Whenever possible we list what DRM is in use on our product pages, including any set limitations (please note that this information is not always available to us, so we do the best we can based on what we can turn up)" but to be fair if Impulse wanted they could insist that the information has to be given by the publisher if Impulse are to host the game - anything less is unsatisfactory for their customers.

Can you contact them easily? Yes. We found an email address for pre-sales after digging around their web pages, so currently the ideal of a support email address on the first page is not achieved. In their email to us (15th June 2010) they said: "as to the ease of obtaining Impulse support, we're currently working to streamline this process. All of our customers may obtain official support from emailing support@stardock.com; many of us also are available on our IRC server (irc.stardock.com) in the #stardock channel." So all in all their customer service looks to be extremely good. We had made a comment below about our first email to them being prudishly bounced back due to the word 'crap' as part of the URL of our blog post, but because Impulse then replied so quickly and courteously we have removed that section now.

Other: A downside is that you have to have special Stardock software installed in order to get any games you have bought, or to install them. This is an unnecessary irritation. Also a search for games found some interesting ones - but when clicked on we were confronted with this:




A search for Prince of Persia - 6 results, but then you realise from the icons on the right that you can't buy any of them from Impulse, even though some of the games have been available in the UK for 8 years...

So obviously Impulse allows publishers to include arbitrary regional restrictions, which is a black mark against Impulse. It is a further irritation that the games show up in searches if you can't buy them.

Conclusion so far: We contacted Impulse again on 18 June 2010, asking them to correct any errors in this description and to make any other comments. We did not receive a reply so assume our description is accurate.

Impulse's current score:

Based on our scoring system we have to award one crap for having multiple forms of DRM, sometimes on the same game; one crap for having limited activations on some games; and one crap for not enabling customers to easily find out how the games they want to buy are restricted.




Conclusions
Obviously DRM is a balancing issue. The ideal for the consumer is GOG (or DotEmu), but that model is unlikely to be acceptable to most publishers for new games. As such, although it is still not perfect for the consumer, it is understandable that a game bought online will - at some point - need to be activated. An acceptable middleground seems to be that any game bought online will have to be activated online on installation (invisibly to the user); or it is activated and tied to a single PC on download, and can then be installed on that PC as many times as the user wants without needing to go online (and if they change PC they go through this process again). This is a minimal form of DRM that can be accepted and understood, as long as there are no limits on how many times you can install the game you have bought. Then it is not possible to pass on bought games to anyone else (the publishers' worry), yet anyone buying a game only has to deal with minimal hassle.

Unfortunately most services seem to have multiple forms of DRM (sometimes more than one form on the same game), each working differently, whilst also including limited activations in some cases, and not making any of that clear to the consumer. Therein lies the problem. Game download services would be fine as long as they only used one form of DRM (that listed in the paragraph above), clearly laid out in how it works, and refused to let publishers complicate things with further systems. To say: "This is the system we use on our service; it is effective and fair; our customers know what they are getting; if you want us to sell your game you have to agree that this will be the only form of DRM our customers have to deal with". So far it looks like none of the online services are putting their foot down on this issue, though we would love to be proved wrong!

In the meantime if you are desperate for a bargain, with no DRM, great games, and support for charity, then the Humble Indie Bundle is where you should spend your money. CCS paid £34.52 for the games in order to support such a great initiative. Many other developers will sell you their games with no DRM at all: as well as the Humble Indie Bundle, CCS recently bought Machinarium, World of Goo, Osmos, The Path and Fatale. So in many cases it is best to buy the games direct.

We are really pleased with all the emails people have sent us, including their own examples or thoughts on this issue. Keep sending them in! This is obviously an issue many people care about.

Update 16 May 2010: The great guys who developed Osmos said in an email to us: "Now that we've shipped a game DRM-free we'll never go back -- definitely the way to go. (DRM is like trying to swim upstream... a waste of energy. ;-)" Please support them!

Update 30 May 2010: Steam and Direct2Drive never even bothered to answer our questions about their DRM systems and how they work. As such, even though when we first thought of doing a blog on this subject we started out really looking forward to signing up to all these services, we now won't be doing it when it is clear that their customer services are so... crap. Whilst they are not open about DRM and allow systems that are unfair to the purchaser there is too much potential for problems, and since they don't respond to questions there would be no way of resolving them. Buyer beware! This is another example of how companies with crap customer service manage to transform interested potential customers into people who have a negative opinion of them. However the other companies responded to various degrees and some seemed interested in improving (and as a result we removed some of our criticisms of them).

4 comments:

good-old-games said...

Did you mention DotEmu ?

They also provides the same godness that GOG : DRM Free games, and great customer support.
Should review them too.
http://www.dotemu.com

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!

You've changed my view on Digital Downloads store. I've bought in almost every reviewed store but i wasn't aware of such a load of crap related to DRM.

I've installed the games just once, so i wasn't aware of such an outrageous thing as limited activations and it will be evident when i reinstall the games since i have limited drive space and i already uninstalled a couple already.

I'm really shocked. How do they think it is "within reason" that we, the customers, have to ask for their permission to install the games we bought? It would be laughable if it wasn't so dumb: i would have a lot less troubles just getting an illegal copy of the game (is not THAT difficult, right?).

I was aware of the price difference between GOG games and other stores' games, but many customers talked about great customer and compatibility support from GOG so i thought "ok, it seems it's worth it". Now that i'm a lot more aware of what DRM actually looks like on many giants of digital downloads, i will recommend GOG and DotEmu whenever is possible (the only thing i miss in GOG is multilanguage option, since i buy games for my brothes too and one of them doesn't speak english).

Great review, really. This is what reviews should look like.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great article. Another big online games retailer (which is DRM agnostic) is Amazon Digital Downloads. You may consider reviewing it. I've had personal experience with it and can answer many of the review questions:
1. native DRM: None.
2. Publisher DRM: depends on the game, not always documented but many times is (and it's nice how for some games you can buy the Steam version or the DRM free version). DRM free titles: Risen (which is DRM free ONLY on Amazon), Assassin's Creed Director's Cut, Dragon Knight Saga, etc.
3. Activation limits: depending on #2 some games have those. However, Amazon's Customer Support docs clearly say that you have the right to unlimited installs and they say that if you run into activation limits you should contact Amazon and they take care of it (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_200205020_multcomp?nodeId=200205020&#multiple)

The full process to play a game.

1. Buy it from Amazon Digital Downloads store. Once bought, a downloader (and for some games a cdkey) is available on your Amazon Digital Library web page.
2. Download and run the game downloader. Each game gets its own downloader. I don't know if the downloader caches credentials (ie if you save the downloader for later use and try to run it to download the game after your Amazon account has been closed) but it doesn't require admin privileges, and doesn't install itself, all it does is download a copy of the game installation files.
3. Use the downloaded installation kit to install the game. You can backup the install kit for later/unlimited installs without any need to contact Amazon in the future. However, since some publishers may require Internet connection when their game is installed this doesn't mean that for every game there is no Internet connection required at install time (but it means Amazon doesn't require it/add that requirement)
4. Again, depending on the game, some may require activation after install or may require connections when playing etc. I've used Amazon Digital Downloads with DRM free games and it works very well (it's effectively equivalent to GOG at that point).

CCS said...

Thanks for the feedback. I'll look at dotemu and Amazon Downloads. Now that GOG sells more recent games too I'm finding that I tend to spend 90% of my money there!