There are a variety of excellent gaming platforms and services available to players in 2021. Here’s a rundown of the best of the bunch. Whether you’re looking for a classic arcade experience, a blockbuster gaming thrill-ride or a casual game of cards, there’s something here for everyone.
This service is broadly considered to be the most comprehensive and fully featured gaming platform available on personal computers. Steam is a gaming web-store and community created and operated by Valve, the developers behind the critically acclaimed Half Life series. Founded in 2003 at a time when download oriented game stores were still somewhat of a novelty, Steam has since expanded to offer versions of its client for both the Linux and Macintosh ecosystems. While there are plenty of similar products in the space, nothing rivals Steam’s depth of integration and hard earned reputation among the gaming community. The platform serves as a review aggregator for the latest titles, a community forum for its users, an integrated chat client and a game launcher all in one simple package. No wonder that Valve’s platform now boasts 95 million active users. As of 2021, purchases redeemed through Steam account for over 75% of all digital games sales on computers, making it the premier location to shop for games on Windows, with 34,000 titles on offer.
Poker is among the most popular card games in the world. The modern game has its origins in 19th century America and has come to be a dominant force in contemporary culture, though it’s been around in various forms for hundreds of years, descending from the 17th century Persian game As-Nas. With the advent of the 21st century this flexible game has adapted to the times and is now most commonly played online.PokerStars is one among several established services providing a venue for online poker. Their client has good cross-compatibility, being available to play on mobile devices running iOS or Android, as well as Macintosh and Windows computers. It has a range of match-types and rule sets available, as well as integrated leader-boards and games always available to join on-demand across popular variants such as Omaha and Texas Hold’Em.
There’s nothing else quite like Roblox out there. Founded in 2006, Roblox is a collaborative gaming platform. Centered on some simple Lego-like graphics and sandbox game mechanics, Roblox is focused on empowering its players to design and create their own games using its simplified programming toolkit. Due to this, Roblox currently boasts a directory of 18 million games and counting, with everything available to play from races to restaurant simulators, Call of Duty inspired shooters to Avengers themed platformers. The platform even has its own currency, the Robux, which is actively traded among its 120 million active users for access to specific games and custom items. Roblox’s developers have big ambitions for the game service, which became a publicly traded company in March 2021 valued at $30 billion, with intentions to expand the scope of Roblox to become something akin to a virtual reality social network and venue. To this end the service was host to a virtual in-game concert by Rapper Lil Nas X in 2020 which drew a record breaking crowd of 33 million people.
Global streaming platform Plex is traditionally known for sharing popular television series and movies from some of the largest entertainment studios, including Lionsgate, MGM and Warner Bros. If you know them for this, news of their latest venture to become the Netflix of retro gaming may come as a bit of a surprise. Plex has teamed up with Atari, the legendary computer hardware and gaming company that kicked off the home gaming revolution in 1977 with their immensely popular Atari 2600, which sold 30 million units worldwide. Their new joint offer is Plex Arcade. This service offers users unbridled access to an enormous library of classic Atari 2600, 5200 and Lynx titles, like Sky Raider and Missile Command, for a subscription of $2.99 a month. You can play on any mobile device, or stream to a TV and enjoy gaming with your favorite Bluetooth controller. Plex’s flexible media server also allows users to side-load their favorite video game ROMs onto the platform, effectively transforming Plex Arcade into a comprehensive emulator.
Facebook Instant Games is a HTML5 focused gaming service from Facebook launched in 2016. It can be accessed on the company’s main website and app, or launched through their popular chat service, Facebook Messenger. Many of these games will be well known to players as they are readily available elsewhere on the internet and as downloadable apps through Apple and Google’s mobile stores, with titles available from established development studios like Bandai Namco and Zynga on offer. The distinct advantage in electing to play these games from within Facebook’s Instant Games is the social integration angle. Instant Games gives you the ability to launch a multiplayer game, such as the popular Scrabble style game Words With Friends Frenzy, right from within your active chat threads making for a near frictionless gaming experience. The service also promotes friendly competition with friends over traditionally single player titles, like arcade classic Pac-Man, by offering high-score leaderboards that you can post and share among your chosen rivals for each title.
Launched back in 2019, Google Stadia is one among a new generation of cloud gaming services like Microsoft’s Project XCloud and Nvidia’s GeForce Now that offer the prospect of high quality, lag free gaming to any device with a stable internet connection. These services work by streaming footage of the game you’re playing to your device from a remote top specification gaming computer that does the leg work of running the game at high performance for you. This frees up the end user to experience playing high quality modern games without requiring a gaming computer of their own, or comparably powerful gaming console like the new PlayStation 5. Stadia can be played on any device with a web-browser, even your smartphone, meaning you can play triple ‘A’ titles, like CD Projekt’s new sci-fi open world title Cyberpunk 2077, wherever you are. The Stadia brand offers its own custom Bluetooth game-pad to purchase, but you can plug and play with any Bluetooth enabled controller at your disposal. Future integrations for Stadia include deeper connectivity with YouTube for Esports gaming, and ongoing additions to its growing library of next generation titles to play, including Destiny 2 and DiRT.