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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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 color 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.
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 favor.)
Icon: 5. God help me, but it doesn’t look like anything else I have installed, and the bright color makes it easy to find.
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.
Icon: 0. If it’s on my desktop somewhere, I don’t want to know.