So, you want to learn how people used to get new games back in the day, huh? Good. Sit down and listen, then. We’ll take a look at how things changed over the last couple decades in the department of purchasing new titles. And stuff surely has evolved. Read on!

Today, things are pretty much all digital and you download stuff from the Internet. There isn’t much effort involved, just a couple of clicks and all you need is wait and launch the game. It’s a very simple and streamlined process, although you can customize stuff like the installation folder and so on, but it’s still mostly automatic.

This wasn’t the case even, like, around fifteen years ago, though.

How it was done in the 80s

Let’s go back in time to the 1980s, shall we? The prevalent physical medium of that time was the legendary floppy disk. Its capacity wasn’t the greatest, but then again software at that time in general was tiny compared to today’s sizes (like a couple hundred kilobytes as opposed to 200 GB or something).

It was also much better than cassette tapes used by the 8-bit computers, such as Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum. Boy, was that slow and unreliable! One false move and the game would often fail to load!

Photo by Kevin Bidwell (

The popularity of floppy disks (AKA diskettes) waned over the years, of course. Programs and games were getting bigger and bigger, so the number of floppies required to install one went up, sometimes considerably.

The amount of disk juggling led to adapting much more efficient CD-ROMs instead later on in the 90s (floppy disks were still pretty common around that time, though).

What’s interesting, however – and pretty cool, actually – is that the 80s saw the first attempts at digital distribution. For example, you could rent video games for Atari 2600 via special cartridges that would connect to GameLine’s central server via your phone line and get you just the title you wanted.

Photo by 15686503 (Pixabay)

Japan had Disk Writer kiosks which let you copy a game from the selection available to your floppy disk and then enjoy it at home.

Bulletin board systems also became pretty common in the late 80s, which continued until the early 90s. The developers would often upload their demos and shareware to these along with instructions on how to purchase the full version of each piece of software.

Sometimes they would even send you a key that would then unlock the complete potential of a program or game. This would be the first actual form of digital distribution as we know it today.

Image source: Pixabay

While nothing mind-blowing, some say these were the progenitors of Steam and the like.

The above-mentioned 8-bit computers also had something pretty similar. Since the data was stored on cassette tapes, some radio stations would broadcast computer programs. If you recorded these transmissions, you could then load these pieces of software on your machine. That’s kinda cool, too!

How it was done in the 90s

The next decade brought a lot of changes.

First off, floppies died off, replaced with the much more efficient CD-ROMs. Why bother with dozens of small diskettes when you have a much bigger game or program on one disk and install it without much hassle? Naturally, software kept getting bigger and bigger, with some – or actually quite a lot of them – needing more than 1 CD, so there was still some juggling required in various cases.

Image source: Cottonbro Studio / Pexels

Installing games was also pretty simple thanks to special installation wizards that guided you through the entire process. Today it is perhaps more streamlined, but it wasn’t bad in the 90s, either.

As far as digital distribution is concerned, Internet connections ended up in many more homes at the end of the decade. Online multiplayer became available and developers, as well as game fans, were able to distribute content through their websites. Beautiful times.

Speaking of the Internet, online multiplayer became a real thing and the late 90s saw plenty of amazing titles in this department. CD-keys (or serial keys) were also widely used, primarily for anti-piracy purposes. Key generators available at the time would of course generate a new serial number, but it wouldn’t fool the online component.

It was still too early for a true revolution, though. This happened several years later.

The 2000s and the advent of full-blown digital distribution

After 2001, DVDs replaced CDs and became the prevalent physical format. No wonder, really, as they offer much more storage space and are simply more efficient. They’re actually pretty popular even to this day, although they face severe competition from VOD services and Blu-rays. The latter were supposed to supersede DVDs, but they didn’t.

This is because of the fact that online streaming services and digital distribution kicked in at the moment of this format’s release. Blu-ray players are also much more expensive than the DVD ones. This is why they’re mostly used for console games.

But the real revolution came with Steam in 2004. Alright, Stardock started experimenting with digital distribution earlier on, but it is Valve’s Steam who took over the PC game market and now controls roughly from 50% to 70% of it.

Platforms like Steam,, Epic Games Store, or Ubisoft Connect are where video game fans buy new titles, such as SpongeBob SquarePants: The Cosmic Shake. The days of typing in the CD keys manually are long gone.

The fact that digital distribution has become so ubiquitous has not only rendered traditional physical releases obsolete, but also led to the rise of marketplaces for digital goods, with the leading one being G2A.

Such platforms can be described as something along the lines of eBay, but for gamers. “We want to even the playing field,” says Piotr Radzięda from G2A. “Thanks to platforms like G2A, buyers can choose whether they want to pay the retail price or the one dictated by the market. This is something that physical marketplaces once used to do, we wanted to bring this back in the world of digital distribution,” he adds.

The things digital distribution changed, sometimes not exactly for the better

As many advantages digital distribution has, there are also some downsides to it. Back in the day, you were able to resell the games you’ve completed or don’t want anymore. Now, they are licenses tied to your account and you can’t sell or even give them to anyone.

This also means you’re at risk of losing your entire libraries in case of a data theft. Yes, digital distribution is super convenient – installation is easy and you don’t need to get out of your house (even though some exercise would be welcome) – but it comes with certain trade-offs.

Aside from, which is DRM-free, all other platforms are in fact digital rights management software. That’s how they prevent piracy, but also limit certain freedoms that gamers had earlier.

As stated earlier, console games are still available on physical disks, which means it’s possible to resell them and play them the old-fashioned way. This is probably also one of their greatest advantages: there’s no need to install or download games, you just put the disc in and start playing straight away.

And this, folks, is how things have changed when it comes to buying and installing games. As you can see, this stuff is now much more convenient and you don’t even need to go out of your house to a traditional brick-and-mortar video game store (which is especially awesome considering the fact that small towns and villages usually didn’t have one).

Still, such places had their charm. Will there be any other revolution in the future? Maybe cloud gaming will become the new trend? Time will tell, as usual.