Steam makes it easy to collect games, but as a tool for maintaining a collection it suffers from a few shortcomings. It's not much use for cataloging Infocom classics, say, or that Splinter Cell special edition that came in a metal lunchbox, and some die-hard collectors—people who'll pass on a game because the packaging is just a little too banged up—may not consider "owning" a game on Steam the same as having it parked in a place of pride on a shelf.
That's where Darkadia comes in. It's a website that simplifies the process of organizing and tracking videogame collections with a substantial degree of control and detail. Darkadia also makes it easy to show off collections to other gamers around the world: I've got 170 digital boxes arranged in glorious rows on my Darkadia shelves—not the entirety of my collection, but a solid start—and man, they look good.
Darkadia is the brainchild of Rob Schmitt, a self-described tech geek and retro gamer who came up with the idea shortly after he "discovered" Steam back in 2010. "A Steam sale was on and I impulse bought a couple of games that it turned out I already had sitting on the shelf at home. The idea was borne of a system designed to help you manage a sometimes disparate game collection," he explained. "At the same time, I was playing around with a few interface concepts I'd been wanting to prototype in my day job as a web developer. A few months later that tech concept had become Darkadia."
Darkadia takes advantage of Giant Bomb's huge database of videogames, which includes more than 30,000 individual titles, making it very easy to add games to a collection: Just search for the title, then select "Add to your library." Database entries include a wide range of relevant data plus user ratings, reviews, and cover art, and once a game is in a collection, it's possible to go even further with user-specific details.
It's also very pretty, with digital game box covers lined up in rows along on-screenshelves. This is the part of the package that faces the world, and Schmitt goes to great lengths to make it stand out from sites burdened with "depressing aesthetics and clunky and confusing user interfaces," like that of the text-heavy, icon-laden Backloggery. Darkadia is simple and uncluttered, using a virtual shelf to display front-facing game boxes, and while there are obvious similarities to GOG's layout, there's "no better metaphor for displaying your games," Schmitt said. There are a couple of pared-back list options for users who "prefer a little less skeuomorphism," but there's no question that the shelf looks the best, and that's where the focus is.
It's well-optimized for mobile browsers, too, with a clean, properly-proportioned interface and simple drop-down menus. The mobile layout is one of the most practically useful aspects of the site. PC gamers may not spend much time browsing retail shelves these days, but yard sales are fertile ground for collectors, and also the reason I have three copies of Fallout 2 in various states of completion. It's a great game, sure, but after awhile this stuff starts to eat up serious amounts of space.
"If you're out and about buying games, it's handy to be able to reference which games you already own," Schmitt said. "It'd obviously be better as a stand-alone mobile app, but that's one of those future ideas shelved for when (if) ever the service becomes really popular."
Darkadia is free, but supporters can opt to sign up for a higher level of service called Darkadia Pro . For $10 per year, it offers support for multiple copies of a game within the same collection, will allow subscribers to set up multiple independent shelves—an option Schmitt hopes to have in place by the winter—and of course does away with ads. None of those features are liable to attract a flood of new users, but that's not the point.
"Darkadia has a core of loyal users who are also serious collectors. They spend hours on the site carefully inputting their game data. The Pro features as they stand target them specifically, especially the ability to separately input data for multiple copies of any game they may own," he explained. "I'd ideally like to add some Pro features that target a wider audience though.”
That "wider audience" consist of people like me, who aren't necessarily "serious collectors" but who could stand a little more organization in their lives. I have two copies each of Rayman Raving Rabbids, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood and Tom Clancy's HAWX, not because I'm a big fan of any of them but because I saw them cheap somewhere and, lost in the intoxicating aroma of a bargain, forgot that I'd previously purchased them. If I'd had Darkadia in my pocket, I could've saved myself some bucks, and the indignity of being saddled with not just one, but two copies of HAWX.
Regardless of how Darkadia Pro develops, the core service will remain free, and Schmitt says he intends to continue adding features to the free version as well as Darkadia Pro. "The site's been a labor of love all these years, so I doubt I could ever bring myself to pull the plug," he said.
The next big upgrade to the site will focus on its community features through the addition of a forum and friend features, and he's also working on a "game discovery engine" that will use various metrics to create a list of suggested games that individual Darkadia users might find suited to their tastes.
I like the idea of increased and easier interaction with my fellow collectors, even if my PC exclusivity sometimes marks me as a weirdo among weirdos. But even if Darkadia was to remain just as it now, it's still an invaluable tool, as much for people who don't obsess over the condition of their first-print copy of Mystery House as those who do. It offers flexible management options with minimal effort, it's effective from anywhere, and if you ever want to show off your stuff to your fellow gamers, it's just as easy as providing a link, like this one: http://darkadia.com/member/Malygris/library .
Call me weird if you will, but I find it deeply satisfying to look at that and think, “Yup. All mine.” If you're a collector, even just a casual one, this is a site you should be taking advantage of.