With a name like Good old Games, chances are you haven't heard of GOG.com unless you're an old school gamer. These guys may digitally distribute old titles but they do so DRM free because like us, they're a bunch of gamers who just want to play games. We sit down for a rather long chat with Lukasz Kukawski, Marketing Manger at GOG.com who takes us through this website's history, its goals and future plans.
So how was GOG born? What's your USP?
The concept of offering old games to gamers had long been germinating in the minds of CD Projekt's management. You have to know that GOG.com is part of the CD Projekt RED group of companies that also includes CD Projekt RED development studio, the creators of the acclaimed RPG franchise The Witcher. CD Projekt started their business as retail distributor of games in Poland in mid-90's. One of the company's biggest successes on the Polish gaming market, which was heavily pirated at that time, was introducing a budget series of classic PC games to Polish gamers.
With such experience in this segment on the Polish market, an idea about conquering the worldwide audience was just a matter of time. Sometime around 2007 they started to form a concept of digital distribution service that would offer classic PC games for cheap and optimized to run on modern operating systems. Many games aren't available anywhere to buy legally and even if you own them you'd have lots of issues running them on modern computers.
So the next couple of months were strictly dedicated to analyzing the digital distribution market, expanding the concept of the service and preparing the design and programming side of the project. At first the team was a small group of designers and web-developers, but it quickly grew into a group of 20 people including more designers and developers, business development people, a band of support/testers and some marketing folks. With two acclaimed publishers on board, Interplay and Codemasters, we were ready to announce the service in June 2008. We launched a closed beta in September and finally opened the service for everyone in October. Since then we've finished the 2-year beta stage, signed more than 40 partners (publishers and developers) and released more than 350 classic games.
As for what differs GOG from other digital distribution platforms there are couple of things. First what you will notice is the offering – we only sell acclaimed classic titles like Baldur's Gate, the Gabriel Knight series, Wing Commander, Duke Nukem 3D, Fallout, Dungeon Keeper, and many many more. The second very important thing is the lack of any copy protection (also known as DRM) at all in our games. This means if you buy a game at GOG it's yours. We don’t try to control what you do with your game. You can install it on any computer you own, back it up on a CD or HDD, play it without an Internet connection—it’s game ownership like it used to be in the old days. But that's not all, if you use other digital distribution services you will notice that prices are different for different parts of the world. On GOG you have the same prices worldwide, no matter where you live, be it USA or India or Finland, you'll always pay $5.99 USD for Alpha Centauri or $9.99 USD for The Witcher. Sounds like the best digital distribution experience there can be? We like to think so! If you want to see if you agree with us, feel free to visit GOG, create an account, download 6 free games and check for yourself if we're doing it right.
Considering you guys are called Good old Games, would you consider bringing in new titles through the service?
GOG.com was created with the idea of finding a niche in digital distribution market and developing it. For GOG that niche are classic PC games. If you're looking for new AAA releases in digital distribution you'll most likely go to Steam and get it there. Steam is the biggest and by far the best place on the internet to buy new PC titles. But if you're looking for games that are a bit older, aren't easily available in stores, and that still represent a great value for gamers, you should check the GOG catalogue as our goal is to be the ultimate source for PC classics.
Going for the new titles would mean we're leaving our niche and joining all the other digital distribution services out there. Going for a direct competition with Steam and others would somehow dilute our initial idea and our uniqueness. And we'd have to change the name of the site. Also you have to remember that with time even today's blockbuster games will finally become Good Old Games, so maybe we'll see them in a couple years at GOG as well.
Don't expect Crysis 2 on GOG anytime soon
Is it a company policy to distribute only DRM free games? Have you had any issues convincing publishers to go the DRM free route on GOG?
Well, we just don't like DRM. We're gamers as well, and as gamers we'd like to be treated fair and not like potential criminals. If you bought a legal copy of the game you shouldn't be checked on every step via online authentication, CD check, code verification, etc. if the game you're playing is really yours. If you pirate the game, you don't have to deal with all those inconveniences as you download already cracked versions of software. This means the only ones who are affected by the hassle DRM are the legitimate customers.
Second thing is that if we wanted to sell old games, which are in most cases already available on different abandonware sites, we had to convince people that it's worth buying those classics instead of downloading them for free. To do that we guarantee that our copy of the game is legal, you don't have to worry if there's a virus instead of for example Ultima game, and it's compatible with modern Windows machines. Also providing a 100% DRM-free game we make it a hassle-free experience – so you can install GOG games on all computers you own, back them up on a CD or play them on a laptop while you're off-line (i.e. in a plane).
The DRM-free approach also differs us from other digital distribution platforms. Today's gamers are very internet-dependent while using digital distribution services. If today one of the services like Steam or Direct2Drive went down, because of different reasons, thousands of users would be left without any access to their games. Because we're selling games without DRM you don't need our service to be on-line all the time and you can still play those great classics. Of course you need to have the installer backed up on a CD or local drive.
To sum it all up, we're against DRM as we believe there are better ways to fight piracy. We think that you need to give gamers incentives to spend their hard earned money on your product rather than punish them for doing that. GOG is one of the factors that started the DRM discussion in the industry and it's an example that not having restrictive copy protection doesn't have to mean huge growth of piracy. Let's hope more companies will follow the lead.
How has GOG's journey been so far in the digital space what with Steam picking up, well lots of steam (pardon the pun).
It's been really good I must say. GOG.com is only 3 years on the market and we've already managed to become the top 3 digital distribution service in the world, and signed almost 50 partners including such big names like Electronic Arts, Activision, Ubisoft, Interplay, to release their games DRM-free. During this short time period we've set up a brand that is recognizable by gamers all around the world, we've managed to revive tenths of classic franchises for the new and old generations of gamers, popularized the DRM-free approach to digital distribution and what's best we're still growing very dynamically and have plenty of ideas for how to make the service even better. It's been 3 really great years for us and there are many even more successful years ahead of us.
Both you and Steam had adopted the same price point for The Witcher 2. Were you worried people would buy it only from Steam?
Thanks to a close cooperation with CD Projekt RED, who are working in the office next to ours, we managed to prepare a really special package for The Witcher 2 on GOG.com, that we believed was the best offer gamers could get online. First of all you didn't have to pay upfront for the pre-order. If you decided to get the pre-order for The Witcher 2 on GOG, your package included: DRM-free game, access to some The Witcher stuff for free before the release of the game, 10% discount, 1 of 5 classic RPGs from GOG.com, and a stack of goodies including soundtrack, wallpapers, game guide and artbook exclusive for GOG in digital distribution! We also introduced a “fair price package” to compensate the price differences between the game price in Euro and USD – so customers who pay for the game in Euro get $16 USD in codes that they can redeem at GOG on some classic games. Bringing the best offer to our users is our main goal.
The Witcher 2
So how do you pick the games to sell? Is it decided by the staff or do you leave it up to the community?
The games we release on GOG.com have to, or at least we hope they do, fulfill requirements that result from the name of the service: Good Old Games. First of all games can't be new releases. As a rule we've picked that our games should be at least 3 years old, so they can be released on GOG and there's no end point for that meaning if our community would like a game from early 80's, we wouldn't mind to release it. As for the “good” part, that's a bit tougher as it's pretty subjective for everyone what is good and what is bad – we all have our own taste. That's why we're trying to bring back games that were critically acclaimed by gamers and journalists, but also those that for different reasons (bad marketing, unfortunate release date, etc.) haven't achieved huge commercial success, but still are considered by many as cult games.
There's also the nostalgic factor which cannot be validated in any way. Some games just have something that makes our hearts beat stronger when we see them or hear the main music theme. If you feel this, looking at old, text only Zork games, that means it's a classic for you. You can't reasonably explain it, you just feel it.
We do also consider what our community wants to see on GOG. There is a wanted list where our users can vote on the most wanted games. We keep an eye on that list and try to get as many games from the top of it, but as you probably know sometimes it's really difficult to obtain the rights for some of the titles as the rights for them are often scattered among couple companies or it's very difficult to find the rights owners, etc. But no matter what, we're doing our best to bring all those great classics back to gamers.
What's next on the cards for GOG?
Unfortunately I can't reveal the surprises we're preparing for you. You can be sure that we'll be bringing more great PC classics (at least one new release a week) and keep improving the service itself with new features.
Thank you for your time.
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