As digital distribution services like Steam, Impulse, GamersGate, Direct2Drive, and others compete to rack up as many new PC titles they can, relative newcomer Good Old Games is taking a markedly different approach: as its name suggests, the service specifically targets older titles.
Owned by Polish developer CD Projekt, known for its hit PC RPG The Witcher, GOG has made a name for itself by carving out a specific market segment and focusing on a strong and consistent level of presentation. The service eschews DRM schemes, it ensures compatibility with modern versions of Windows, and it frequently includes additional pack-ins like soundtracks and development-related materials.
Now, some nine months after going into open beta -- still the service's official status -- Gamasutra got in touch with managing director Adam Oldakowski to talk about GOG's growth, the competition, the PC market, and how the company defines "old."
Can you give any sense as to GOG's rate of growth, both in terms of the size of its library and in terms of its level of success?
Adam Oldakowski: The games catalogue at GOG is growing at a great rate; we've signed over 20 partners in the last year, which has allowed us to release over 120 games to date.
Our user base has grown steadily throughout that time and has helped us keep up a steady flow of new partners and new products. We're still adding at least two games every week. It's satisfying to see it growing and being able to release games that people have wanted to play again.
Are there any genres that are noticeably more successful than others? When I think of GOG, I often think of old-school RPGs, adventures, and strategy games.
AO: It's true that old-school RPGs and adventures are very popular among our users, but honestly we have a pretty even split between those genres and strategy games, simulations and shooters.
Games with strong brands get recognized quicker and this pushes those genres to the top -– games like Fallout and Beneath a Steel Sky are definitely among our most popular titles. It sure helps that Beneath a Steel Sky is free!
I suspect that we equate RPGs and adventure games with the "good old game" concept because those types of games have largely disappeared. You just don't see a lot of single-player-focused RPGs or classic adventure games, and I think that those genres' success at GOG, along with gamers' reactions to recent retro-oriented moves around the industry, shows that there's a definite market for them.
So how old is "old"? The original vibe was about a decade old or more, but you've had at least a few examples of much more recent games -- as recent as 2006.
AO: This is a tricky question, as there are always many ways to define what's old. Old could in theory be something from last year, as it's not at the cutting edge of games, but we tend to aim for much older games, which were either well-recognized, have strong brands, or had good scores when they were originally released. This also allows to get games that were overlooked the first time around.
In some cases our fans request newer games that we will actively pursue, or a publisher will offer us a newer title as part of a larger agreement. We're not going to say, "No, we won't take that game!" After all, given the retail market for PC games these days, even a game that’s just two years old may be difficult to find.
On that note, what's your take on the PC market? As you surely know, its health is constantly being questioned.
AO: I think it's generally healthy, but maybe it's just not being marketed as actively as it could be. In recent months, it's been good to see netbooks becoming popular and making PCs more accessible to people from different walks of life.
With the health of the PC market being compared with consoles, I think the difference is that consoles provide easy entry-level gaming, but that PC games have a depth that console games seem to lack; therefore the PC appeals more to the hardcore gamer. With the drive of casual games via outlets like Facebook and Kongregate, though, maybe the health of the hardcore gamer is at risk, and that's what really should be addressed.
What have been the challenges of launching a new digital distribution site at a time when other services like Steam and Impulse are so established?
AO: I would say the main challenge was to explain what GOG was about -– that it wasn't for new games but rather for old games, and that we wanted no DRM.
Trying to explain how we differ caused a lot of problems in the beginning, but I believe most of those problems have now disappeared; we're becoming more popular, or least acknowledged, in the market.
It's definitely still a challenge, though -– don’t get me wrong. There are still a few companies that feel, perhaps, that because we’re not yet as big as Steam, we don’t warrant a second look. I feel that we have the most dedicated and enthusiastic fans of any of the digital distribution providers, and our user base and catalogue is growing rapidly, so we should see the last few hold-outs come around soon.
Some of our users have actually purchased every single game in our catalogue, so I think it’s safe to say that if you’re a publisher and have back catalogue titles to sell, GOG is probably the best place to be.
Conversely, are there benefits to consumers already being familiar and comfortable with digital distribution by way of other services?
AO: It’s definitely helpful that digital distribution is growing in popularity, but just because consumers are aware of the medium doesn’t mean that every publisher is comfortable with it.
While there are a number of publishers that get it, we still face an uphill battle on the DRM front. There are alternatives to our service that don’t push for a DRM-free approach, but we’re trying to empathize with gamers themselves and do what they would want us to do. And gamers want us to release our games without copy protection.
And considering the fact that our games haven’t been showing up on torrent sites while the protected versions have, [it] makes us think we’re on the right path.
Do you have an estimate as to what proportion of PC gamers are mainly or entirely focused on digital at this point?
AO: Not really sure about the proportion. I would say that the gamers on GOG are more the hardcore gamer type and probably look at different sales channels, including retail, to keep their gaming needs met. It's just so hard to find anything but the latest hot PC games at retail, and that problem is only going to get worse.
One of GOG's selling points is that you present a very uniform, tested experience across your catalogue. What goes into preparing a title for release?
AO: A lot of time, lots of care, and attention to detail. Almost our whole team is involved in getting every game ready for release on GOG -- graphic artists to prepare our own wallpapers and avatars, the product team to find all the bonus materials and make sure it's well prepared, programmers and testers to ensure that the games are compatibility tested and even played all the way through.
Since we don’t have access to source code, we have to work a bit of magic to get things working properly; some games take long than others, but if we find that a game just isn’t going to work, we won’t release it.
We're constantly trying to improve the process and provide our customers with as much value for money as we can. We try to think outside the box, to get the games prepared as well as possible.
LucasArts' recent release of several classic games to Steam seems to move in on your turf a bit. Have you contacted LucasArts to try and get those releases as well?
AO: Honestly, I think we were caught a bit off guard by the Steam announcement. We are in contact with LucasArts, though, and still hope to bring their catalogue to GOG soon.
Many of their games are revered above most and our community has been very vocal about wanting their games on our site -- some of them are holding out on buying the games until they can get them through us, which makes us feel great about the product we offer.
Their games would be the perfect match with our service; games like Monkey Island and Full Throttle are among the most-requested products within our community, so we know that we could sell a lot of copies for LucasArts!
Would the remake of The Secret of Monkey Island, which is technically new, fall under the purview of GOG?
AO: The remake of The Secret of Monkey Island would probably be too new for GOG -– our community would probably want to play the original versions for that nostalgic touch. But later on, I'm sure they would want to see it on GOG anyway, as true fans of the original.
Are most of your deals sought out by GOG, or do publishers seek you out?
AO: I would say it’s a mixed bag; we're both sought out and we're constantly on the lookout for new additions to GOG. I mean, there are so many great games out there that we want to play again. It's a worthy ambition to get every game that we want on GOG.
You obviously mainly market to long-time PC gamers with a certain level of nostalgia. Do you plan to also reach out to newer consumers?
AO: Even though we market to gamers who remember these games and appreciate them so much, we're pleasantly surprised by how many people enjoy buying games from GOG, who haven't actually heard of the games we're releasing. It's very satisfying to see gamers appreciating our choices.
That being said, most people who play their games on consoles also have access to a PC or a laptop, and since our games are older and don’t have such high system requirements, we can give those people a lot of top-quality games that will work on whatever computer they have.
By offering some games for free we’re also giving people new to PC gaming a great opportunity to check things out –- Beneath a Steel Sky, Lure of the Temptress, and Teenagent are the three we currently offer, and we're looking to add more in the future.
I'm sure the immediate plan is to keep going for more games, but can you give any indication as to the long-term plan for GOG?
AO: As you've said, we want to get a lot more games on GOG, but at the same time, we want to improve many aspects of our service. We want to work closer with the community and find new ways to get our user base more involved with the games that we have.
There's still lots to do before we can even drop the "beta" sign from our logo, but we're doing our best to make it happen as soon as possible. We have some awesome deals in the works that should be announced within the next month or two, so at least on the games front we’re going to be making people very, very happy.
Beyond that, we do have plans to expand what we do, but for now we’re focusing on doing what we set out to do: become the premier destination for fans of classic PC games.