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In-Depth: GOG's Monk Fiasco And The Fight For Publicity
In-Depth: GOG's Monk Fiasco And The Fight For Publicity
September 24, 2010 | By Kris Graft

September 24, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

[Gamasutra senior news editor Kris Graft talks to Good Old Games' management amid the aftermath of the monk fiasco, and ponders the axiom, "any publicity is good publicity."]

"There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary." -- Brendan Behan, Irish poet

If there's one lesson that the video game industry can learn this week, it's not to piss off the hardcore 1990s PC gaming fan that gets his sub-$10 DRM-free retro games through digital distribution platforms.

And if you try to make amends dressed as monks, don't be surprised if some pockets of the internet go from Bruce Banner to The Incredible Hulk.

We can thank digital distribution website Good Old Games for this valuable lesson, as this past week, management for the CD Projekt-owned company decided to turn the technical necessity of shutting down the website for a couple days into a marketing stunt.

I sincerely hope that the guys at GOG can eventually look back and laugh at their admitted missteps in this ploy, but I can just imagine the meeting:
GOG Guy 1: "Well we have to shut down our service- and community-focused website for a couple days to launch out of this two-year long beta -- let's just pretend we're closed for good and drum up some press."

GOG Guy 2: [Deletes boring ol' GOG press release.] "Sounds like a great idea!"

Maybe it really was a great idea, maybe it wasn't; we'll look at that in a minute. (Although this whole fiasco has left me wondering what would happen if Google or Facebook pretended to shut down for a couple days. "Psyche!") co-founder Marcin Iwinski and managing director Guillaume Rambourg found some time to speak with me following the monk apology. They both were still referring to each other as "Brother Guillaume" and "Brother Marcin."

But even though they were willing to make fun of themselves, Rambourg described a "stressful" environment that he said came from both the relaunch and the public relations shitstorm caused by the marketing scheme.

"I think we underestimated the fact that users were so much relying on the platform to access the game they had purchased," he said in a phone call from Poland. "We clearly underestimated this risk."

"I think more and more games are becoming internet-dependent," he added. "...We simply misjudged the fact that our users possibly were not fully aware of the fact that you can come back and enjoy the games many times."

Even though in hindsight many of us can look back at the ballsy marketing ploy and judgmentally scream "What were you thinking?!", I can totally see why GOG might have initially seen this as a harmless joke being played not on fans, but with them.

All of GOG's games are DRM-free, so you don't need to be connected to the service to play them -- once you download the files they're yours. And even though GOG's "closure" was announced, the company did say that it would return in the same week with some unspecified solution to let users re-download their games.

If anything, it's a great argument for DRM-free games, because in the event that GOG were to shut down for real, you'd still be able to play the games you bought from the service. So a little joke would entail no harm, no foul, right?

Well, not completely. On the web, purported GOG users claimed they were really angry because they couldn't access their games for a couple days. I'm not sure why this is -- the games I bought off GOG I downloaded to my hard drive. Maybe a lot of people bought games and didn't download them, then when they finally got a hankerin' to play the games they bought, they went to and saw that the website was down? I suppose that's one possible scenario...

I think a more likely reason for the furore is that people -- users and the press -- were upset because they felt like they were being jerked around, that they were the butt of a joke played by a company that's supposed to be about service and community. But the people that are truly upset, the ones that are promising never, ever to return to GOG, are in a niche of a niche -- a very vocal minority. Rambourg agrees.

"Looking at the traffic we are having right now on the site, I think it's fair to say that [the people who are upset are] a minority," he said. "But they're a very important minority. People get pissed off when something happens to something that's important to them. So of course we are more to blame here but I think we'll be able to convince them to come back."

So the big question is did this stunt work? I believe that this will be successful in making a new audience aware of -- I've seen a few people comment that they had never heard of the website before this week. And they drummed up this publicity at pretty much zero financial cost (not too sure how much the monk getups cost, though).

Talking to Rambourg and Iwinski, I can tell they love their customers and love the games, and wanted to spice up what they feel is a "boring" industry. I can also tell they meant no harm or ill will. But with its antics, GOG management risked alienating the press and its user base, many of whom supported the company in some shape or form since its inception in 2008. Iwinski reiterated in our phone interview that GOG wanted to play a "game" with customers and media, and implied that it was kind of customers' fault that they didn't "get" the joke -- probably not the best thing to say when trying to win back trust.

And I think that GOG underestimated the fervor of its supporters by thinking it had to stage such a stunt in order to break through the noise. The new website has some slick new features, and the release of Baldur's Gate and its expansion is great news for old school PC game fans -- the announcement could have stood on its own. Surely there was a better way to fight for publicity?

As a member of the press, I admit I was a bit annoyed at first. I felt like marketers were trying to jerk me around, and when it became clear that it was indeed just a stunt, I did a literal facepalm. But I can't help but applaud the sheer balls that it took to actually initiate such a preposterous marketing ploy, and now that it's over with, I just want to tell people to lighten up.

In the long run, Rambourg thinks it'll pay off. "This will show we're gamers, we're passionate about what we're doing and we're not dead serious. ... Generally yes, I think it will have a positive outcome."

...crap -- this is the third GOG article that I've written up this week. They got me.

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Mark Venturelli
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"There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary."

And yet GOG forged its own death.

John Ingrams
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Just because gamers and the media jump on bandwagons and don't understand plain English is not the fault of GOG - how could they have known that so many would talk about GOG closing down for good when the webpage said no such thing! If anything, i think GOG understood the dumbness of the media and knew this would be the response!

Yesterday, the new site opened with servers to handle four times the visitors/game downloads. They got TWENTY times the visitors, so had to close down again for twenty minutes while it garnered even MORE server to deal with the onslaught! The rest of yesterday, even with all these extra servers, the webpage access was still slow, meaning this onslaught continued for nearly 24 hours!

What website wouldn't want TWENTY times the visitors?! What you are going to see in a lot of the media (not here) is envy, that GOG came up with a marketing plan that was successful in a huge way!

Let's not forget the bias toward Steam because of it being owned by Valve and being an American company. Most major gaming media are based in America, and it's obvious that European games, publishers and companies like GOG get 2nd class treatment compared to their American cousins. GOG needed to do this to get passed this bias, and I applaud them for being brighter with more sophisticated English language skills than the English speaking media/gamers it was talking to!

Mark Venturelli
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Just because it works, doesn't mean it's good.

And they said themselves, "in plain english", that it was a publicity stunt. We didn't misunderstood anything.

Ross Bemrose
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"Yesterday, the new site opened with servers to handle four times the visitors/game downloads. They got TWENTY times the visitors, so had to close down again for twenty minutes while it garnered even MORE server to deal with the onslaught! The rest of yesterday, even with all these extra servers, the webpage access was still slow, meaning this onslaught continued for nearly 24 hours!"

This is RIAA/MPAA style thinking here.

Increased traffic does not necessarily correlate with increased sales.

If anything, they would have seen a rise in traffic from anyone who has decided not to trust GOG any more and wanted to retrieve any games or bonus content they have not yet downloaded.

I know for a fact that my GOG account has all sorts of bonus stuff I never downloaded, but certainly will now since I can't trust them any more.

Robert C.
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I really can't believe that people are being such crybabies about this. Honestly, I think that most of the outrage isn't even coming from actual GOG customers. It's just standard internet bullshit.

As someone who is actually a customer, I can assure you that I barely batted an eye.

Armand Kossayan
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Can't agree more buddy. I think all the net-nerds need to take a chill pill and relax.

Chris Melby
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Well, because of their negative press, I was curious, so I visited their site and ended up buying FreeSpace 2.

Maurício Gomes
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This post made me realize that I bought it on gog and don't downlaoded it yet... (I also bought at the same time Septerra Core, that I don't finished yet).

Kelson Kugler
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Anyone who thinks that this stunt caused a decrease in their sales is insane.

Christian Nutt
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I think that when you're entirely reliant on a super-hardcore fanbase, kid gloves are probably more warranted than for a general audience.

Scott Jonsson
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They've generated huge amounts of traffic because of this stunt. Tons of people who had never heard of gog and been inundated with news about it over the last week. As a marketing ploy, it's undoubtedly a success.

Miguel Castarde
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Is quite common we buy games and not download them immediately. Damn impulse promotions.

Kris Graft
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Ha, fair enough.

Carl Chavez
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Agreed. And after their servers went back online, I downloaded all of the games I had purchased but not bought. We'll see if I feel like buying any more from them after a few weeks or months have passed. I'm still angry.

Matt Fleming
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I think the biggest part for me was the fact that GoG is the *only* place that honestly handles this particular sector of gaming (old games, sans DRM) and it reminded me that they are the ones who have the control here. This undermined the "we're WITH you guys" mentality they've been fostering since their inception.

And let's face it, usually when sites like that go down quietly it means "we were sued, all laid off or otherwise no longer a company". Especially when they said "but we'll be back soon!", it's not like we haven't seen something exactly like that go down before. Go talk to some of the people who played APB.

I honestly think if they just said "We're going down for 72 hours! Get your stuff while you can!", came down for that time, then came back with "OMG we have Baldur's Gate!", people would be screaming about the awesomeness of that from the rooftops and you'd still be making two or three GoG articles.

As it is, they're probably going to get my business, but I'm not as excited about it as I was. It's not like I can go anywhere else.

Pawel Dembowski
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If they just announced going out of beta and getting Baldur's Gate, they'd get news at hardcore PC sites, but definitely not the amount of coverage that they did get. And definitely not two or three Gamasutra articles.

Rick Okarski
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I agree with you. As others have stated, they had never even heard of and now they have, some have even purchased their games. Honestly, I have been a customer of theirs' since they started and I didn't even KNOW about this til long after it all happened. I have purchased nearly 10 games from them since this happened, too. I love them. They rock.

Jason Withrow
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The critical, critical mistake GOG made is twofold. Step one: like has already been said, they didn't say ahead of time that there would be downtime.

Step 2: As people have noticed, especially the GOG monks themselves, they never did say they were closing. What they did do was accidentally post that fateful Twitter message about publishers and businessmen making running DRM Free hard just before closing. For those who don't read the GOG twitter (and thus might have recognized that the person responsible gives these sorts of anti-DRM-woe-is-me messages every once and a while to see if everyone is awake), this became /evidence/ of the highest order, and everything sort of spun out from there.

I put more emphasis on the first, which has the benefit of being common sense, but you can certainly see the impact of the second.

Glenn Sturgeon
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Seeing this made me tend to think they were closing for a long time if not possibly perminently

"Dear GOG users,

We have recently had to give serious thought to whether we could really keep the way it is. We have debated on it for quite some time and, unforunately, we have decided that simply cannot remain in its current form.

We are very grateful for all support we have recieved from all of you in past 2 years. Working on was great adventure for all of us and an unforgettable journey to the past, through the long and wonderfull history of PC gaming.

This doesnt mean the idea behind is gone forever."

Matt Fleming posted,

And let's face it, usually when sites like that go down quietly it means "we were sued, all laid off or otherwise no longer a company".

Exactly what i thought, that maybe one of the publishers or developers had an issue with a contract & decided to go to court.

GOG had realy given no clue as to how succesful the site was so i figured it as a nitch appeal.

Therefore i figured there was the chance rather than fight any lawsuits they had to give up.

I generaly expect the worst hope for the best and see what happens when it comes to issues out of my control.

Then i read the update,

Unfortunately we had to close the service due to business and technical reasons.

*At the same time we guarantee that every user who bought any game on will be able to download all their games with bonus materials, DRM-free and as many times as they need starting this Thursday. (edited)

This made it clear to me they were indeed not closing

"DRM-free and as many times as they need starting this Thursday."

I as someone mentioned above saw them mention since the relaunch they had gotten "20 times more hits than thier "highest ever peak level traffic from the old version of the site".

Yeah for it worked.

@Kris Graft

"crap -- this is the third GOG article that I've written up this week. They got me"

Me to.

I was glad you were here to inform, you did a Great Job! (give this man a raise!)

Also you know GOG is worthy of the exposure.)

Armand Kossayan
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I get the feeling that people these days will go crazy complaining about anything and everything. I don't know what happened to people's sense of humor.

Oh no! One of the good guys pulled a little joke that boosted their success and popularity, all to my long term benefit. I guess I'll respond by throwing a fit.

Jed Hubic
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I may just be slow (probably), but the message on the site never made me think that they were closing down forever, I just figured they'd be rebooting or relaunching, partnering or something. Usually when a site closes it usually goes along the lines of "It's been a great run, thanks to all the people that blah blah blah". Good for them for having fun with it, it's not like the 90s DRM free PC Market was so huge they couldn't afford to take risks. I've purchased from them in the past and I don't think any less of them.

Seems a bit overboard for this to be honest. I can think about much better things that people should be angry about instead of not being able to get Jagged Alliance for a few days.

Tomiko Gun
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HAHA! I'm a loyal customer on GOG and I love this stunt.

The problem here is not with GOG, but with gamers and their stupid attachment issues.

Tomiko Gun
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GOG Revival chapter 0 -

Maurício Gomes
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You surely don't have not-downloaded games.

When they pulled this, I had bought about 4 games that I don't downloaded, it startled the hell out of me.

I know that later they promised that download would still be possible, and hinted their return, but you know when someone is upset because got startled? Well, it is that.

Test it, go randomly startling people on the street, about half will laugh, but the other half will try to hit you on the head.

Tomiko Gun
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You said it yourself, they clearly noted that you will be able to download your games one week later. Big f*ckin' deal that they're closing. Download all of them then and make multiple back-ups as they are DRM free.

The uproar was just your typical nerd raging on the web, it's pointless and should just be ignored.

Jed Hubic
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Gregory Kinneman
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I was fooled. On the first update I figured they were moving to a new plan, but then there was the update that seemed to make it more clear they were going away. I was saddened because I was a loyal customer for more than a year. But I can't help but laugh now because they totally pulled an Andy Kaufman on all of us. How can I be upset when a group like GoG is still running?