As we reported recently, there has been speculation that a move by the company to cease tracking its customers’ regions based on IP addresses (instead allowing them to specify their own location) was specifically designed to allow Australians to purchase the uncensored edition of the game.
Trevor Longino, the head of PR and marketing at Good Old Games, denied the allegations, telling Gamasutra that the policy change "has nothing specific to do with Australia in particular. Our new policy simply reflects the way we think global digital distribution should be."
"We're not stupid, of course and realize that some users may abuse this to obtain a version of a game that is not approved by their local Certification Board," he said.
"GOG.com has always been about giving our users the power of choice; if they willingly choose to violate their local censorship laws, we can't condone that," he explained.
"Given how easy it is to circumvent the protections that most retailers use (like geo-IP location), no one can control it, and we don't think our approach is inherently more open to exploitation than any other. We trust our users not to pirate our games, and we trust that they won't abuse this new feature either," he added.
The explanation doesn’t hold much weight with commentators like Tim Colwill, who runs the lobby site R 18+ Games.
"I think it's a great move by Good Old Games...everyone knows what it's really about, but as long as GOG continues to deny it, they can't really call them on it," he told Gamasutra. "It's very politically charged at the moment for GOG's PR people, I imagine.”
Colin Jacobs, of Electronic Frontiers Australia, says that the move by GOG "highlights the absurdity of the current system," which refused to classify the game because it fell outside of the maximum MA 15+ rating. He says that, legally speaking, GOG and its Australian customers have nothing to fear.
"There's still a difference between buying a box overseas -- or getting something by mail order -- and downloading it," he said. "The former is importation, which is covered by laws dating back to time immemorial. This includes censorship laws. Downloading, on the other hand, is not covered. You can still face penalties for owning illegal content (such as child pornography), but not for downloading unrated content."
Australian customers need not fear that fibbing about their location will lead to any repercussions from GOG: the company has no way of verifying a customer's location anymore.
"We don't make money by spying on our users," said Longino. "As part of this, we're no longer keeping their IP addresses geo-IP information on record. We don't need the info, so why keep it?"
Less publicized has been the other side effect of GOG’s policy change –- the ability for any customer to choose the region with the lowest prices. This again appears to be a win for Australians, but also for Europeans, as games are frequently sold in both regions at much higher prices than in the US and UK.
The Witcher 2 is currently the only game offered for sale by GOG where the price varies according to the region it is purchased from. The company says that the higher prices in Australia and Europe are the result of "legal obligations with distributors," and they already offer what they call a "Fair Price Package," which compensates Australian and European customers with store credit.
"By releasing The Witcher 2 DRM-free on GOG.com, by offering our Fair Price Package, and by respecting and trusting our users, we're making a solid test case for treating PC Gamers the way they would like to be treated," said Longino. "This has performed very well for us so far, and it looks like it's going to continue to make waves in the community as we keep growing."
Given this philosophy, it’s not hard to envisage the scrapping of regions as the next logical step, a public pretense kept up only for the sake of those retail distribution contracts. Whatever the case, no-one seems to be complaining.