GoG Breaks Cover – Interview with Good Old Games

GOG.com or Good Old Games isn’t your usual digital distribution service. It’s unique and the only one which provides users with a complete DRM-free experience and stocks up on tried and tested classic games which aren’t easily available any where else. But, that’s only part of why GOG.com works. Gamersmint sits down with Trevor Longino and finds out why exactly the service is growing every day and what really makes them stand apart from the rest of the digital games distribution crowd.

GM: For our readers who are unaware, what is GOG all about (and why should consumers check you out for a potential purchase)?

Trevor Longino: GOG.com is a digital distribution platform with cheap and DRM-free PC games. We’ve got great classics like Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, Duke Nukem 3D, Zork, Outcast, Arcanum, Heroes of Might and Magic, Beyond Good & Evil (and 300+ more titles) for either $5.99 or $9.99, no matter where you live. We also just recently announced that in 2012 we will be starting to add newer games to the GOG.com catalog–still DRM free and still at a flat price everywhere in the world!

If you don’t know what “DRM-Free” means, let me explain that to you: DRM-free means we don’t have any copy protection in our games. When you buy a game on GOG you can download it any time you want, as often as you want. You can burn it on a CD, install on any PC you own, and you don’t have to be online to play. When you buy a game on GOG.com, you own it.

What’s even better, every game is tested to work on modern Windows operating systems and comes with additional materials like soundtracks, guides, artworks, wallpapers and more.

But GOG isn’t just an ordinary digital outlet. Our goal is to be the best alternative digital distributor. That’s why every game has its own forum where gamers can meet people who share a passion for that game. We publish retrospective articles and interviews with developers to showcase how a game was made and what decisions developers had to make during the development.

But you don’t have to listen to me, just visit GOG.com, create a free account and download the six free games and experience GOG for yourself.

GM: How did GOG start off/what inspired its inception?

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 group of companies that also includes CD Projekt RED development studio, the creators of the acclaimed RPG The Witcher. CD Projekt started their business as retail distributor of games in Poland in mid-90’s. One of 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.

This brought an interesting idea to the CD Projekt guys: by selling games at reasonable prices that were previously only available via piracy, they were seeing that gamers stop pirating when they feel that games are worth the prices asked for them.  CD Projekt’s founders didn’t like copy protection–also called Digital Rights Management (or DRM)–and wanted to see if they could make a game distributor that would sell games without DRM. Could it work?

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 group of almost 20 people including more designers and developers, business development people, a band of support/testers, and some marketing folks. Because CD Projekt already had partners for retail distribution, they had the contacts they needed to start selling digitally-distributed games .With two acclaimed publishers on board, Interplay and Codemasters, we were ready to announce the service in June 2008. The experiment to see if DRM-free sales could work was underway.

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. With more than 6 million games downloaded from GOG.com and more than a million classic gamers coming to GOG.com every month, we think that the experiment has proven a success–GOG.com has been profitable from our very first month, and we’ve only grown from there.

GM: Can you explain what GOG offers which distinguishes itself from other digital video game distribution services?

Well, we have three core values at GOG.com that make us different than the rest of the market. First of all, our games are all completely DRM-free. You can re-download them from GOG.com at any time, as often as you like, and you can back them up on a spare hard drive or a DVD at home. Do what you like–it’s your game!

Secondly, if you use other digital distribution services you will notice that prices are different for different parts of the world. Frequently, they’re different in a bad way–you’ll find a game that is $49.99 USD is also 49.99 Euros or £49.99 GBP which is hardly a fair exchange! On GOG you have the same prices worldwide, no matter where you live, be it USA or Honduras, you’ll always pay $5.99 USD for Broken Sword or $9.99 USD for Sanitarium.

Finally, if check out the games on GOG.com, you’ll see that they all have something extra. They come with bundled in goodies like soundtracks, 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 4 free games and check for yourself if we’re doing it right.

GM: You already have deals with some of the biggest publishers including Activision and Ubisoft to name but just a few; are you currently planning on bringing any publishers on board to add to the variety?

We’re in touch with most if not all publishers/developers/rights owners of the significant classic PC games, so it’s just a matter of time when we’ll have those titles on GOG. Our goal is to make one big announcement each quarter of the year, this way slowly but gradually we’ll grow our catalogue of Good Old Games. At the moment we’re probably after 200-300 games to add to the catalogue and it will be pretty well packed with classics.

Of course that doesn’t mean there won’t be any games left to release via GOG.  We’re working on getting newer classics into our catalog—games a year to three years old—and adding them to our catalog while continuing to work on classic games will make sure that we keep expanding on what made us successful in the first place while giving us plenty of room to grow in the future.

GM: GOG doesn’t offer any DRM on the titles, so with that in mind has that hindered/made it harder the relationship you’ve tried to establish with certain publishers?

When we launched GOG two years ago, we had to convince publishers that our model was the best way to revive their ‘dusty’ PC classics and make end users happy to play these again. We had to explain why we believed adding a technical constraint on past titles was the best way to convince people to not buy those games.

Our talks with publishers eventually turned fruitful and some of them jumped into our boat, which allowed us to build up our credibility. Every new big publisher we sign is a big step forward for us, as it gives us the occasion to gain legitimacy and show to skeptical publishers/developers that yes, our DRM-free model does work. Some publishers remain skeptics, but each new release helps dissuade the skeptics, and we hope that we will eventually convince everyone that the GOG.com way is the best way to bring new life to old games.

Now we have a new challenge, though: we’re bringing newer games to GOG, and still offering them without DRM, at the same price everywhere in the world, and with extra content like soundtracks and wallpapers. We’ve more or less proven that our model works with old classics, but now we have to prove ourselves all over again with newer games.

GM: How old are most of the games available?

Our oldest game is from 1984, and our newest from 2011; most of the games in our catalog tend to fall in the range from about 1993 to 2004, however.

GM: What are your thoughts on piracy? Obviously you have a no-DRM system in place but what’s your view towards piracy effecting PC games industry these days?

By focusing on piracy as the evil enemy of PC gaming, the industry loses sight of two things: first of all, pirates are better at distributing games than many companies are. Why else would someone risk getting malware or a virus on their computer from a torrent, except that they’ve made it simpler to get a game through pirates than it is through traditional digital distribution? There are definitely things that we can learn from how simple it is to pirate a game compared to purchasing it, installing the client, patching the game, patching the client, activating it, activating the online component, and then—finally!–being able to play.

Secondly, people pirate. They do, and you can’t stop that. What you can do—what survey after survey shows—is create enough value in the offer of your game that people buy it anyway.  Some of the largest sources of traffic on GOG.com are from torrent trackers and abandonware sites. And you know what? The traffic from these websites converts to purchasers at a better percentage than straight search traffic from Google does. The first exposure these people had to GOG.com came through illegal free copies of the games we sell, and they found our offer so compelling that they sign up and buy from us.

GM: Seeing as one aspect of GOG is based on selling older titles, what’s your favorite classic PC game of all time?

That’s a tough question, and one that I tend to answer by genre. My favorite action game is probably Descent or Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries. My favorite RPG is likely Planescape: Torment or Fallout 2. Finally, for strategy games, I love Jagged Alliance 2 and Missionforce: Cyberstorm.

GM: What’s next in the pipeline for GOG – do you have any plans to distinguish the site even more and offer a broader range of assets/features that will attract customers?

Well, we’re working on adding newer games to our catalog—up to 20 of them, we hope, by the end of 2012. Hopefully, this will help GOG.com continue to grow as quickly and as steadily as it ahs been in the past.

GM: You had preorders for The Witcher 2 and it did sell very well. However, it is not an old game but it is developed by CD Projekt, whose offshoot is GOG. Are you looking to continue this trend and launch other independent titles in the future?

We’ve said for over a year now that we’re willing to consider new games on GOG.com if a publisher or developer is willing to release a game in the GOG.com fashion: no DRM, flat price worldwide, and tons of free content along with the game. We’re still willing to consider it, and we’ll even go so far as to say we would love to make it happen, and we’re working hard to see that it does.

GM: Any other plans for supporting indie developers? Getting into publishing?

I don’t think that we have any firm plans for anything along those lines, no.

GM: Do GOG visit publishers/devs OR it’s the other way round?

We’ve been in talks with almost everyone in the industry for a while now, but we’re approached by smaller studios—companies that have only released a few games, or who have recently acquired the rights to old games— from time to time.

GM: What is the selection procedure for games to be released on your platform?

We look for a few different things in a GOG.com release: is the title notable or distinctive? Is it fun? Could a user feel the “oh, wow!” factor if they encountered that game in our catalog for the first time? We ask these questions for two main reasons: first, because we like releasing those games that users love, that they’ve played before, and that they can’t wait to play again. Secondly, we’re a business. Given all of the time, money, and effort that go into preparing a release on GOG.com, we want to make sure that these releases are going to resonate with the gaming public so that they buy them. Wasting money on releasing games that no one wants to play is a quick way to go broke.

Some publishers approached us by themselves and asked about the possibility of releasing their old games on GOG, but in most cases it’s our able business development team who is searching for IP owners. That’s the hardest part in the whole cycle of reviving old games. Rights to old games in most cases were bought by many different companies and finding the right person who controls the IP takes a lot of time. That’s why every new release is a small victory for us.

The “most wanted” list that is placed on our site is an indicator for us what games our community expects. It’s also a nice tool to somehow predict if a certain title will perform well or we shouldn’t bother getting it up on GOG.

GM: Can you guys release Shadowman please? It’s awesome and we’ll buy a copy!

Throwback Studios is one of those partners we haven’t signed yet. We’re constantly working to add new publishers and developers—just like Throwback Studios—and if we do get the game signed, you can trust that GOG.com will release in our usual fashion.

GM: That was excellent. Thank you so much!

Thanks so much for the interview!