Conducted By Adam Ames
Good Old Games (aka GOG) is one of the few places online you can find classic PC games from the 80s and 90s. Not only are the game available work on modern systems, there is no DRM to worry about. TPG was honored to have Marketing Manager, Lukasz Kukawski, participate in this interview. Lukasz give us a glimpse at the inner workings of GOG.com as well as his opinion on the various hot button topics in the PC gaming industry.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of GOG.
My name is Lukasz Kukawski and I’m PR and Marketing Manager at GOG.com. So my duties include promoting the service and the games, talking to journalists and giving interviews from time to time, engaging community and thinking of crazy ideas to make people talk about us I’ve been working at GOG almost from the very beginning, so I saw how the service grew from a start-up website to a top 3 digital distributor in the world.
Where did the idea for GOG come from?
It was both a personal interest, but we also thought it would be a great idea for a business enterprise. The concept of offering old games to gamers all around the world had long been germinating in the minds of CD Projekt’s management. 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. 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. The idea came from the urge to play some classic PC games like Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, Duke Nukem, etc. But when they started to search for those games they came to a realization that 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 they were like ‘hey, let’s use our business contacts and create a digital distribution platform with those classic games’.
And that’s how it all started.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing GOG?
The biggest success is that we found a niche in digital distribution with GOG.com, developed it and in only 3 years become the top 3 digital distribution service in the world. That’s a really great result keeping in mind we’re selling only classic PC games that have been already released once in the past.
As for failures, I don’t want to sound haughty, but everything is going pretty well for us. Of course there are things we need to improve and features we want to add to the service, but that’s a natural development process. The one thing our able team of web developers made which didn’t stand up to our high standards was the optional downloader that you can use, if you want, to download games you bought. Thanks to some great feedback from our community they’ve managed to develop from scratch a new and better application.
In its current form, how close is GOG to your initial vision?
I have to admit it’s really close to it. The goal for the service was to become the ultimate place for classic PC games. At this moment we have the catalogue of almost 400 classic PC games from such publishers like Electronic Arts, Activision, Interplay, Ubisoft and more. I don’t know if anyone predicted that we’ll manage to convince the big players of the industry to sell their classic franchises DRM-free at GOG.com. So in some aspects I think we’ve even exceeded the initial vision of GOG. Of course that doesn’t mean our job is done here, we have still plenty of work ahead of us to make the general experience even better and to get the remaining classics.
What do you look for in a title when deciding whether or not to sell it through GOG?
The easy answer is that the game has to reflect our website’s name: Good Old Games. So we have some base rules for the games to be old enough and good enough considering the average score from reviews. But the whole thing is much more complex and involves internal discussions between the whole team.
As saying that a game is bad or good is very subjective, we try to have in the offer very different games, so everyone can find something for themselves. That’s why you’ll find in our catalogue the acclaimed by press and gamers classics, but also some games that didn’t achieve such great success, but still are considered by many as cult classics.
And there’s also the nostalgic factor which cannot be validated in any way. Some games just have that something that makes our hearts beat stronger when we see them or hear the main music theme and you can’t reasonably explain it, you just feel it. Those games are the ones we’re going after
Overall, how has the reception been to GOG from the publishers of these older titles?
In most cases publishers are really excited about our service and the idea of reviving their old brands. Basically we’re giving them a chance to monetize their back catalogue which they’re not making money with anymore. So why shouldn’t they be happy about it? Of course the DRM-free feature is something that some publishers don’t want to accept. Thankfully we have our secret methods to convince them ;). We hope to sign every publisher that owns rights to classic PC games sooner or later. With every new publisher joining the service we’re showing that nothing is impossible for us and our goal of becoming the ultimate source of classic PC games is closer than anyone could think.
Walk us through the negotiation process when GOG reaches out to a new publisher.
That’s a long, time and work consuming process which might get sometimes pretty boring. At the very beginning of GOG, our business development guy did research on which games are the most wanted by potential and already existing GOG users (that data was pretty easy to get as every second or third email we got was a game request and it still remains that way :)). After he had the very long list of good, old games ready he had to figure out who owns the rights to those games. And as you probably know this can be tricky as lots of publishers and developers have bankrupted, been bought by other companies, sold rights to their games to other companies, etc., so it’s really a hell of a job to find the right people to talk to about those old games.
Contacting the owners of the games starts another stage in acquiring titles which includes presenting the offer, negotiating the conditions and agreeing on legal terms. And with our approach to DRM this can be hard as hell, as in many cases we have to convince the rights owners that selling their products without any kind of copy protection is actually a good idea and it doesn’t mean the games will get pirated. This stage also includes negotiating prices of games, shares of revenue, etc. When everything is clear the agreement goes to the legal department where it can get stuck for weeks. In many cases that’s the most time-consuming stage in the whole process and it’s for sure the most boring one ;).
When everyone agrees on everything that is in the agreement the fun part begins – the whole team gets the list of games that were signed and we get all excited and reminiscent about the old days when we played those titles. Programmers get their hands on masters to optimize them to run on Win XP/Vista/7, testers check the builds, the product team starts working on game pages, additional materials, etc., while the design team prepares all the graphics. We, the PR team, work on a plan to create some buzz around those games without pissing off our community by another site closedown. And that’s what the process looks like, in short. So the release of a game which is seen by our users is the last stage of a very long and laborious process.
While GOG does not have this issue, one of the knocks against the various digital distribution platforms is the user having 4 or 5 different applications running in order to play their games. Do you have any reaction to this?
Developing GOG.com we had in mind simplicity. Our main goal was to create an easy-to-use, user-friendly service which will allow you to buy, download and play games. Taking the DRM-free and client-free route was the base of that approach. The thing is that if we wanted to sell old games, which are in most cases already available on different abandonware sites, we have to convince people who it’s worth spending their hard-earned money on those classics instead of downloading them for free. Putting any obstacles or limitations on how you can play your games didn’t make any sense. And requiring from users installing and running an application is such an obstacle. With more and more digital distribution services showing up on the market, gamers will soon be forced to run couple different apps to be able to play the games they legally bought. This is crazy and I’m happy GOG is doing things differently.
How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?
The whole gaming industry is a very exciting and fast-paced one, so it’s really great to be working in it. You don’t really know what will change in the next couple months as it’s expanding and growing really fast. And digital distribution is one of the dynamic branches in the industry as it’s entering its heyday. More and more gamers are using this distribution channel to get their games as it’s easier and faster, so we can expect that the nearest years we’re going to see even bigger boom on digital distribution services.
Do you believe PC retail outlets still have a place in today’s market?
Yes, I believe so, but they will probably move aside and become more niche market as the digital distribution will be the main source for providing gamers with products. Still there are people who prefer to have physical media rather than a file on their hard drive. Also, if publishers will produce the awesome collector’s editions of games, with all the swag, I bet they will be still popular in retail, as digital distribution won’t be able to do that. We, at GOG.com, actually, try to provide the same feeling with our releases, as we’ve gained added value for our classic titles that we sell by bundling them with free goodies that makes every game a virtual collector’s edition.
How important is it to get instant feedback about GOG from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
It’s very important for us. The use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is definitely curtail in today’s business, especially if you work in the internet company. Being in close touch with our users is important for us. We’re not some anonymous people hiding behind “a huge corporation”, we’re gamers ourselves and we want to provide our community with a service that we’d like to use ourselves. And the opportunity to talk to the people who are in charge of this service is one of the things we as gamers would like to have. Of course there are some things we can’t talk about openly, but we try to provide our users with as much information as we can.
What is your reaction to the recent launch of EA’s Origin service and the announcements for the upcoming IndieCity and GameFly digital distribution platforms?
That’s just the next step in the expansion of digital distribution. As I said before, digital is slowly taking bigger and bigger slice of the games distribution cake and new platforms showing up on the market are just confirming this. Everyone wants to get their cut in digital distribution, the question is how many of those new projects will be successful. It takes a lot of work, money and time to build a marketplace that is popular and trusted by gamers. I imagine that in the next months and years, some publishers who will create their own digital distribution platforms will decide that the effort of properly growing their distribution arms isn’t worth the percentage that they pay a third-party. Time will tell.
How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology?
That’s a really cool idea and I’m happy to see that each “edition” of Humble Indie Bundle gets more and more money. Also, the guys behind that initiative are making a great thing sharing the money to support charity.
What can you to do make GOG an even more attractive option for PC gamers?
First of all, we need to get the games that are on top of our users wishlist :). Basically the bigger offer of classics we have, the better the service will be in the eyes of our customers. We’re also working on some additional features to the social side of the service. We’d like GOG to not only be a digital outlet but also a place where fans of classic games meet and share their passion. We have the forums where people can talk about everything, but we have some ideas that will make that part of the service even more entertaining. Of course I can’t reveal anything at the moment, but we’ll make sure you know about it when it’s available.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Unfortunately the situation doesn’t change that much in this matter. Big publishers are putting restrictive DRMs on their products, because they are scared their games will be heavily pirated, and that’s understandable. But unfortunately that doesn’t protect those titles from being pirated, because there hasn’t been a DRM scheme that haven’t been hacked.
We believe that there are other ways to fight piracy. Giving an incentive to customers to spend their money on a legal game rather than punishing them with intrusive DRM is what we believe a better way. That’s why we release all games DRM-free and that’s why CD Projekt RED decided to release The Witcher 2 on GOG.com DRM-free as well. Let’s give people reasons to make them buy those games. Of course there will be people pirating games, but they wouldn’t buy those games any way, so they’re not your target audience. Let’s focus on real gamers, respect them and they will give it back.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
There are two types of DLC now. The first group consists of new content that is developed after the game release and ads new experience to the gameplay (see Battlefield Bad Company Vietnam for example), and I’m totally fine with that. If you like the game it’s a cool thing to have couple more hours of gameplay. But there’s also the second group which gets bigger and bigger where developers just cut parts of the game and offer them as a paid DLCs. That’s really not fair and no wonder gamers are pissed about that.
Treating customers fair is the most important thing for us. That’s why for example all DLCs that were and will be released for The Witcher 2 by our sister company CD Projekt RED, are free to all customers. And we believe that’s how it should be done.
For anyone hearing about GOG for the first time, is there anything else you would like to say?
I’d like to encourage everyone who aren’t familiar with GOG.com to pay us a visit and check some free games we offer to every new user. The account creation is free and you get 6 classic titles totally for free (Beneath a Steel Sky, Tyrian 2000 and Ultima 4 among others), so you can see for yourself how the service works without spending a dime! – End
We would like to thank Lukasz and everyone involved with GOG.com for not only taking the time to answer in such a detailed format, but for understanding PC gamers and offering them true value for their money. TPG highly recommends trying out GOG.com. Come for the free games, stay for the nostalgia.
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