Despite Publisher Apprehension, Good Old Games Proves A Market For Old DRM-Free Games Exists

from the build-it-and-they-will-come dept

In preparation for the London Game Conference, Edge Magazine spoke with Guillaume Rambourg about the path Good Old Games has taken on DRM and what other game companies can learn from it. While Rambourg was light on the details of just what he will be speaking on at the conference, he remains confident that other publishers can learn from GOG’s experiment with The Witcher 2.

I will be sharing the sales numbers on GOG compared to the competition. I think the numbers will speak for themselves, what DRM-free sales of even a triple-A title can achieve. Our values are universal and they don’t only apply to older content. They apply to triple-A, day-one releases.

I certainly look forward to learning more about what this experience has to show other developers but I am glad he still leaves plenty to glean from this interview. He continues by explaining that publishers have always had the ability to do exactly what GOG is doing, but they refused to do it, citing unreasonable expenses for low returns. In the early days of GOG, they were met with animosity from publishers over the idea of releasing older games. These publishers didn’t want to dedicate time and resources to preparing these games to run on modern computers. They figured it was a losing strategy.

This is something that I have observed over the years. Very few PC game companies have released older games for any price. This led to the creation of a number of abandonware and warez websites. These sites have made available a good number of unauthorized games to the public. GOG specifically took notice of this and has actually used those sites to its advantage.

When we sign content for GOG, we contact abandonware websites and make them our affiliates. So they remove the illegal content, and instead they put a GOG banner and they direct sales and traffic to us. Step by step, we are cleaning up the market and we are making the back catalogue segment a visible, and viable, market for the industry.

This is a winning strategy. I have been to a number of these sites in the past and have observed that most of the well respected sites have policies in place to remove games that are available through legal channels and even link to that legal content when it is available. Not only does this build confidence in the abandonware site, it also builds a positive attitude toward the publisher that makes these games available.

The idea of releasing older games is a proposition that only recently took hold with most publishers. A lot of it had to do with GOG and Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Prior to these two platforms, most of the work done in bringing older games to modern machines was done by the fan community through the use of emulators and cracks. Most of those efforts were either ignored or attacked by the industry. Now that the experiment has been proven a success in most avenues, I would hope that game publishers will see value in bringing their older games back. The gamers want it. The publishers just need to provide it. Not only will this move provide more legal content for the fans of the games, it will also bring in more revenue that did not exist before.

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Comments on “Despite Publisher Apprehension, Good Old Games Proves A Market For Old DRM-Free Games Exists”

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37 Comments
anonymous says:

Re: Re:

and that is one of the problems. even if these games were to be made available, the prices the industries would charge would be just as outragous as new games. they never learn. not because they cant but because they dont want to! one of the easiest and quickest ways to reduce ‘piracy’ is to make products affordable. better to sell 1000 at $20 than 100 at $50, surely?

ScytheNoire (profile) says:

Publishers know very little about gaming and the gaming audience. They are idiots in suits.

Know Your Audience: Gamers are an aging demographic who don’t like many of the crappy games published today and harken back to the “good old days” when gaming was good.

Reason To Buy: Favorite games of the past, and even some new ones, that have no DRM and are available at a reasonable price. They are easily downloaded, manuals and all the extras, work with modern hardware, and they require no hoop jumping to get.

It’s just that simple, you idiots in suits. Gamers aren’t stupid, we recognize when you are trying to rip us off and shovel the same crap down our throats. Thanks, but no thanks.

Mr Big Content says:

This Strategy Would Only Work For Old Games

This only works for games which have been around for a long time and are already available in pirated form for free. It would never work with brand-new released games. They have to have DRM, so that they can compete with the pirated versions which won’t have been around that long. Old pirated bits are less desirable than newly-pirated bits.

Ray says:

Re: This Strategy Would Only Work For Old Games

Did you read the article?

One of the points made early on was the “The Witcher 2”, a brand new, AAA, highly anticipated title, sold extremely well on GoG, completely DRM free.

Personally, I think success is about removing barriers to use. People will gravitate to the more effortless solution. If the legal copy is weighed down with DRM, and you have to jump though hoops to install/activate/reinstall/run it, people will pirate.

Piracy, however, while it removes some of the above obstacles, adds some of its own. Updates can be hard to apply, there is the risk of ‘cracks’ really being viruses or being bundled with viruses, and it can be difficult to track down working versions of some cracks/titles.

GoG’s approach is truly effortless. Very rapid quick buying process, optional downloader that chunks files and verifies chucks, preventing the need to re-download in case of a failed download, no need to be online to install, run, or re-install, and no need to remember to uninstall or un-register prior to reinstalling windows. While it might cost a little money, it is far more effortless to buy on GoG than to buy elsewhere or to pirate. Hence, great sales of even a brand new AAA title.

I honestly hope that they expand their operation to include more new games in addition to the classics that they currently sell.

TechnoMage (profile) says:

Good to see

I’d like to see GoG (which I have given money to in the past YAY for Return to Krondor… but anyways…) get games like Mech Commander 2 (which _still_ has a semi-strong following of fans after Microsoft opensourced the game years ago.

If GoG could provide a place for old game-mods/addons/etc in addition to what they already provide, it would make old games even MORE valuable.

Just my 0.02$

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Good to see

I’d like to see GoG (which I have given money to in the past YAY for Return to Krondor… but anyways…) get games like Mech Commander 2 (which _still_ has a semi-strong following of fans after Microsoft opensourced the game years ago.

I’ve been buying a lot of old games from GOG, including a number of games I bought when they were brand new (Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, the Wing Commander Series, and a bunch of other ones…) And I’ve been playing them like crazy (Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion and Master of Orion have easily seen a couple days worth of game play.)

The fact that they have no DRM and no requirement for the CD to be in the drive makes their offering worth buying the games over again. Most of the games had DRM on the CD…and some of the ones I bought on GoG…the original CD with the game I bought years ago for far more didn’t work anymore because of crappy DRM or poor OS support.

If GoG could provide a place for old game-mods/addons/etc in addition to what they already provide, it would make old games even MORE valuable.

They do have some of that…they have a forum for each game. It seems like it would be easy to add mod threads to the forum. Not sure if anyone has done so yet (don’t see any with the few games I looked at.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Good to see

The fact that they have no DRM and no requirement for the CD to be in the drive makes their offering worth buying the games over again.

So what you’re saying is that DRM got you to buy a game twice that you otherwise would have bought just once.

Looks like it’s workin’ juuuust fine.

jmikael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Good to see


So what you’re saying is that DRM got you to buy a game twice that you otherwise would have bought just once.

Looks like it’s workin’ juuuust fine.

Well, let’s see. So Baldur’s Gate came out in 1998, I’ll say it was about $50 that day? In GoG updated Baldur’s Gate costs $10 in 2011 (+expansion set in GoG).

What cost $50 in 1998 would cost $69.60 in 2011.
What cost $10 in 2011 would cost $7.18 in 1998.

So yes, $70 is same as $7.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good to see

Well, let’s see. So Baldur’s Gate came out in 1998, I’ll say it was about $50 that day? In GoG updated Baldur’s Gate costs $10 in 2011 (+expansion set in GoG).

I bought the original game at $39.99 (which had no expansions.) The expansions cost roughly $20 each…but I didn’t purchase them. The gold/platinum came out which had everything (game+expansions) for around $20. I bought the platinum version off of GOG for $5.00 (it was a package deal, one of their 50% off weekend deals.) So….

Original game $39.99, plus expansions which would have cost $20 each, for $5.00. Total out of pocket, $44.99.

However, I’ve been buying a lot of games on GoG that I never bought when it first came out, so I believe I have more than broken even.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Good to see

“So what you’re saying is that DRM got you to buy a game twice that you otherwise would have bought just once.”

Yeah, DRM works just great. It got him to buy another copy of the games 12 or more years after they were made, many years after the original publishers either ceased to exist or were swallowed up by publishers who would never have considered re-releasing the game themselves! Ubisoft should be proud, they’re going to get bargain basement purchases in just over a decade for games their DRM is deterring people to buy at full price today!

Or, perhaps ltlw0lf bought the games because he dislikes those studios’ current outputs and GOG managed to make the old game more valuable by guaranteeing compatibility with modern OSes…

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good to see

Or, perhaps ltlw0lf bought the games because he dislikes those studios’ current outputs and GOG managed to make the old game more valuable by guaranteeing compatibility with modern OSes…

I do not like the current outputs because of DRM alone. Publishers that produce their software without DRM get my money. I’ve been burned so many times by DRM that I will never, ever buy a commercial game (even one that I really want) if it uses any DRM. Even Steam is pissing me off at the moment (why should I have to log into steam in order to play my game — yes I know there is an offline mode, but it doesn’t always work correctly.) When I buy a game, I expect it to work (with minor configuration on my part to bring it up to work on the modern OS or run it within a VM,) but usually DRM gets in the way and prevents me from playing the game.

Al Keda says:

Freetard or Underserved?

Just a quick bit on my experiences with GOG. I found out about the Witcher long after it was released and thought I may like to play it. I didn’t want to gamble with the $40 that game cost at the time for something that may or may not be crap so there was no way I was going to pay that cash without even a trial level or two. I pirated it. I also loved it.
Many hours of game play later I read that The Witcher 2 was going to be released and in the same article I found out about GOG. “Wait,” I thought to myself, “a studio is going to be releasing a triple A game with no DRM?!? I’ve got to check this place out.” So I went to GOG’s website and pre-ordered the game. While I was there I saw an old title that’s out of print and I already had downloaded but couldn’t get to work well on a modern computer. I spent what I considered a reasonable amount to get a game that works flawlessly on my high-end hardware. That turned out to be the first of many of these situations.
When The Witcher 2 came out, I downloaded it (from GOG after paying full price this time), installed and played it with absolutely zero problems. My friend bought it from a major game outlet and he had problems with it. I think the game crashed at a certain point or something and he had to wait for the patch to have it fixed. This was not an issue with the game, it was an issue with the DRM screwing up the game, mind you. After that I went back and bought the first Witcher from GOG just to show my appreciation, even though the pirated version was working just fine.
So what have you learned from this? How the hell should I know, I’m not here to preach at you. This is just the story of a guy with enough cash to buy the games I want but don’t always do so because I hate paying for a pain in the neck. I hate DRM but have put up with it sometimes. I’ve bought games then downloaded the crack just to get rid of it. I’ve pirated games with nasty DRM just because I don’t want it on my rig. I also am fully supporting a place that sells me the same games I can freely download for the low price of zilch. Take what you will from that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Pac-man was responsible for crashing the music industry revenues.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=qwlbAAAAIBAJ&sjid=A04NAAAAIBAJ&pg=1192,1139884

Arcade games at the time had an impact, both positive and negative, on the music industry, revenues for which had declined by $400 million between 1978 and 1981 (from $4.1 billion to $3.7 billion), a decrease that was directly credited to the rise of arcade games at the time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Age_of_Arcade_Games

Anonymous Coward says:

I love gog. Found it about a year ago when a buddy sent me a note about them giving away tyrian, and old top down shooter that was like the first game I ever bought online. I love going back to play some old favorites, and I have to say the people at go do some amazing work getting the games fully functional and playing perfectly.

DataShade (profile) says:

“These publishers didn’t want to dedicate time and resources to preparing these games to run on modern computers. They figured it was a losing strategy.”

Hell, most companies didn’t want to take the time to release patches to make sure Win98 games would run correctly on WinXP. Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain, for example, was released in September 1999, and has a set of BINK Video drivers that won’t work on an NT kernel. Meaning, a game released in 1999 doesn’t work on Windows 2000 – and the publisher never really bothered to fix it.

Anonymous Coward says:

What you seem to forget is that GoG isn’t selling games, they are selling the ease of obtaining them. The old games themselves aren’t worth much, but being able to get them easily is worth something.

I am not sure it creates any more real income to the game makers, just puts some money in the pockets of some guys who got in the middle of some stuff.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“What you seem to forget is that GoG isn’t selling games, they are selling the ease of obtaining them.”

It’s been said repeatedly here, but just to recap:

GOG are selling a few things that are valuable that don’t exist elsewhere. 1) legal access to the games (as abandonware sites are in a grey area legally). 2) guaranteed compatibility with modern OSes (a feature above and beyond the original copies). 3) instant digital downloads (again, above and beyond the originals).

Yet again, it comes down to Mike’s formula – RtB +CwF. There’s reasons to buy offered here, they connect with fans to work out which titles to offer and how to offer them = profit.

Rekrul says:

Fans care more about old games than the publishers do.

Look at how many “source ports” there have been for Doom (and the other games using the same engine) since Id Software released the source code. They didn’t have to spend a penny in development costs, but yet the Doom games are virtually guaranteed to work on any computer and OS for the foreseeable future, all thanks to fans who did it for free. All a company has to do is release the source code and the fans will do the rest. They don’t even incur any support costs, because the players go to the author of the source port, not the company.

Note to critics: releasing the source code is not the same as releasing the game for free. Only the program itself is free, the levels, graphics and sounds are all still copyrighted and can’t legally be distributed without the publisher’s approval.

Game companies simply don’t care about old games. Many of Lucasarts’s older titles reportedly won’t install under Windows 7 due to changes that Microsoft made to the installer system. Lucasarts hasn’t lifted a finger to correct this, so a fan produced new installers for the affected games. In fact, Lucasarts doesn’t even have a FAQ for any of their DOS games anymore, like Dark Forces. One author is writing a new engine for it from scratch called DarkXL, all without any help from Lucasarts.

Activision’s 2001 Spider-Man game can’t even be played on modern systems without encountering game-stopping bugs that they never bothered to patch. One bug will even prevent the game from running at all! Activision’s support site recommends using cheat codes to skip the problem levels, but that means that players can’t collect all the bonuses.

Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness is full of really obvious bugs that Eidos never bothered to fix.

The first two Thief games are still very popular with fans, but they can’t even be run on modern systems without using fan-made patches. I don’t know if they still are, but one company was selling legal downloads of the first game, that wouldn’t run on modern systems and couldn’t be patched because of the DRM the distributor added to the downloaded version.

For a long time, the original Aliens vs. Predator wouldn’t work on modern NVidia cards due to driver issues. Neither the company or NVidia seemed interested in fixing the problem until a fan created a patch. Then lo & behold, NVidia suddenly discovered a fix less than a month later!

There’s still a lot of interest in old games and if the companies would work with the fans instead of treating them like the enemy, they could continue to sell their games for years to come. Sure, not everyone is going to want to play old DOS games, but selling another 10,000 copies is better than selling none.

Kcits (profile) says:

Its especially nice for Linux users

I have been a Linux user since 2006, and the one thing that made the move hard was games. I love games, but I hated windows, wine was a option but it had problems with DRM. GOG is a grate place to buy games to run under wine. Most will run without any extra work and I can play games I love, and even owned in the past. But was never able to get them to run.

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