Q&A: GOG.com's DRM-free downloadable games

GameSpot News gets the details on this upcoming PC game online distribution service from managing director Adam Oldakowski.

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The distribution model of computer games has seen changes in the last several years, going from an exclusively brick-and-mortar model to an age of emerging digital distribution. Digital distribution services use a variety of different pricing and copyright protection systems, but they typically set themselves apart by their selection of games.

The latest in these distribution series is GOG.com. The "GOG" in "GOG.com" stands for "Good Old Games," because the service itself is devoted to distributing what the company considers to be "good old" PC games, at a modest price point and free of any digital rights management software. We had a chance to sit in with Adam Oldakowski, managing director of the upcoming GOG.com distribution service, to discuss the details of the service's unusual business model.

GameSpot: Please give us an overview of the service that your company provides. How is it different from other online game delivery services?

Adam Oldakowski: Good Old Games, or GOG.com for short, is a new digital distribution site that specializes in classic PC games. We've tried to build the site to be really simple to use, making it as easy as possible to buy, download, and play classic PC games--it takes just a few clicks to get from the home page to the installer. We're offering worldwide service with our sights set on the best PC games of all time, without DRM and compatible with modern operating systems. Add to this a big community section with forums dedicated to every game, a news section, user-submitted reviews and rankings and additional materials like game guides, wallpapers, avatars, and soundtracks to download with every game--GOG.com is all of that. And that's really just the tip of the iceberg; we've got lots of ideas to develop and expand the service. We want GOG.com to become the definitive place to buy classic PC games.

GS: Why did you decide to use this business model? Tell us about why you selected the price points you did, for instance.

AO: We had two models to go with. We could either have a subscription service or pay-per-game model. We're not big fans of the subscription model and it really would have gotten in the way of our idea of having DRM-free games. At GOG.com you pay $5.99 or $9.99 for the classic game of your choice and you own it forever. With the subscription services you can play games only during your subscription, and you have to be online, so you aren't able to install the game on your laptop and play it on your business trip or on vacation if you don't have the Internet connection. We're really all about making it as easy as possible for the end user.

The pricing model is another area we wanted to make things easier--in this case, on players' wallets. We wanted to offer the games for a really good price, and generally the price only varies based on the age of the game. The "newer" games, or rather, not-so-old games, are priced at $9.99 and the older ones are sold for $5.99. The price points seem to be reasonable for both the customers and for us, especially considering that with the purchase of the game you receive not only a DRM-free classic game, but also some of the additional materials I mentioned earlier, like soundtracks, wallpapers, game guides, and so on.

GS: And why set up the service as DRM-free? Will there be some kind of online check required each time you begin play? How will you prevent piracy from cutting into the company's bottom line?

AO: GOG.com features no copy protection, DRM, or online activation. This is just like owning the game--you buy it, you keep it. DRM-free games is one of the key features of GOG.com, and we decided to push for that because everyone at GOG.com is a gamer, and we hate all intrusive copy protection and DRM systems implemented in games. It's time to stop treating gamers who buy their games as criminals. As gamers, we want to have an opportunity to have a copy of the game on a laptop to take it on trips, and to have it at home.

It's our opinion that DRM is not the way to fight piracy. We believe that the best way to fight it is by offering great games at a reasonable price with some extra additional content. We think that this will ultimately work on a bit of an honor or loyalty system, naturally rewarding the people who pay for games. As more people buy games at GOG.com, we'll be able to offer them more games, leading again to more sales and so on.

GS: We understand that the beta begins today. Give us an overview of what's going into it and what we can expect.

AO: The "early access beta" works just like the final site will. Everyone who takes part in the early access beta will be able to buy games from the catalog, get involved in the community, write reviews, rate games, and download additional materials for games they've already bought. We'll be also adding more games every week and we have prepared a special limited-time, "Buy one, get one free" promotion. Everyone who buys their first game at GOG.com will receive a bonus code for a free game from GOG.com's Interplay catalogue--which includes classics like the Fallout series, MDK 1 and 2, the Descent series, Messiah, Giants: Citizen Kabuto. and Sacrifice. We're hoping for a lot of good feedback from players to help us make the site as good as it can possibly be.

GS: At the risk of sounding indelicate, we have to ask: What kind of subscription numbers are you estimating for the service? How is the service's infrastructure intended to provide the best results for delivery with this kind of audience? What happens, for instance, if demand outpaces supply of bandwidth and the servers start getting hammered?

AO: We've seen a lot of interest from gamers and the gaming media, and word about GOG.com has spread all over the Web, so it seems to be going in the right direction. As for numbers...we have some internal estimates, but ultimately we just want people to get excited about the service. We got tens of thousands of signups for beta access, and we're happy with that.

We're in the beta stage, so we're expecting some problems in various aspects, but that's why we're doing the beta in the first place. We will be seeking out any problems if they occur and fix them as quickly as possible. We're staggering the distribution of access keys to ensure that we can monitor server loads and address any problems early; as the week goes on we'll be sending more keys out to everyone who signed up.

GS: How did you select which "old" games were "good" enough to join the service? How will you select additional "good old games" to add in the future?

AO: Our goal is to offer games which generally aren't available in retail stores and are also very hard to find online. We want to give gamers those fondly remembered "Good Old Games" they would love to play again. Going through lots of forums, we've built up a long list of classic PC games that form our wish list. It's very long. We have a lot of games to bring to the service and a lot of publishers to talk to, so we'll be able to offer a huge catalogue of great classic games. Ultimately we're focusing on titles that were commercially successful, critically acclaimed, or just cult classics. Anything that had an impact on the industry is probably fair game; even some games that are widely considered "not great" can have huge followings that think those titles are excellent.

GS: Speaking of which, can you give us any hints on new candidates we might see popping up on the service in the future?

AO: There's nothing we can officially talk about. We're closing couple of deals right now and we had some very productive meetings with publishers at Games Convention in Leipzig, so everything seems to be heading the right way.

GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about the service?

AO: We just really hope everyone enjoys the site and the products we're offering. There are a lot of new gamers coming up that may have missed out on some of these classics, so now's a great time to give them a shot. Come and visit our site to get information about our service including the launch date of the open beta. We're still accepting new signups!

GS: Thanks, Adam.

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