In what may be a first for humanity since the (admittedly fictional) film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Good Old Games de-aged. Out with the "Old," in with the GOG, as no one's said until now. Or, if they have, people just looked at them funny and told them to go lie down. Anyway, seeing as change is afoot and GOG's trying very hard to make us pay attention, I briefly spoke with managing director Guillaume Rambourg about why the site's taken an abrupt turn toward a new direction, why Steam sales are hurting the industry, and -- with even Ubisoft removing its ponderous yolk -- whether or not DRM is finally dying.
"This may sound a little odd," began Rambourg, "but I don’t think we’re changing our focus. We’re known principally for a few things: our games have no DRM, we price things fairly all around the world at one flat price, and we provide lots of customer support, goodies, and a lively community - we call that 'customer love'. It’s true that we’ve built up our reputation around older PC classics, but I think when people talk about GOG, they tell their friends, 'Man, you should check out all the great games that GOG.com sells. Those guys are cool and treat you right.' This is true regardless of what the game is, old or new."
The plan, then, is to stock newer games that never really got their chance to shine when they first came out. You know, the games you typically scarf buffet-table-style during Steam sales. So then, why go toe-to-toe with Valve in one of its biggest, most minefield-and-barbed-wire-laden arenas? Well, GOG's gotten this far on a heart so gutsy it might actually be made of guts, and it's not quitting now. Even while sales numbers skyrocket for both Valve and the publishers who line Steam's catalog, GOG thinks they're out-and-out hurting the industry.
"Heavy discounts are bad for gamers," Rambourg explained. "If a gamer buys a game he or she doesn’t want just because it’s on sale, they’re being trained to make bad purchases, and they’re also learning that games aren’t valuable. We all know gamers who spend more every month on games than they want to, just because there were too many games that were discounted too deeply. That’s not good for anyone."
"We provide a lot of value in our games that goes beyond just the price. This is one of the key ways we fight against piracy, after all: providing gamers with more value than a pirate does. We actually generate more than half of our revenue from full-price sales, simply because we keep our prices reasonable in the first place. Our average sale tends to be around 40% - 50% off; that’s plenty of incentive to pick up a game if you’re interested or if you just think you might like to try it because you’re not sure about the game, but not some crazy 75% or 85% discount that damages the long-term value of a game."
But what about GOG's biggest selling point since day-one: a complete lack of DRM? With companies like Ubisoft finally (sort of) throwing in the towel after a years-long fight that made about as much sense as attempting to knock out one of those inflatable bouncing clown dolls, is GOG about to lose a major part of its appeal? For Rambourg, it's really not a concern. The war on DRM, he explained, is a team effort.
"I would love it if DRM is dying out," he said. "I think GOG.com has blazed a bit of a trail in that respect, because we’ve spent the last three and half years showing the industry that not only can it work, but it can work very well. If we ever reach the point where our core value of 'DRM-free gaming' needs to be removed from our website because everyone simply assumes that games aren’t burdened with such short-sighted 'features' as DRM, I’m pretty sure we’ll have a celebration at the office. It would be a great day for gaming."
"I don’t think the tides are quite turning yet, though. It’s a promising move, but I don’t think this particular debate in gaming culture is anywhere near over. I definitely think that Ubisoft is moving the right direction, but we’ll need to see if other industry giants are willing to do the same. I’m sure everyone’s watching Ubisoft to see what happens with their experiment before making up their minds."