Following on from this story earlier in the week, here's the full text of our wide-ranging and detailed interview with the people from GoG.com The questions were answered jointly by managing director Guillaume Rambourg and marketing/PR head Trevor Longino. How should we credit them here? Guillevor Rambogino? (We just went for "GoG".)
RPS: Why start stocking newer games now, of all times? Was the success of the Witcher 2 on GOG, in part, the impetus for the change?
GoG: We started to release newer games for a few different reasons, but they all come back to our main focus of putting our customers first. I would note when I say “our customers” that we have more than one customer at GOG. Our most obvious customers are the gamers who pay our salaries and play the games that we sell. Our other set of customers, though, are the developers and publishers for whom we sell games. This move was for both of their benefits.
For our customers, we definitely think that presenting them with fantastic classic titles is how we got where we are today; finding them more great games, whether they’re new or old, is something that will only help us succeed and grow. On the developer and publisher side, you’re correct. We used The Witcher 2 as a test case to see if big new games from well-known brands would sell well without DRM. The fact that we were such a big part of the digital sales for The Wtcher 2 shows that the answer is very clearly a yes. Giving other developers a chance to release their game DRM-free and to our loyal audience is a fantastic opportunity for them.
RPS: Are you afraid that less of a specialized focus will detract from your store's unique identity? Could it make you stand out less among the quickly multiplying crowd?
GoG: This may sound a little odd, 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.
GoG: GOG.com does have a reputation of a place that sells games that are all pretty good; that’s important to us, because especially when you don’t know a whole lot about a given title, it’s helpful to read the comments about a game on our website and make sure that you are likely to be satisfied with your purchase on GOG!
I don’t think we have any deals signed where we’ve acquired a publisher’s complete catalog, no.
RPS: CD Projekt co-founder Marcin Iwinski recently said that GOG's goal is to avoid devaluing games. So do you believe that things like Steam sales ultimately hurt more than they help? What about indie bundles?
GoG: Selling games at too high a discount – one often sees discounts above 80% off here and there -sends a message to gamers: this game, simply put, isn’t worth very much. Of course you make thousands and thousands of sales of a game when it’s that cheap, but you’re damaging the long-term value of your brand because people will just wait for the next insane sale. Slashing the price of your game is easy. Improving the content of your offer when you release your game, that’s more ambitious.
Our industry failed to provide gamers with a fair and attractive offer on day one and therefore convince them to buy games when they are released, which is the best way to support a publisher or developer from a financial standpoint. GOG has always been trying to add as much value as possible into their offer; and we hope more gaming companies will follow this direction.
Heavy discounts are bad for gamers, too. 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.
There’s a counter argument to that, of course, which is that sales encourage people to try games that they’re not sure about. And there’s a certain truth to it, but I think that you need to reach a happy medium between giving someone a chance to take a risk without feeling like they’ve gotten a bad deal, and pricing things so cheaply that you tell gamers, “this game I made isn’t worth very much.”
RPS: That in mind, what's your take on the recent Kickstarter crowdfunding trend? Do you think that could also ultimately have a long-term devaluing effect?
GoG: Kickstarter is pretty awesome. It’s disruptive in interesting ways. The traditional publishing model is completely opaque to gamers and--all too often--to developers, too. Letting people “put their money where their mouth is” and fund a game up front is a very refreshing change of pace.
I don’t think it devalues games, though. Given that devs are generally setting the prices for their games themselves--and given that they’re taking a larger cut of the revenue of a game that they’re funding through Kickstarter than they’d make on a retail release--I think it’s fair to tell people that $10 or $15 isn’t an unreasonable price to pay for a brand-new indie release if all you want is the basic game and nothing extra. The market has already spoken on that, and the market agrees; most indie games launch around the $10 or $15 price point.
GoG: 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.
We have a pretty regular sale schedule: we put a few games on sale every weekend, and we have a special “hidden gem” sale every other week. Otherwise, we focus on new releases, great customer support, and excellent value for money.
RPS: Beyond being DRM-free, how do you plan to justify what may end up being higher prices than the competition? What sort of value do you plan to add to games? How do you beat the instant, impulse-buy appeal of rock bottom prices?
GoG: GOG.com provides a lot of value beyond just the game. That’s been key to our success since we launched. We aren't the store with the lowest, rock-bottom prices, and we never have been. That's not what makes us great in our customers' minds. We provide excellent service, give our customers goodies and items that they don't tend to get from other stores—and we don't charge for it. We provide customer support directly from our own store, rather than foisting our customers off on a developer or may or may not have the processes in place to handle customer problems. We treat our customers right, and they know that we will continue to do so in the future.
We don't look to always provide the lowest price, no, but we do consistently give the best value for a gamer's dollar, and I think we've been successful at communicating that to gamers all around the world.
If you're stocking major games a year after release, are you at all afraid players will have lost interest by that point? I mean, they're too new to be "retro" at that point, but too old to be in the limelight. How do you incentivize someone to buy such a game off your service if they can just wait for a Steam sale?
The fact that the majority of our revenue comes from games that aren’t on sale shows that gamers--of course--are sensitive to pricing, but they’re equally attentive to value. I think we provide excellent value, even at full price, and our gamers seem to agree. Further, although these games have been on sale before, a number of gamers haven’t necessarily picked them up yet. Lack of time, dislike for DRM or a lack of money when the game was released all combined to mean that there’s an audience—even for top selling titles—that haven’t had their chance to purchase specific titles yet. With the added value that we put into every game we sell, we have a pretty strong argument to come and buy the game from us.
And, of course, we have sales ourselves, too.
RPS: Ubisoft's Chris Early recently announced that his company is looking to add enough value to its products to make DRM obsolete. Do you think this is a sign that the tides are turning? Is DRM finally on the way out? And, if that's the case, what happens to GOG's big selling point?
GoG: I would love it if DRM is dying out. 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--we’ve been growing at a phenomenal pace since we launched. 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.
It’s very, very hard from a business perspective to see the numbers of games being pirated and to not try and slap a mechanical “fix” on to your game. DRM doesn’t work, no, but when you’re managing your business via a spreadsheet, it is much easier to check a box that says, “DRM added” than it is to come up with a comprehensive plan to make the offer you present gamers more attractive than the one that pirates do while at the same time realizing that some gamers will pirate your game no matter what.
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.
RPS: Thanks for your time.