Fresh off the topic of Steam and its sales earlier this week, I’d like to continue in the same vein of digital distribution. If you’re a PC gamer, you’ve probably heard of Steam. For all intents and purposes, it is the digital distribution platform for the PC. But not too long ago, Steam was released for Mac as well. Now, with a Linux version on the horizon and with over 2000 games available for purchase, Steam is where most people will go to get their games digitally.
But there are other services out there: GamersGate and Desura; Origin and Uplay; not to mention the console staples of the Xbox Live Marketplace, PlayStation Store and the ever-growing number of strangely separate Nintendo e-stores. Some of these will be household names and others will be obscure, but I feel it’s important that every avid PC and Mac gamer know about one website in particular: GOG.com.
GOG is owned by Polish game studio CD Projekt RED – the same team behind the Witcher games – and began its life as a supplier of classic PC titles: “Good Old Games”. It provides people using modern operating systems the ability to play their favourite games from years gone by. GOG does all the legwork in terms of making sure the game is compatible, or at least comes with a third-party program that can do so (such as DOSBox or ScummVM). The games are always reasonably priced, usually between five and ten US Dollars, with the cost being the same regardless of which country you live in: finally, no more artificially inflated prices just because you live outside of Japan or the USA.
You don’t just get the game, either. GOG purchases come with bonus content, which is often extensive and sometimes exclusive. High resolution wallpapers, avatars, soundtracks, game manuals and artwork: all available for free when you buy the game. While your purchase can’t always go towards supporting the original developers (due to many no longer existing; Bullfrog and Westwood, we all miss you), your money is still being used in one of the best ways possible. The one way that really makes GOG distinct from Steam. All of the games they sell are DRM-free.
For those that remain blissfully unaware, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. Its a fancy name for a piece of software or code that ostensibly prevents unauthorised distribution or copying of games, movies, music and other media. To put it bluntly, it’s there to prevent pirates from pirating things. Not only does DRM fail in every single case (often in the same day the game is released), it often causes problems for legitimate game owners. From draconian policies that limit the number of times you can activate a game, to single-player games that won’t even play unless you’re connected to the internet, DRM is a stall at best and a punishment of legitimate buyers at worst.
But that’s not all that DRM is designed to accomplish. By implementing increasingly complex loopholes for gamers to jump through, the used games market is fast becoming a thing of the past. Console games that require an “Online Pass” to access basic functionality, such as multiplayer, are the worst of the bunch; who wants to buy half a game? Sure, there’s an argument to be made about used games providing developers with exactly nil in terms of upfront revenue, but by what logic do these people think that this won’t just drive more people to piracy? GOG had the right idea from the outset: no DRM. You buy a game from them, you own it. You want to install it on every PC you own? Go for it.
Of course, this now means that you can give a copy of the game to your friends or family. Great titles like Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper 2, Silver, Psychonauts, Age of Wonders… you could give copies to everyone you know. I have no doubt that some people do this. I also have no doubt that every single GOG title is tracked on a multitude of torrent sites, but GOG understands that this would happen anyway. It’s for precisely this reason that, when given the choice between GOG and another distributor, I always buy games from GOG. There is currently no way to stop piracy, but you can certainly discourage it by offering games at low prices, with plenty of bonus content, and by respecting your customers.
In the past year, GOG have rebranded themselves somewhat. They’re no longer just a source of “Good Old Games”, with several new games being published in their online catalogue. They’ve also begun to release games that are compatible with MacOS and have just revealed that the vast majority of their games are now compatible with Windows 8. Despite all of this, they’ve never strayed from their philosophy of fair pricing and no DRM… and they appear to be going from strength to strength. Regardless of their entire product line being either pirated or freely pirate-able, they continue to stick to their guns. For that, they get my respect and admiration, along with my hearty recommendation to every PC gamer I know.