Editors Note: Chris wrote this feature for us before GOG.com's closure on Sunday, but we've decided to publish it as it was, in memoriam. We're following up with GOG for more info on the closure, so keep an eye on the News page.
For a number of gamers, the appearance of the Good Old Games website was welcomed just as eagerly as any Triple A rated blockbuster. For two years now it’s been the place to go for gamers eager to play top quality - but older - titles with the minimum of fuss (no DRM) and a bargain basement price. A swift browse of the catalogue on offer springs up some of PC gaming’s absolute classics, with titles such as Gabriel Knight, Freespace 2, Fallout, and The Longest Journey available from as little as absolutely zilch, and never more than $9.99 USD.
Previously, the only way to sample the absolute delights some of these had to offer was to splash out on a heftier priced second hand copy, and then spend hours trying your damndest to get the things working on operating systems they were never designed for, usually through third party programs like DOSBox.
“I suppose the concept of offering old games had long been germinating in the minds of CD Projekt's management guys,” says Lukasz Kukawski, part of the PC & Marketing team at GOG.
Good Old Games - contains what it says on the tin!
“Sometime around GDC 2007 they have started to think about offering the old and beloved games with full compatibility on modern operating systems to a worldwide audience and the best way to reach such audience is via [the] internet. A quick research showed that most classic PC games are no longer available to buy legally, often are very expensive at on-line auctions, and there are lots of issues with running them on modern machines with the latest operating systems installed. That's how the idea of GOG.com came to life.”
An incredible idea, particularly considering the legal minefield that surrounds the idea of abandonware which many gamers have long used as an excuse to download aging titles for free. After all, unlike just about every other form of entertainment, titles over a year old are often incredibly tricky to find on store shelves. And even with the popularity of digital downloads it’s still only the latest wares that populate the marketplace.
For years there’s been constant bickering across the gaming world as to the legalities of abandonware, with various websites appearing, growing over a number of years, before eventually disappearing due to an available download that one company takes particular issue with. After all, for every Grand Theft Auto or Beneath the Steel Sky (both of which have been made freely available by the publishers), there’s a lot of copyrighted material that simply can’t be obtained for free because it’s illegal to distribute in such a fashion. The staff of GOG unsurprisingly hold strong views on this issue.
Joe couldn't resist the urge to highlight a few choice titles...
“There's basically no such thing as ‘abandonware’ and it's illegal to offer those games for download,” says Lukasz. But, he doesn’t see it as GOG’s job to police these websites, stating that “publishers are the ones who should chase the creators of the abandonware websites to take down those download links, not us.”
To give us such a wealth of titles to download takes both major time and money though - the licenses to offer these titles “is the most time consuming and the toughest task in the development of the service,” may come as quite a shock. Surely everyone would be happy to make some cash out of their aging back catalogue? Unfortunately, with rights changing hands with each company sale or bankruptcy, and with some even splitting between multiple holders, Luckasz admits that “finding the right people to talk to takes sometimes weeks or even months.”
Unsurprisingly DRM plays a huge part in putting off some publishers. As GOG have a strict policy of having no DRM whatsoever in any of the products they sell, the “big guys in the industry like Activision, Atari or Ubisoft” have proved most difficult to accept the GOG ethos…