GOG’s Marcin Iwinski on the Activision deal; why DRM still sucks

By Erin Bell |

Since going live in 2008, GOG.com has become the go-to portal for downloading classic PC games that just can’t be found in stores any more. The site has dedicated itself to selling these "Good Old Games" at affordable prices in formats tweaked to run on modern machines – and the best part: it’s all DRM-free. The latest feather in GOG’s cap is a deal with Activision to distribute classic PC games from the publishing giant’s back catalog, starting with Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father and Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magic Obscura.

Gamezebo spoke with Marcin Iwinski, Co-Founder of GOG.com and its parent company CD Project, who gave us an idea of just how big this deal is for GOG.com, as well as some hints about the company’s future plans and why DRM-free remains at the heart of GOG.com’s philosophy.

Activision is known for being a publisher that’s very protective of its intellectual properties. Can you give us a sense of how huge this deal is for GOG.com? 

We are really excited about having Activision on board at GOG.com. How big is it, you ask? … ehm … like the biggest thing on GOG.com so far. Activision is one of the top three publishers in the world, and after the merger with Vivendi/Blizzard they have a really big and cool back catalogue, so it’s really a major milestone for GOG.com as a digital distribution platform, and most importantly, a great treat for all fans of good old games. 

We have been working on this deal for over a year now, as we started our discussion with Vivendi at a time when nobody was really thinking about any merger or acquisition there. We are really happy to have Activision’s golden oldies on GOG.

How many games in total did GOG.com acquire in the Activision deal?

We have started with the first batch, which is around 20 games in total, which will translate to something around 15+ SKUs, as we are putting some games into packs to offer really good value for money.  

This is just a small taste to kick things off, as our goal was to have it up and running as soon as possible. Quite often it’s not that easy with older games – especially when companies merge. Although it might look really simple from the outside to add more titles, each game has to be checked from the legal side, and with the older ones it can get really complicated and time consuming. 

We have focused on what we thought were the most wanted and most awaited games, but we will surely be adding more. Our goal with GOG.com is to have all good old games in one place, and yes, Activision is a major step forward in our mission 🙂  

How many of the games will be exclusive to GOG?

When we signed the deal, we weren’t really thinking about exclusivity, as with our unique, 100% DRM-free model, additional game-related materials/goodies and one low price worldwide, we view each of our titles as a unique, exclusive offer…. but now that you mention it, I have looked around the other platforms and there will be quite a few titles that you cannot get anywhere else as of today.

This might, of course, change, but again if you look at the value you are getting at GOG.com – especially the DRM-free factor, so that you can install it on any of your machines and play it whenever and however you like without any authentication or internet connection required – I do believe GOG.com has a real exclusive proposition here.

Are the games fully compatible with Windows 7? What about Mac? 

We are working on it, and actually, we are getting a lot of help from our community here. As Win7 is a brand new system, some games work and some don’t. Fortunately there are less of those that don’t work, and in almost all the cases, we can fix that – that’s what we are here for. We are currently testing all GOG.com titles for full Win7 compatibility and fixing possible issues. Once the process is complete we will add GOG’s seal of Win7 compatibility to each title. This should happen quite soon, and in the meantime you can check our Community section for a full list of Win7 working titles. 

As for the Mac … I am not allowed to say anything here, as we would not have any surprises for our users, but let me share something with you guys: http://twitpic.com/100lhe/full

Besides Gabriel Knight and Arcanum, can you give us a heads-up on other titles we’ll see down the road? 

It would not be exciting at all if I would list all the titles here. Let me just say, that we have some really good stuff coming. Something for the RPG fans, quite a lot for the adventure lovers, some strategy games and … oops … I am really saying too much. We are starting with the first two titles today, but check us out each week in February, as Feb will be Activision month at GOG.com, and we will be releasing new Activision games every few days. 

What other publisher back catalogs or specific games would you love to get? What are some of the most requested games from GOG.com fans? 

The list is long, as each of us has some personal favorites, but if you look at the most wanted listed at GOG.com, user votes say the definite top 3 are games from LucasArts – the great adventures and all the Star Wars stuff, then Atari’s catalogue – especially the likes of Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, Total Annihilation, to name the most wanted, and definitely EA’s catalogue with both System Shocks being in the top 10. That list basically sums up what we are working hard on as we speak, and hopefully very soon we will be able to add another major player to GOG.com’s growing portfolio. 

Whether you are a fan of adventure games, RPGs, shooters or strategies, our game at GOG.com is to deliver you a full selection of the games you loved and would like to play again. When we started GOG.com our idea was to bring back memories of all the great games – both the real oldies and the more recent ones. I think the key value of GOG.com is that you can get all these great games in one place, fully updated, patched, compatible with your system and backed up with lot of additional materials.

I am really happy when I see feedback from gamers up on GOG.com saying that they already own a physical copy of an older title, but since it’s somewhere up on their attic and probably not working on Win XP or Vista, they go and get it from us. It’s really like getting a totally new game. Hehehe … The first game I downloaded from GOG.com was Fallout 2, and I still play it from time to time.

One of the things we love most about GOG.com is its DRM-free philosophy. Why do you guys hate DRM so much, and why is "DRM-free" such an important cornerstone of GOG.com? 

Indeed DRM-free is in the heart of our philosophy, and the reason is quite simple – we are all gamers here and we are really p***ed – or to be politically correct, I should rather say not very satisfied – when we come across DRM – especially the intrusive kind.  

The business where we originated is games publishing and distribution in Eastern Europe. We started 15 years, so I can say we do have quite a bit of experience as far as piracy is concerned, and believe me, there is no copy protection that can’t be cracked. The only successful way to convince a gamer to buy a legal copy is with the value for money you offer and their experience with the product.

So you buy a game, a new game, you pay, what, $50-$60 for it, and although it’s a single-player game, it still requires you to be permanently online in order to play. On top of this, you can only install it 3-5 times, and after that you have to call some hotline and prove that you have a legal copy. This sucks big time.

What is the alternative, you may ask? For a lot of people the alternative is a cracked version, usually available right after release. It’s free (yes, it’s illegal) and as far as freedom of what you do with the game is concerned, it does offer better value than the original game. You can install it where you want and as many times you want it, and using our example of a single-player title, you do not have to be online to play it or even to have the DVD in the drive. That’s totally crazy! 

For us here at GOG, from the very beginning it was all about the value we deliver and the experience the gamer has with our games, so that’s why, from the very beginning, we decided to abandon DRM altogether. The idea of compromising that vision has never crossed our minds.  

Yes, it was tough at the very beginning – I still remember our first pitches to publishers and people not getting the idea at all. Now, with almost 200 games up and running on GOG.com and lots of happy gamers, I think I can say it does work and it works really well. Moreover, with the value we offer there is not much piracy going on. Is it really worth looking for an illegal version of a game if you have a fair deal right here, right now? Maybe for a few people, but the vast majority of gamers will go for the fair deal with good value attached, and we really do appreciate their busines.

Obviously there are a lot of Bad Old Games out there too. What qualifies a game as a "Good Old Game" that’s worthy of being distributed through GOG.com?  

The selection process is quite simple – first we look at the most-wanted list as voted by GOG.com users, then, of course, we go back and check the average reviews, and as we spent most of our lives actually playing these games (when they were new 😉 we do remember what was good and what was bad. Finally – we look at how popular certain game was among gamers back in the days, as sometimes some titles might not have gotten the highest scores, but still offered something that gamers really enjoyed.

In some cases, if we really want a publisher on board, and they have a few games that aren’t amazing but several that are… well, we want the amazing games. Sure, there are a hell of a lot of bad old games, but nobody really wants those; and if we have something that’s not great in our catalogue, users can vote with their wallets. Conclusion – it’s all about the good old games. 

What’s the approval process to get a game listed on GOG.com? Can you give us an idea of how many games are accepted vs. turned away? 

We do not have any formal approval process. It’s usually a matter of us approaching potential partners with a list of what we’re after, and that’s how we get the games. Yes, people also contacting us and offer their games, but then it’s all about whether or not the games are good, what the review scores were, and whether it’s something that the gamers at GOG.com would like to see. 

Can you give us any hints about other cool stuff GOG.com has planned for 2010? 

The next big thing for us will happen at the end of March. We are finalizing another major deal that will boost GOG’s catalogue with some of the most-awaited games from the top of our most-wanted list. We will gladly tell you more about it in March 🙂 

We also have a lot of plans in terms of updating the site, its functionality and implementing quite a few new features – this is also planned for end of March, so do keep checking us out. 

Longer term, we definitely would like to add more languages to GOG.com, as currently it’s 100% English, which is fine for US/UK/AUS/NZ users, but a lot of gamers in Europe would love to see their favorite games in German, French, Polish or Russian. We will hopefully have something ready here toward the second half of the year.  

Finally, more price points and more content. Right now we offer games at $5.99 and $9.99, but as the catalogue grows bigger and bigger, we see that both a lower price point for the real oldies, as well as a higher one for the newer stuff, would be really useful. Rest assured, we are still going to be Good Old Games.

That’s all I can share right now, but there will be a lot more things happening this year. Activision is a great start to 2010 at GOG.com. The next big things will start happening from the end of March onward… and don’t forget, that February is Activision’s month at GOG with great releases each week.

Thank you for the interview and greetings to Gamezebo readers from all the folks here at GOG.com 🙂

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